He Didn’t Know Yosef

The posuk chosen by the kabbalists to symbolize the month of Teves is “Gadlu L’Hashem iti uneromamo shemo yachdov – Let us elevate the Name of Hashem, together.” In a month that should have had three fasts on the eighth, ninth and tenth to remember the translation of the Torah into Greek, the death of Ezra and the beginning of the siege of Yerusholayim, with no festivals except the tail end of Chanuka, it would seem to be a strange choice. It is, apparently, a rather gloomy month, so why choose a pasuk elevating the name of Hashem in His praise?

At the beginning of Parshas Shemos, we are told, (1:8), “There arose a new king in Egypt who did not know Yosef.” Considering the fact that Yosef had been Prime Minister of Mitzraim for eighty years, had been responsible for achieving for Pharaoh great wealth and power, clearly the posuk cannot be taken at face value. What does the posuk mean?

The posukim (1:11-17) go on to describe how Pharaoh began enslaving the Jews but amazingly, “as he afflicted, so they increased.” Pharaoh told the Jewish midwives to kill the baby boys but with enormous courage they, “did not do as the king of Mitzraim had told them.”

In Parshas Vayechi (49:12) Yehuda is blessed that, “his eyes will be red because of the abundance of wine and his teeth will be white because of the abundance of milk.” Kesuvos 111b darshans, “Chachlili einanim miyoyin uleven shinayim mechalav” The Jewish People said to Hashem, “A shine from Your eyes is better to us than wine and a smile from Your mouth is better to us than milk.” The Abarbenel explains that when the kohanim say during birkas kohanim, Yevorechecho Hashem veyishmerecho, this refers to Hashem’s brocho to us of our physical needs, from which we have to be protected because an abundance can do us much harm, The next section, “ya’er Hashem ponov eilecho vichuneko” May Hashem make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you, refers to spiritual blessings; Hashem should give us opportunities to do mitzvos and learn Torah. Therefore when the Jewish People were asking Hashem to show us a smiling face rather than milk, they were saying that although we all need our physical requirements, Torah and Mitzvos are more important to us. As distinct from the rest of the world which puts a priority on enjoying the pleasures of this world, our priority is learning Torah, keeping Shabbos and Yom Tov, doing acts of chessed etc. If there is a clash between doing the will of Hashem or taking an easier path, doing the will of Hashem will always be our preference.

The release of R’ Sholom Rubashkin last year was greeted with much joy throughout the Jewish world. But possibly more significant than the miracle of his release on the last day of Chanukah has been the emuna and bitachon he showed throughout his incarceration. He was imprisoned for the equivalent of a life sentence on the basis of perjured evidence at his trial but we didn’t hear any words of bitterness from him. We only heard how everything was min hashomayim and that, like Yosef was released from prison “in a blink of an eye” so he will be released by Hashem “in the blink of eye.” Many gave up hope but he was a beacon of bitochon b’Hashem for the rest of klal Yisroel. And indeed he was released “in the blink of an eye” to everyone’s joy.

In another story, a Jew in America left an asifa to avoid the danger of the new technologies with a determination to discard his i-phone with internet connection and buy a kosher phone. He was looking for employment when an offer came up with a starting annual salary of one hundred thousand dollars with significant additions on the horizon. The job was more or less sealed when the head of the company told him that he would need the most modern i-phone for the job. The Jew said he only uses a kosher phone. A possible compromise of a heavily filtered i-phone was rejected by the firm and the job opportunity was lost.

A Holocaust survivor in Project Witness related how he was standing in line in Auschwitz Concentration Camp when the Jew next to him was discovered not to be standing straight enough. The Nazi beat this Jew for his ‘crime’ but then to increase his “fun” ordered his neighbor, who was relating the incident, to continue to beat the other Jew. He refused. “I will not hit another Jew.” Despite a warning that he will suffer an even more violent beating if he continues to refuse, he remained steadfast. He was indeed beaten mercilessly and left for dead. However he did miraculously survive even to the end of the war and beyond.

A Russian survivor of Lenin’s spiritual holocaust who lives near to my wife and me and who insists that I squeeze in a twice weekly learning session with him in between Shacharis and when he needs to go to work sometimes tells me of the time, before he even knew he was Jewish, that he went out with his father into the Russian forests narrowly avoiding the wild boar which appeared suddenly. He became a baal teshuva and now lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh with his wife and children.

Pharoah “did not know Yosef.” He did not know about Jewish determination and resilience. He did not know that “as they afflict us, so will we increase.” He did not know that we may enjoy wine and milk, but Hashem’s shining Face enabling us to learn Torah and keep mitzvos in all circumstances, is far more important to us.

Teves is the month of Gadlu L’Hashem Iti uneromamo Shemo yachdov – of praising Hashem. True the month contains tragedies but it also contains the seventh and eighth of Chanukah whose Nesi’im were Menashe and Efraim, Yosef’s two sons. And Yosef, who remained a loyal Jew despite all his trials, is our symbol of courage, loyalty, mesirus nefesh and emuna. Pharaoh didn’t know this, but we do.