Pharaoh dreamt of seven fat cows that were swallowed up by seven lean cows. Then he dreamt again, of seven healthy ears of corn devoured by seven withered ears. Pharaoh’s advisers saw seven daughters to be born to Pharaoh, but then they would die. That was the thinking in the decadent Egyptian society of the time: live, die and be forgotten. There was no legacy for the future and no thoughts about tomorrow.
Joseph was a Jew. He taught Pharaoh a way to view life by preparing for the future. Don’t live in the past, but take the past with you as you look toward the future. Joseph interpreted the dreams that seven years of plenty would be followed by seven years of famine; store away provisions in the seven good years for the future crisis.
Today is the link between yesterday and tomorrow. Today must carry over from yesterday, or we will have no tomorrow. Hillel and Shammai debated concerning the kindling of the Chanukah menorah. We decide the law like Hillel, who says we light one candle the first night and two candles on the second night, one for today and one for yesterday. On the following night, we kindle three, two for the days gone by and one for today. We progressively increase the lights each night by counting today and also incorporating yesterday as well.
We cannot make a blessing for today unless yesterday accompanies it. There is no Judaism without our past. Why did G-d create a miracle whereby the oil from the past continued to burn? The lesson is obvious: better one drop of the good “old” oil than all of the new. New does not always last, but the old lasts. The message of Chanukah is to seek out the old, keep it, learn from it, and build upon it.
G-d has many names in the Torah, each of which represents the way He reveals Himself through His behavior toward the world. Hashem (The Name) is the particular name that expresses the eternity of G-d, for it is composed of the letters that spell “He was, He is and He will be.” When G-d appeared to Moses in Egypt, He appeared by the name Hashem to demonstrate that G-d is timeless and eternal. Furthermore, the use of this name in the context of Moses’ mission implied clearly that Israel would be freed from any attachment to Egypt.
Joseph’s descent to Egypt was the first exile that would eventually achieve redemption through Moses. So too, at the time of Chanukah, we Jews were subjugated by the Syrian- Greeks and also eventually redeemed. May our present exile lead to our future redemption!
Rabbi Jeffrey Orkin is director of pastoral care at Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital.