Small but Clear by Rabbi Steven Finkelstein


We can all accept that there is a need for difficulty and challenges in life. “Lefum Tza’ara Agra,” “No pain—no gain” (Avot 5:23). It is only through the trying circumstances in our lives that we learn about ourselves, grow, and achieve new heights. Yosef’s life is a prime example of this. Being thrown into the pit and then sold into slavery provides him with the opportunity to deepen his faith and reliance on Hashem. The struggle with Potiphar’s wife gives him a chance to actualize his commitment to the holy values of his father and Hashem by overcoming the luring temptations of this world. Serving as the viceroy provides Yosef with the opportunity to contain his arrogance and to understand that his great success only comes about because Hashem wants it to be so. Even as we approach the end of his separation with his family, Yosef has the chance to demonstrate his ability to overcome anger and to resist the temptation to take revenge against his brothers.

In order to further understand why Hashem arranged for Yosef to experience so many challenges, we must ask a number of questions. Why was it necessary for Yosef to remain in prison for an additional two years? What would have been lost had the butler remembered Yosef, and secured his release? How does this one small detail add clarity to the narrative?  Rav Dovid Hoffstadter suggests that the reason the butler forgot Yosef was to illustrate the fact that all of these events were solely orchestrated by Hashem. Had the butler gone to Par’oh right away, it might be possible to suggest that it was his action that was responsible for Yosef’s freedom, and not God’s subtle intervention. After forgetting Yosef for two years, and then suddenly remembering at the split second that Par’oh needed Yosef’s services, the Torah makes it clear that it could only be the work divine providence. This point is highlighted by the speed in which things take place. It seems a mere matter of minutes between Yosef being freed, being asked to interpret the dream, and ultimately being appointed viceroy of Egypt. This miraculous ascent from the dungeon to the palace calls our attention to the fact that every single twist and turn in this story is being directed by Hashem. They are all part of the divine plan.

In a similar vein, although the miracle of the oil burning for eight days is small in comparison to the miracle of the military victory over the Greeks, when it comes to military victories, it is easier for people to explain them without recognizing the hand of God. There is, however, no way to deny the fact that the oil burning for eight days both defies the laws of nature and is inherently miraculous. In both Parashat Miketz and regarding Chanukah, it is through the small but clear miracles that our eyes are opened to the hand of God in each and every aspect of our lives.

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