Parshat Miketz | December 12, 2015
I’d like to play a game with everyone. How many songs can we think of that have to do with dreams?
So why is this? Why are there so many songs about dreams?
We know the famous question that Kermit the Frog asks, “Why are there so many songs about rainbows?” Well, according to data from Billboard charts since 1890, there are only around 42 songs about rainbows. Meanwhile over that same span, we have 473 songs about dreams, many of which we named here. Clearly, we’ve been talking, and singing, about dreams for quite some time. (http://www.overthinkingit.com/2011/12/05/the-rainbow-connection-muppets-…)
We also know that dreams have played a vital part in the book of Genesis. A few weeks ago we spoke about Jacob’s dream, of his ladder ascending to heaven and angels going up and down to join him. Last week, we read in parashat Vayeishev, of Joseph’s skill with interpreting dreams. This skill that first got him into trouble as it created jealousy among his brothers. And the skill that this week, in parashat Miketz would prove to be his life saver. As Pharaoh’s dreams keep him awake at night it was his cupbearer who remembered the young man who had been with him in prison, who had a skill for interpreting dreams.
The Torah tells us, “Thereupon Pharaoh sent for Joseph, and he was rushed from the dungeon. He had his hair cut and changed his clothes, and he appeared before Pharaoh. And Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘I have had a dream, but no one can interpret it. Now I have heard it said of you that for you to hear a dream is to tell its meaning.’ Joseph answered Pharaoh, saying, ‘Not I! God will see to Pharaoh’s welfare.” (Gen 41:14-16)
It’s this last line that’s most important. From reading the Joseph narrative we learn that Joseph has a special ability, an inherent skill. But Joseph is humble about taking credit for it himself. He knows that this skill he has is truly a gift from God. That it is not he who is interpreting the dreams, but that the message is coming from God.
We often times wonder how much of any accomplishment is thanks to our own inherent skill, and how much is due to gifts we have been given from God. We can ask this about any athlete who before thanking his teammates or coaches after a big win, first thanks God. We can ask this about the modern state of Israel. Was this a great political achievement, or was it a divine miracle signaling the promise of our redemption?
And we can also ask this of Hanukkah. In many ways it is fitting that parashat Miketz is almost always read on the Shabbat of Hanukkah. During this time of year, when our days continue to grow shorter and darker, it makes sense to read a parsha that focuses so much on what happens at night – dreams. So too, on this holiday when we are grateful for the miracles in our lives, it makes sense to read about dreams coming true.
But our current discussion, what actions are our own, and what are the actions of God, is also appropriate to think about on Hanukkah. What is the story of Hanukkah? What are the miracles we celebrate? Well, there are two. The first is the great military struggle led by the Maccabees. As we know from historical sources, the Assyrian Greeks took over the Kingdom of Judea and forbid the ritual practices of Judaism. They desecrated the Temple and persecuted the Jewish citizens. Under the leadership of Matityahu and his son Judah, the Maccabees led a revolt to overthrow the Greeks so that they once again could practice their religion in the Temple and Jerusalem. Since the Maccabees were small in number, and they prevailed over the mighty Greek army, we consider their victory, one that happened against all odds and likelihood, to be a miracle. But did God play a role in this victory? Well, that’s complicated. There are those who say God surely has a role in everything that happens, so clearly His presence was felt in this victory. But there are also those who say this was entirely a victory of political and military leadership. Done entirely by the people themselves. It may be a miracle, but it is one created by people.
But then there’s the second story of Hanukkah. The Rabbis of the Talmud ask the question, “Mai Hanukkah?” What is Hanukkah? They tell us that when the Maccabees entered the Temple, cleaned it and purified it, they found only one cruse of oil that was still sealed. The story, we know well from here, goes that the oil should have only lasted for one day, yet a great miracle occurred and it lasted for eight. And for this reason, we celebrate the miracle of Hanukkah for eight days. Now this story, this sequence of events, we all can agree is a miracle. That it did take supernatural intervention, it did take an act of God for this event to occur.
The Rabbis choose to focus on this aspect of Hanukkah because it is clearly the divine aspect. They, just like Joseph with his dreams, seek to include God’s role in these events. Hanukkah now becomes a celebration of both the acts of men, but also a celebration of the part God plays in those actions.
This combination is one I feel especially true today of all days. I wrote a few weeks ago, that a particular midrash connected to the story of Creation has been on my mind a great deal. After the magnificent and miraculous work of creating the world in only six days, the rabbis wondered how God has kept Himself busy since then. Rabbi Yosi suggests that God has stayed occupied by matching couples together for marriage. Truly this is just as miraculous as the works of Creation. (Bereishit Rabba 68:4)
At first glance, this too is one of those instances where we stop and wonder what is God’s role in bringing couples together. Was God present on the night Naomi and I first met over two years ago? Was God there the day I surprised her and proposed on the beach? Was God there when she arrived here in Jacksonville? While at first I may not have directly felt God’s presence in each of those instances, looking back on them, I cannot help but feel that God had a hand in bringing the two of us together. Yes, it certainly took much of our own work, as well as the encouragement of some friends, but seeing how we fit together, and learning more and more ways in which we are in sync, I now realize the role that God played in our finding each other. As Rabbi Yossi suggested, surely matching couples together for marriage is just as miraculous as the works of Creation. I know that our own relationship, and our own marriage, like the story of Hanukkah, and like Joseph’s skill with dreams, will be a partnership of our own hands alongside the work of God.
We are grateful for all that we have been and continue to blessed with, and thank so many of our friends and family for joining us in celebration today.