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Parshas Mikeitz - The Experience of a Lifetime     29 Kislev 5779

12/06/18 22:42:02


The White House Chanukah Party is an annual reception held in the east wing of the White House and hosted by the U.S. President and First Lady to recognize and celebrate the Jewish festival of Chanukah. The tradition was established in 2001, during the administration of George W. Bush. The guest list includes hundreds of American Jewish politicians, organization heads, and school and yeshiva deans. While presidents prior to President Bush held menorah lighting ceremonies, none hosted an actual party/reception with kosher food to top it off!

December 22nd, 2003 was the nineteenth party of the season that the President and first lady had thrown. It was this party, President Bush’s final party of the season, that my wife Leah and I had the privilege to attend. The experience was a truly awesome one. The White house was regal and decorated for the season. Despite the overwhelming decorative spirit of the non-Jewish holidays, it was a Chanukah celebration. With the Marine band playing ‘Sevivon Sof Sof Sof’ and ‘I have a little dreidle’, a feeling of Jewish pride permeated the White House that night.

According to some halachik opinions, the President of the United States of America has the same legal status as that of a king. There is a halacha in the Shulchan Aruch which states if one is to see a king in person, a special blessing is recited. Since the impeachment of President Nixon, there is a debate in today’s law as to whether a President has the same status as a king. If a President could be removed by the people, then he does not have the status of a king. Be that as it may, the feeling that one has being in the presence of the President of the United States conveys the same feelings as being in front of a king. In fact, while waiting on the receiving line, a few of the Rabbis began discussing the question of whether to recite the bracha in full, or perhaps without God’s name, or maybe not at all. As the discussion went back and forth, we inched closer to the room where the President and First Lady greeted us and had a photo op. Every Rabbi and Rebbetzin came to their own conclusion of if and what to say or not. After a few minutes of private time with the President, we roamed around the east wing, totally soaking up the experience.

When I returned home and talked about our meeting with the President, I was asked, ”So, did you make a Bracha or not?” I replied as follows:: “As we moved into the room with the President, the entire scene became surreal. We recognized the person because we had seen him on television and in newspapers so many times, but this was different. We were obviously nervous and focused on the moment of being right there, making sure we did everything correctly and appropriately.. We concentrated so much on just being there, that we totally forgot, in fact didn’t even think about making a bracha. So, in the end,we did not say the blessing - not because we thought we shouldn’t say it, but because we were in a daze! This incident shed some great light on a difficult passage in the Torah.

In this week’s Parshas Mikeitz the Torah describes the meeting of Yosef and his brothers for the first time since they had sold him twenty-two years earlier. In Bereishis 42:8 the Torah states: “VaYaker Yosef Es Echav, V’Heim Lo HiKirhu”. “And Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him”. Rashi explains the reason why Yosef recognized them but his brothers did not recognize that it was Yosef (even though they were searching for him). The reason was because when Yosef was taken away, the brothers all had beards. Yosef, however, had no beard when he was sold to the Ishmaelites. Now, twenty-two years later, Yosef had a full beard. Many people find this Rashi difficult to accept. How could a brother not recognize a brother even after not seeing each other for so long? A second question is that only a few verses earlier the Torah records that Yosef did recognize them, so why repeat it? The Iben Ezra explains that Yosef does at first recognize them as a group but not each brother individually. Later, however he is able to recognize and identify each one. The Ramba”n goes further and explains that when they said they had down from Canaan to buy food, Yosef knew that these men were his brothers.The Malbi”m says that once he heard their voices, it confirmed that they were indeed his brothers. The Rada”k expounds that Yosef tried to ‘show them’ his love, that he would not hurt them, but they still failed to recognize him, believing that Yosef actually wanted to kill them. I would like to pose support to the notion that despite the fact that they were looking for Yosef, it never would occur to them that Yosef was actually in this high position. In addition, everyone around called Yosef “Tzafnas Paneach” and Yosef was speaking Egyptian, not Hebrew. Ultimately, the brothers did not expect this and therefore when they came face to face with Yosef there was a disconnect. They never thought that this high-ranking Egyptian-looking official was their brother. When my wife and I were with the President, the awesome feeling at the time created a blanking out of everything else including the issue of reciting a bracha. Sometimes the shock of something unexpected happens, creating a block in our brains, keeping us from processing even simple things such as recognizing one’s own brother. While standing in front of the president, I started thinking, ”"Is that really him?! Am I really seeing the president?!” My mind started to play tricks on me and created some doubt within the moment. So, too, the brothers could not have imagined that this great person was Yosef, and even if they had thought it might be Yosef, they dismissed that idea and said, ”Impossible! Can’t be Yosef!”

Finally, there is a theory that every human being has a look-alike in the world. Some believe even more than that. There are many times I see photos of someone who looks identical to someone else I know. The brothers may have thought to themselves, ”Yeh, it looks like Yosef, but it can’t be.” Ultimately, it was the plan of Hashem to facilitate Yosef recognizing them, but making it not possible for the brothers to recognize him in order to carry out a master plan of the Jewish people coming down to Mitzrayim and fulfilling the Bris Bein HaBesarim, the covenant with Avraham. This was all a pretext to prepare the birth of Am Yisrael in Egypt, emerging into the world as a nation. The goal was to eventually come to recognize each other, eliminating the animosity that once existed so as to create brotherly love, uniting the hearts of Acheinu Kal Beis Yisrael!

Ah Gut Shabbos & Ah Lichtiga Chanukah

Sun, May 24 2020 1 Sivan 5780