Clarity of vision

December 21, 2016

Torah Thought

Pharaoh dreamed two dreams. In the first, he was standing on the river Nile. He watched as seven skinny cows consumed seven stout ones. It was a dream, but it was Pharaoh’s type of dream. It was about him and he was the focal character. Pharaoh liked that. He turned over and went back to sleep.

Later that night Pharaoh had another dream. Seven healthy stalks of grain somehow consumed seven puny stalks. This dream really shook Pharaoh up. He roused his entire household, sent for his sorcerers and pulled Joseph out of the dungeon.

What shook Pharaoh up about the second dream? Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin suggests that it was the nature of the story. It was the only dream that Pharaoh had dreamt that didn’t feature him as the main character. He couldn’t deal with it. He couldn’t place himself in the narrative. He was stricken with FOMO. Psychologists call it a narcissistic injury.

As it turned out, Pharaoh’s dream was not about him. It pertained to an entire nation and it involved appointing a second- in-command who would overshadow him in many ways. Pharaoh’s dream was a nightmare—for him.

We all have a bit of Pharaoh in us. We like to see ourselves front and center. We look for ourselves first in every group picture. We obsess about our own pain before looking around at others. Our vision and our thoughts are clouded by selfishness.

We were not always so self-centered. When Hashem created the world there was a light that shone from one end of the universe to the other. We could see right and wrong, feelings and emotions, ourselves and others. Our vision wasn’t clouded or biased. That beautiful and clear light lasted for exactly 36 hours (just like the 36 candles that we light on Hanukkah). We are taught that Humankind enjoyed the divine light from the time Adam was created at noon on the sixth day of creation until three stars emerged after the very first Shabbos. When we were evicted from the Garden of Eden, the light was hidden away for some time in the future. Adam and Chava tried to preserve some light by lighting the Havdala candle as Shabbos concluded, but it will never be the same.

We are taught that the clear light from creation can be found in the Torah. Rather than self-centeredly consuming everything around us, we need to be able to find that light and see the world around us and the people around us clearly. We can tap into that light and use it to make this world better.

The Talmud tells us that long before the Greeks, Adam was the first to celebrate Hanukkah. After he had sinned he noticed that the days were getting shorter. Winter was coming and the hours of light were becoming less. He thought the world was being destroyed because of his sin. He fasted for eight days until the solstice, which is the darkest point of the year. Then he saw the days brightening, becoming longer, and understood that it was the way of the world and would happen every year. He made an eight-day festival, and celebrated it each year.

The Greeks had no Torah and no regard for anyone else. They were obsessed with their physique and had no appreciation for anything spiritual. We showed them that what we have is far more valuable than what they had to offer.

Every Hanukkah, we experience that renewal of light. We have a chance to capture that light and recalibrate the way we look at things. We can be the Pharaohs and the Greeks who think only about ourselves, putting ourselves at the center of every story. Or we can be like the Chashmonaim who showed that victory is about bringing clarity to the world with a very clear and holy light that is helpful to others without necessarily promoting ourselves.

—Rabbi Sender Haber, B’nai Israel Congregation

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