Yosef’s Chanukah Story by Zach Margulies


Parashat MiKeitz begins at the conclusion of Yosef’s “extra” two years in the prison of Pharaoh. Yosef had previously asked the Sar HaMashkim to tell Pharaoh to free him as well upon the cupbearer’s release from prison. However, why does it take specifically two years for the Sar HaMashkim to arrange for Yosef’s release ?

Rashi quotes a Midrash that explains that Yosef is specifically condemned to two more years in jail because he says to the Sar HaMashkim, “Zechartani…VeHizkartani,” “remember me…and mention me” (BeReishit 40:14). The Midrash explains that Yosef had to be in jail for two more years corresponding to each word he said to the Sar HaMashkim.

The Gemara (Berachot 58a) explains the source of Yosef’s incarceration to be the twelve months of Aveilut, mourning, only after which a deceased relative is forgotten. Since Yosef mentioned the idea of remembering twice, each would count for a year, hence the two extra years of imprisonment.

To explain the two extra years, the Medrash quotes the Pasuk (Yirmiyahu 17:7), “Baruch HaGever Asher Yivtach BaHashem VeHaya Hashem Mivtacho,” “Blessed is the man who trusts in Hashem, then Hashem will be his security.” While Yosef did trust in Hashem, Hashem was not his only trust. He also trusted in the Sar HaMashkim, and was therefore punished. While this answer seems satisfactory, we know that Chazal say that a person must trust in Hashem, but shouldn’t rely solely on a miracle. Why then is Yosef punished for doing what Chazal say?

Rabbeinu Bechaya explains that Yosef had a major flaw in his Emunah, belief. Although Chazal tell us that one should not rely on miracles, they don’t instruct us to totally disregard them. Yosef mistakenly put all of his trust in the Sar HaMashkim, a human, as the double language of “remember me” and “mention me” shows.

The Ba’al Shem Tov by Parashat Toledot gives another answer from which we can learn much. The Gemara says that many people tried to be on the level of Rabi Shimon Bar Yochai, who relied solely on Hashem, but those people weren’t successful. Rabi Shimon Bar Yochai never experienced a natural life, but rather solely lived a spiritual life. Therefore others who were part of the physical world couldn’t be on his level. Yosef, however, was on the highest spiritual level because he had total Emunah in Hashem. Just as a physical person who tries to be fully spiritual will be unsuccessful (like those aforementioned), so too a fully spiritual person cannot be at all physical. Yosef couldn’t be successful on the level where he would need to rely on a miracle. Therefore, since Yosef relied in Hashem and in a natural aid, he couldn’t possibly be helped.

This is similar to an idea which one of my Rebbeim, Rabbi Chaim Jachter recently suggested: What is the connection between Chanukah and last week’s Parsha, Parashat VaYeishev? When discussing the holiday of Chanukah, the Gemara (Shabbat 21b) follows that topic with a discussion of the pit which Yosef was thrown into, which begins the chain of events in Parashat VaYeishev. The Gemara seems to identify a major connection between the pit and Chanukah. The Gemara (Shabbat 22a) states that the mentioning of the lack of water in the pit comes to stress that although there was no water, there were snakes and scorpions. In such a scenario, most humans would have certainly perished; how did Yosef manage to survive?

It is explained that during the story of Chanukah, the Jewish People didn’t see Hashem’s full hand in the military victory, and Hashem therefore needed to perform a more open miracle, namely that of the Pach Shemen, the miracle of the oil. Similarly, Yosef, who would soon have to enter Egypt and experience amazing hidden miracles, such as his rise to power, might assume that he was responsible for these miracles. Therefore Hashem did for Yosef an open miracle by saving him from the pit in order to prepare him for life in Egypt.

We must take this into mind and see that we all have the potential to become great people who can rely solely on Hashem. However, most of us at our current spiritual level cannot yet rely solely on miracles. Let us strive to see Hashem’s hand in all daily events, and in this Zechut may we witness the return of Hashem’s open miracles to this world.

Balancing Faith and Action by Avi Rosalimsky

Yosef’s Brothers, the Chashmonaim, and Bitachon by Yaakov Schiff