Parashat Mikeitz begins, “VaYehi MiKeitz Shenatayim Yamim,” “It happened at the end of two years” (BeReishit 41:1). Meforashim grapple with this Pasuk. What two years is the Pasuk referring to?
The Midrash (BeReishit Rabbah 41:1) explains that the word “MiKeitz” is connected to the Pasuk in Iyov, “Keitz Sham LaChoshech,” “He put an end to the darkness” (Iyov 28:3). Yosef is “in darkness” when he is jailed for twelve years, but is freed following his divine interpretation of Par’oh’s dream. It is clear that this “Keitz”—this endpoint—for Yosef is much more than an end to darkness. It is the beginning of his transition to light. Yosef successfully interprets Par’oh’s dreams and eventually becomes the viceroy of Egypt. After his brothers sell him and he spends twelve years in jail for a crime he didn’t commit, Yosef has every reason to quit and lose his faith in Hashem. But he is able to move on from the tragedies which befall him.
This concept of transitioning from darkness to light seems to be ingrained in the creation of the world. In the Torah’s account of creation, first darkness is present, and then light is created. The Torahstates, “VeChoshech Al Penei Tehom…VaYomer Elokim Yehi Or,” ”And darkness was on the surface of the abyss… and Hashem said ‘Let there be light’” (BeReishit 1:2-3). As we see, this theme continues throughout Tanach, and can be seen clearly throughout the story of Yosef. Yosef’s story is the paradigmatic example of ‘rags to riches.’ Obviously, this begins with the extreme darkness Yosef feels after being thrown into a dark, cold pit by his brothers, that was “Reik, Ein Bo Mayim,” “empty, devoid of water” (37:24). This pit is empty of water, the essential element of life, just as Yosef himself feels devoid of life at this point. However, at the end of BeReishit, it is clear that Yosef has made a rousing comeback.
The story of Matityahu and the Makabim against the Yevanim is a classic underdog story— just like the story of Yosef. A group of Jews fighting for religious freedom seemed to stand no chance against one of the most powerful nations in the world. However, when Matityahu saw Antiochus prohibiting Judaism and enforcing paganism, he knew that he had to save his demoralized and damaged religion. Against all odds, his small army was able to conjure the strength to beat the Yevanim and go, “MeiAfeilah LeOrah,” “from darkness to light.”
Rav Mordechai Yosef Leiner, known as the Ishbitzer Rebbe, in his Sefer Mei HaShalu’ach (s.v. VeYehi Mikeitz Shenatayim Yamim, VeFaroh Choleim), further expands the Midrash by commenting upon the seemingly superfluous word, “Yamim,” “days,” in the Pasuk. He writes that this is hinting to the fact that Hashem created all of the good that will ever exist in the world in just two days—on the third day he created food, and on the sixth day he created man. He explains that when the Midrash states that this is an end to “Choshech,” “darkness,” it’s referring to our excessive physicality—represented by food—and our lack of spirituality—represented by man. In order to fill our spiritual void and bring an end to darkness and a beginning to the light of salvation, we must elevate both the physical and spiritual aspects of our lives.
Rav Pincus explains that the holiday of Chanukah teaches exactly this point. There are those like the Hellenists who don’t take advantage of darkness and end up falling to the spiritual depths, and there are those like the Makabim. Everyone must work on extracting a special light from within the darkness in order to eventually merit seeing that which Yishayahu describes, “HaAm HaHolechim BaChoshech Ra’u Or Gadol” “The nation walking in darkness has seen a great light” (Yishayahu 9:1), and witness the ultimate Ge’ulah.