Divrei Torah


In this week’s Parsha we find that Pharaoh called Yosef by the name Tzafnas Paneach. The Ibn Ezra says that “if this is an Egyptian name, we do not know its meaning.” In fact, this name for Yosef is never used again.  So, why does the Torah bother to write only this one time the apparently Egyptian name of Yosef?

We know that the Rabbis refer to Yosef as Yosef Hatzadik – Yosef the Righteous. But, all of his other brothers were also righteous. Why didn’t they earn the same honorable title of “Hatzadik” as Yosef? A reason suggested is that for 22 years Yosef lived in Egypt, considered in the Talmud as an immoral and idolatrous country. Yet, living in Egypt did not affect his religious and moral behavior.  Though Yosef was the second most powerful person in the most powerful nation on earth at the time, he remained steadfast in his faith and belief in G-d.

This was a challenge that none of his other brothers had to face. They lived in the home of their father Yaakov or in his neighborhood.  Yaakov was their source for religious beliefs and code of morality. The temptations to go astray were not nearly as strong as they were for Yosef, living by himself in a foreign country. Despite that, Yosef remained faithful. Keeping his Hebrew name, Yosef, was one of the ways through which he proved his faithfulness. Yosef earned the title of “Hatzaddik” by not giving in to the temptations surrounding him, even in small matters like his Jewish name.

One of my students asked, “Is that why we read Mikeitz on Chanuka? If we think about it, it is a correct association. The Maccabees were not willing to concede an inch to Greek culture . . . not even a Jewish name.

We all like being a part of American society. The Jewish people have come a long way in America, we have climbed many rungs, up the ladder of success and we are proud to be included with the non-Jewish element in this country. We like what they like. They need to have many varieties of foods – so we need to have those same varieties. They have trees so some people feel that it is important to have a Chanuka bush. They have greeting cards depicting Santa, so we need cards depicting a Jewish form of Santa.

Superficially, this may seem very cute, but fundamentally we all know that it is really frightening. It represents the extent of assimilation for some Jews who have appropriated what the non-Jewish world has. Their heroes have become our heroes . . . Their values have become our values.

That’s the lesson we can learn from this week’s Parsha. Yosef taught us how important it is to remain an independent people . . . independent in our way of thinking, our values and our beliefs. We cannot allow the world to dictate to us what we should be thinking. This is also the theme of Chanukah - we do not accept values which are foreign to Judaism. Rather, we strive to continue to grow and gain more exposure to the light of the Torah.