Parshas Miketz/Chanukah - A Dose of Inspiration

By BJLife/Moishy Pruzansky

Posted on 12/14/17

The Best Gift Buyer

When the cupbearer presented Yosef to Pharaoh, he tried to denigrate him by describing him as a “young lad”, a “Hebrew (a foreigner)”, and a “slave”. Despite this, Pharaoh was so impressed with Yosef's interpretation of his dream that he immediately appointed Yosef as viceroy over Egypt. What could Yosef have possibly said that impressed Pharaoh so greatly - enough for him to dismiss all of Yosef's "flaws" and immediately declare that he wanted Yosef, an inexperienced slave, to be the viceroy? Additionally, although we know that it was Hashem's will for Yosef to rule Egypt, what specific merit earned him this incredible position of power?  

R’ Shimon lived in Jerusalem and was known for always paying special care and attention to the mitzvah of bentching (Grace after Meals). When questioned about this practice, R’ Shimon explained that his commitment to bentching in this manner began when he was 11 years old. The great R’ Meir Shapiro (founder of the Daf Yomi system) visited his school in Poland and told the students that the Sefer Ha'hinuch (mitzvah 430) states that when one makes a blessing, they are supposed to concentrate on the fact that Hashem is the source of all blessings. R’ Shapiro went on to relate a tradition that he received, that if somebody makes sure to recite bentching with concentration, which is a concrete manifestation of this attitude (rightfully acknowledging that all blessing is solely a gift from Hashem, and not due to one’s own greatness or talents), Hashem will provide him with his sustenance with dignity and honor throughout his life. Right then and there, young Shimon decided that he would always make sure to do so. Shimon admitted that it was not easy to always stay behind to recite bentching while all of his friends ran out from lunch to recess, but he fulfilled his pledge, and despite the difficulty it entailed, he always recited bentching with careful concentration.

During World War II, when the Nazis took over Poland, Shimon found himself waiting on line for a selection. Those whom the Nazis deemed capable of working were allowed to live, while the rest were sent to be killed. Shimon was very concerned, as he was relatively young and had no special skills. As his turn drew near, the man behind him whispered, "tell them you're a chef and I'm your assistant". With Hashem's kindness, the plan worked, and Shimon was sent to work in a kitchen, where he was well fed. He clearly saw how the promise of sustenance with dignity was fulfilled.

Several months later, a Nazi officer was inspecting the site and was dismayed to see a Jewish worker who was so well-fed. He angrily brought Shimon outside, handed him a hammer, and, pointing to the frozen ground, made an absurd demand: "You have a few hours to dig a bunker two meters deep for hiding in case of a Russian attack. If you complete the job in time, you can continue working in the kitchen. If not, you're finished”. It was obvious that this was an impossible job. Shimon turned to Hashem and said, "I have a guarantee that You would sustain me my entire life. I am still young. Please sustain me and continue blessing me”. A short while later, a truck carrying Nazi soldiers drove by. They were carrying large amounts of food, and for fun, they threw lots of it at Shimon. Somewhat humiliated, Shimon suddenly found himself surrounded by potatoes and vegetables.

Not too long thereafter, however, another truck passed by, this one carrying Polish soldiers. They saw Shimon surrounded by food and thought that he was assigned over food distribution. The truck stopped, and the soldiers asked for some food. Hashem gave Shimon the wisdom to reply that he would only give them food if they dug a two-meter-deep bunker. They went back to the truck, got out their tools and shovels, and got to work. Soon enough, the job was completed, and Shimon gave them food. He did not have to even lift a finger. When the Nazi officer returned, he could not believe his eyes! He knew that the task he gave Shimon was impossible. "I always knew you Jews have your G-d watching you," he said, and sent Shimon back to the kitchen. Shimon went on to live a long life and always had his sustenance provided because he properly recognized that all blessing is solely from Hashem, and that He alone is responsible for all blessing. (This story appears in the work Sefer Birchas Ha'mazon Be'kavanah, and was recently recounted by Rav Nissan Kaplan at a Yarchei Kallah in Israel).

R’ Avrohom Pam (in Ateres Avraham) explains that after Yosef interpreted Pharaoh's dream so brilliantly, he could've requested anything that he wanted - wealth, power, etc. Instead, Yosef profusely gave all of the credit solely to Hashem and repeatedly described himself to be merely Hashem's mouthpiece in conveying his interpretation. It was the revelation of this fundamental character trait of recognizing that all of his talents and accomplishments are a gift from Hashem that earned Pharaoh's respect and merited his elevation from slave to viceroy. Indeed, the most repulsive character trait both in the eyes of Hashem and man alike, is when someone is full of themselves and drunk with feelings of his or her own superiority. Conversely, man's most endearing trait is genuine humility. The fact that Yosef embodied the attitude that "there is no strength in my own hands; rather, I am the lucky one that Hashem has granted the opportunity to do His will" is what earned Pharaoh's, and more importantly, Hashem's decision to grant Yosef such incredible power.


The importance of recognizing that all of our talents and accomplishments are only made possible by the grace of Hashem plays a central role in Chanukah as well. Through it, we can answer the following fundamental question: The Gemara (Shabbos 21b) states that the main miracle of Chanukah was the fact that the Menorah’s oil lasted for eight days. If so, why does the bulk of Al Hanisim (the prayer that we add to modim and bentching on Chanukah to commemorate the miracle) discuss the war with the Greeks, and only mention the miracle of the oil in passing??? R' Nachum Lansky Shlita answers that the purpose of bentching, as well as saying modim three times a day, is to internalize that all of our accomplishments, talents, possessions, etc. are an absolute gift from Hashem and not due to our own superiority. Therefore, it is appropriate that when the Sages added Al Hanisim they placed special emphasis on thanking Hashem for winning the war, since it could have easily been misconstrued as the result of our own superior military strength, strategy etc. When it came to the miracle of the oil lasting miraculously for eight days, however, there was no risk that we would take personal credit for it as it was clearly a miracle outside of the power of man. An underlying theme of Chanukah is to recognize that just as the oil that burned for 8 days was miraculous and a complete gift from Hashem, so too, our victory in war was a tremendous gift from Hashem and not due to our own military prowess. Indeed, Chanukah is intended to be our reminder that EVERYTHING we have in life is a gift from Hashem!

Living Inspired

It has always been the practice of great Jews to regard their accomplishments as gifts from Hashem. Following in their example is not only a mitzvah; it is also the best method to living a happier and more meaningful life. Let's explain with the following parable:

A millionaire couple had two sons. One son was never happy and always felt that his parents didn't give him enough. The other was the happiest kid alive. What caused the difference in their respective outlooks? One originally lived in an impoverished orphanage until he was ten years old, and was only recently adopted by the wealthy couple. He recognized that every single thing that his parents gave him was an absolute gift and therefore he didn't take even the smallest favor for granted. The outcome was that he constantly felt incredibly loved and cherished by his caring parents. The parents loved their other son as well, but as a result of him being spoiled his whole life, he felt that everything his parents gave him was owed to him, and that he had nothing to be excited about. Therefore, no matter what he received, he never felt truly loved nor any reason to be happy.

The underlying message of this week’s parshah and the celebration of Chanukah, is that Hashem is involved in every aspect of our lives and that everything we have is a GIFT from Him. This attitude is a present itself - for when people adopt such a mentality, they will always be on a high for they realize that they are constantly receiving incredible gifts from G-d Almighty Himself! Who wouldn't be smiling if they had this knowledge?? In fact, it is for this very reason that Hashem commands us to make blessings before enjoying any pleasure. He wants us to wake up and realize how truly blessed we all are and how He is constantly showering us with pleasures and presents! Constant gifts from G-d? Hey, what can be better than that?! Let us always regard all that we have in life as gifts, notice that there are so many people who don't have the things that we sometimes take for granted, and always have a tremendous sense of pride from the fact that we are cared for and loved by Hashem Himself!