When we ponder over the episodes of history, we usually attach supreme importance to momentous or grand events: wars, famine, the ascent or descent of great leaders to mention but a few. According to Rav Chaim of Velohzin in his book “Nefesh Hachaim”, the Torah view is that every event, no matter how mundane or miniscule can have global and even cosmic ramifications.
Take this week’s parasha for example. We find in the Sedra four words that changed the course of history. The narrative tells us about Yosef’s arrest and imprisonment. Shortly afterwards, two members of Par’oh’s court, the butler and the baker, are also thrown into jail. Let us try picture the situation. Two high-ranking officials of the king are sitting in prison with a Hebrew salve – the lowest rung of Egyptian society, serving time for a petty crime. It is quite logical that there would be very little or no contact between them.
The Torah however, tells us otherwise. The butler and baker have their respective dreams, which upset them greatly. Yosef seeing their anxiety approaches them and asks, “Madua peneichem raim hayom – Why are your faces troubled today?” As a result, the dreams are related to Yosef, which he interprets. The butler realises that Yosef has special powers. In time, the butler is released from prison and reinstated at the palace. Years later, the butler remembers Yosef when Par’oh has trouble understanding his dreams. Yosef is brought out of jail, he interprets the dreams correctly, installed as second in command, feeds the entire world including his father and brothers who come down to dwell in Egypt and the rest as they say is history.
How did this progression of events unfold? Because of four words, “madua peneichem raim hayom? – Why do you look so forlorn today?” Had Yosef turned a blind eye to his cellmates, who knows where we would find ourselves today? Four words that changed history. Do not believe that our seemingly meaningless gestures are of no value. In heaven, a mere “good morning” to our fellow is duly recorded and can begin a ripple effect that may reverberate across the entire universe.
I would like to develop this idea one-step further. It is written in Sefer HaPardes, a Kabbalistic work, that there are 112 verses in this week’s portion all of which begin with the word “and” (i.e. the letter vav), with the exception of 8 verses. These eight verses that do not begin with the word “and” correspond to the eight days between the birth of a baby boy and his circumcision. The verses beginning with “and” comes to teach us that all the incidents of this week’s parasha are intertwined in a cause and effect relationship. This is often how we perceive the unfolding of events in history. One episode leads to another.
Kabbalistic literature tells us that the number 7 connotes nature, as these are the number of days in a week. The number 8 on the other hand possesses the property of being above nature. This is why circumcision takes place on the eighth day because it is “lemaalah min hateva” – above nature. The mitzvah of brit milah gives the Jewish people the attribute of being above nature and the realm of cause and effect.
The eight verses in our parasha that do not begin with the word “and” teaches us the greatness of the Jewish people and their existence in this world. It is not merely natural happenstance, a series of casual events; there is in effect a grand plan.
It is no “coincidence” that there are eight days of Chanukah. We all know that the miracle of the little jug of oil was super natural. It is incumbent upon us to know however, that the victory of the Maccabees over the Greeks was also above nature. The fact that an under armed army lacking in numbers were able to defeat an enemy equipped with the most advanced technology of the time shows us that the Jewish people indeed live an existence outside the forces of nature – we truly live a miraculous existence.