Monday, December 26, 2016

Cultural Assimilation

חנוכה בחצר הקודש טאלנא  (11)
The Rebbe Shlita distributing chocolate coins to the kinderlach [you may or may not know the guy in the left background]

In parshas Mikeitz we read that the Sar Hamashkim came before Paroh who was befuddled by his dreams and offered relief. When he was in jail, Yosef proved very helpful with dreams.ושם איתנו נער עברי עבד - "And there was there with us a young man, a Hebrew, servant .....; and we told him, and he interpreted to us our dreams; to each man according to his dream he did interpret."

Rashi explains that his intentions were really to "shtuch" Yosef and besmirch his name. When he said "a young man" he meant that he is foolish. When he said "a Hebrew" he meant that he doesn't even speak Egyptian. When he said "a servant" he meant that there is no way that he will ever become king because servants may not rise to a position of royalty.

A number of questions:

1] If the Sar Hamashkim was trying to impress Paroh with his ability to help him and find a dream solver, why was the deeper meaning of his words that Yosef is really worthless? It was the opposite of his intentions. He was trying to convince Paroh that this person can help him and yet all of his words were a double entendre. The undercurrent was that Yosef doesn't know what he is talking about. Weird....

2] The Sar Hamashkim said that there is no chance that Yosef can become king because he is a slave. What put in his brain that Paroh would want to appoint him king. Did he have ruach hakodesh?? Do birds read Shakespeare??

3] He said that Yosef doesn't speak Egyptian. For goodness sakes - Yosef obviously spoke to the Sar Hamashkim and Sar Ha-ofim when he interpreted their respective dreams. What language did he speak to them in - Yiddish?? Of course he spoke to them in their native Egyptian tongue so what sort of bubbe-myses was he telling Paroh?? Yosef was appointed the head over the house of the Sar Hatabachim - the chief butcher. He was involved in buying and selling food so of course he spoke Egyptian. This was a poor, easy to uncover falsehood. He could not have been that stupid... [Although one should never underestimate the dimensions of human stupidity - עפ"י איינשטיין]

The approach of the Rebbe Shlita:

Many foreigners know English from a dictionary or from a course they took. They can translate all of the words they hear. But you can always tell that they are foreigners because they don't understand the nuances of the language. It is quite entertaining to hear someone speak a language you know as a native and he only knows as a foreigner. A group of kids from camp Sdei Chemed once went into a fast food place in Israel and one of the kids demanded a "kelev cham". Now in English, that is the right way of saying it. "Hot dog". But in Hebrew they don't say that. Somebody was once trying to describe what a good head his son has. He said "Ha-rosh shel haben sheli - ain zman" - My son's head - there is no time. What did he mean?? In Modern Hebrew there is an expression used when something is really awesome: "חבל על הזמן" meaning, literally "it's a waste of time". This person misused the expression and said "ain zman" which in Modern Hebrew implies "there is no time...." To really master a language is to know the slang, the context of word usage etc. etc.

Yosef knew Egyptian - but as a foreigner. He didn't WANT to master the language because a language carries with it an entire cultural milieu. A language is, very subtly, a philosophy, an attitude, a perspective on life [this is a very deep topic expounded upon by masters of the psyche]. If you fully integrate into a society and adopt their form of speech, there is already a degree of cultural assimilation, whether we are aware or not. [This explains the insistence many have until this day to speak Yiddish. Hence born and bred Americans who have never been on foreign soil who speak English as if the just arrived for the first time yesterday. I once asked someone in Williamsburg for directions and he painfully tried to tell me in Engish where to go. "Ahhhh-yaaahh - Eden Peles? Yaaawww. Take a shaaarrrrp rrrriiiight [hard "r"], den go like dis [moving his body] den der, der is ahh bildin' daht is next to vere you is goin'. Eden Peles, yaaawwwww?" "Yaaawww":-)] Yosef wanted to have NONE of that. He learned Egyptian because he had to get by, but he didn't want to culturally assimilate. He didn't want to speak colloquial Egyptian.

The pasuk says in Tehillim in reference to Yosef in Mitzraim שפת לא ידעתי אשמע The language that he knew [אשמע] he didn't want to know properly [שפת לא ידעתי]

That is what the Sar Hamashkim meant when he said that he doesn't speak the language. And since Yosef doesn't speak Egyptian properly and the Paroh dreams in Egyptian, Yosef won't FULLY understand the meaning of the dreams. He added that Yosef can't be a king, telling the king that since a king dreams in the context of a king's frame of reference, there is no way that Yosef will fully comprehend the meaning of the dreams.

What was he trying to accomplish? He knew that Yosef can interpret dreams well, but since there are things he can't fully grasp, Paroh would appoint him [i.e. the Sar Hamishkim] as a top aide. It was all about elevating his own personal status. Yosef was just a puppet in his eyes to be used in order to catapult himself to power. His job was to serve wine so he was the master of knowing people's secrets [when the wine comes in - the secrets come tumbling out] and he felt that he could really be a great asset in Paroh's court.

Rashi writes "ארורים הרשעים שאין טובתן שלימה" Cursed are the evil ones for they can't even properly do a good deed, even when on the surface it seems like they are. He didn't have the ayin tova to just tell Paroh what a great dream interpreter Yosef was. He had to imply that he really "doesn't get it".

The message is, of course, that Yosef didn't want to assimilate.

That of course is the message of Chanukah as well. Rashi in Daniel says in the name of Josephus that anyone called by a Jewish name in the time of the Greeks was killed. [The Rebbe Shlita once received a kvittel - "Steve ben Helen"]

Only in the galus of yavan do we find a concept called "misyavnim" - Jews who were "Greecified" while we don't find that in the galus of Persia [for example] there were מתפרסים - wanna be Persians [See Pachad Yitzchak מאמר ה].

Rav Kook ztz"l in his Mishpat Kohen writes that a seven armed candelabra was a Greek symbol and that is why we celebrate 8 days of chanuka - so that our menorah won't have seven arms [even though the miracle was only seven days because they had enough oil for the first day and the miracle was that it remained burning an extra seven].

The Bnei Yisaschar writes that ראש השנה is the same gematria as מתתיהו [the Kohen Gadol of the Chashmonaim]. This can be explained by the Shem Mi-shmuel [Rosh Hashana page 45] who says [based on the gemara] that on Rosh Hashana we are judged by how much we are separate from the gentiles. That of course is the lesson of Chanuka - to be different and not to assimilate.

Yosef withstood the test. He came before Paroh and said "בלעדי אלהים יענה את שלום פרעה" - It is not me - only Hashem can answer Paroh. He spoke like a Jew. In fact, our Rabbis teach us that he was freed from jail on Rosh Hashana. This is the day when we must prove our Jewishness. It is interesting that in Kabbala sfarim [such as Bat Ayin] it says that on Chanuka our judgement for the previous year is sealed. For on Chanukah, the question of whether we are Jews or Hellenists [or Americanists] is decided and that is how the judgement also started on Rosh Hashana. [See also the Sfas Emes Mikeitz תרמ"ד]

[Based on a shiur by the Tolna Rebbe Shlita on the second night of Chanuka תשע"ד.]