This week we read Parshas Miketz. It is also Shabbos of Chanukah. Parshas Miketz actually always comes out on Chanukah, so there must be some connection, or common thread between them. We will offer one thought.
In Parshas Miketz we read of the freeing of Joseph from jail. Joseph is summoned to Pharaoh to interpret two dreams that Pharaoh just had. Pharaoh is told by Joseph that his dreams of seven fat cows being eaten by seven skinny cows, and of seven fat stalks being eaten by seven skinny stalks, are really both to teach the same point. There will be seven years of plenty in the land of Egypt, and then there will be a seven year famine. The famine will be so severe, that the years of good will be totally forgotten. Joseph concludes by telling Pharaoh a piece of advise. “Now Pharaoh should appoint an understanding and wise man over the country to help prepare for these coming years” (Genesis 41:33) Pharaoh is so impressed with Joseph, that he takes his advise, and appoints Joseph himself to rule over the country. (41:40)
The question is raised, how are we to understand the conduct of Pharaoh? On the one side, he is ready to take a man who was just released from jail, and to appoint him to lead over his entire country. Yet later, when he is approached by Aaron and Moses, who perform open miracles in front of him, and who are leaders of their nation, he refuses to listen to them at all. Why this change of attitude? Why is Pharaoh so willing to listen to Joseph, but so unwilling to listen to Moses and Aaron?
The difference is obvious. When Pharaoh was taking Joseph as a viceroy, he was helping his country. He stood to gain a lot from having his country saved from an impending disaster. To listen to Joseph was something that Pharaoh was only going to gain from. Doing that doesn’t take courage or special character. When Moses and Aaron came, on the other hand, Pharaoh knew that if he listened to them and let the Jews go, he would lose an entire force of slave laborers that he had. This was enough of a reason for him not to want to listen to Moses and Aaron, regardless of how important they were, or how many miracles they made.
When we face challenges in our day to day observance of Torah and mitzvos, we often find ourselves in a similar situation as Pharaoh. To do what is right when it is clear that we will gain from this, is not so hard. It is only when we stand to lose from our actions, that we must be very careful and not let ulterior motivations cloud our vision. As we celebrate the holiday of Chanukah, we recognize the bravery of the Maccabes. They certainly were people who did not allow any ulterior motivation to affect their decisions. They did what they knew was right, because it was right, regardless of the circumstances, or of the possible consequences. This is a most important idea that we can hopefully learn. Instead of following the example of Pharaoh, who only did what was better for himself, we can follow the example of the Maccabes, who made the decisions to do what was right, regardless of how easy or hard it was.