In this week’s Parsha (Torah Portion), Parshat Miketz, the story of Yoseph (Joseph) that began in last weeks Parsha, Parshat Vayeshev, continues, as does the theme of dreams.
A question that is often asked about the Yoseph stories in the Torah is: what is the nature of Yoseph’s ability to have dreams and interpret them? Are Yoseph’s dreams a message from God? Are they prophetic or just Yoseph’s mind at work? In Freudian terms, are the dreams a manifestation of Yoseph’s subconscious? When Yoseph interprets the dreams of Pharaoh, is this simply Yoseph interpreting a dream, perhaps using psychology or God giving over a revelation?
The readings of the stories of Yoseph in the Torah always come in close proximity to Chanukah. Perhaps by looking more closely at Chanukah, we can begin to answer questions about the nature of Yoseph’s dreams and his ability to interpret them. According to the way the story of Chanukah is told in the Talmud, Shabbat 21b, after the Jews were successful in their revolt against the Assyrian-Greeks, they went back to Yerushalayim (Jerusalem), to the Beit Hamikdash (The Temple), and they saw that the Beit Hamikdash had been defiled by the Assyrian-Greeks. They purified the Beit Hamikdash and then began to search to find oil to light the Menorah, seven-branched candelabra, which was used in the religious experience of the Beit Hamikdash. They eventually found one container of oil that still had the seal of the Kohain Gadol (High Priest) on it, but there was only enough oil in the flask that was found to last one day. As we know, a miracle happened and the amount of oil that was only supposed to last one day lasted for eight days. As a result, we celebrate Chanukah by lighting the Chanukiah (the special eight-branched Menorah used on Chanukah) for eight days.
The Beit Yosef, a commentator on the Tur, and Shulchan Aruch (two of the most important Jewish Legal Codes) asks an interesting question in Orech Chayim 670. Why is Chanukah eight days long? The miracle of the oil was really seven days, not eight. The Maccabees found one container of oil that was enough for one day. Therefore, Chanukah should be celebrated for seven days, not eight? Seven lights for seven nights, not eight?