True Faith

Vayomer Paroh el avadav: “Ha’nimtza kazeh ish asher ruach Elokim bo.” Vayomer Paroh el Yosef: “Acharei hodi’a Elokim oscha es kol zos ein navon v’chacham kamocha.” (Bereishis 41:38–39)

The Darkei Mussar notes the striking contrast in Pharaoh’s actions over the span of just a few short years. In our parashah, the idolatrous Pharaoh had no problem accepting Yosef’s interpretations and recommendations, even though Yosef made it clear that his explanations emanated from Hashem. Yet a short while later, the very same Pharaoh (according to one opinion in Rashi to Shemos 1:8) had completely forgotten Hashem’s existence and all of the benefits that he had received through Yosef, challenging Moshe, “Who is Hashem that I should listen to His command that I free the Jewish slaves? I don’t know or recognize Hashem.” What could account for the drastic change in his attitude?

There was once a wealthy businessman whose associates received word that his entire inventory had been lost at sea. Unsure about how to inform him, they went for guidance to the local Rav, who volunteered to break the news himself. The Rav called in the businessman and engaged him in a lengthy discussion about trust in Hashem, as well as the insignificance of temporal, earthly possessions relative to the infinite, eternal reward of the World to Come.

At this point, the Rav asked the man what would happen if he were to receive word that his entire fleet had sunk in the ocean. The merchant, inspired by the insightful words of the Rav, answered that he could accept such a turn of events. Assuming that his plan had worked, the Rav informed him that this had actually occurred. Much to the Rav’s surprise, the man promptly fainted. After awakening the businessman, the Rav pressed him for an explanation. The man replied, “It’s much easier to have faith and trust in a G-d Who could wipe out my possessions than in One Who actually did.”

Pharaoh was an idolater to the core who never truly believed in Hashem. Nevertheless, it was much easier for him to “believe” in a Hashem Who sent His agent (Yosef) to bring him satiety and riches than in a Hashem Who sent His agent (Moshe) to order him to free millions of slaves.

The Midrash says that Hashem figuratively rides over the righteous, as the Torah says (28:13) regarding Yaakov that Hashem was standing over him. The wicked, on the other hand, view themselves as superior to their gods. The Torah relates (41:1) that Pharaoh dreamed that he was standing over the Nile River (which was one of the Egyptian deities). When we recite Shema twice daily and accept upon ourselves the yoke of Heaven, we should focus on genuinely placing Hashem above us and truly accepting His will, whatever it may be.

 Q: There is a Talmudic principle (Bava Metzia 62a) that chayecha kodmin — saving one’s own life comes before saving others. In the unthinkable situation in which a person may additionally save only his father or his son, who has precedence?

 Q: As all festivals are observed in the Diaspora for two days due to a doubt about the actual calendar date, why didn’t Chazal enact that Chanukah be celebrated for nine days for this reason?

 A: Yehudah asked Yaakov to send Binyamin to Egypt with him and to entrust him with ensuring Binyamin’s safe return. Yehudah explained that if Yaakov agreed, there will be food to eat so that we (the brothers), you (our father), and our children won’t die of starvation (43:8). Harav Yaakov Kamenetsky writes that the Torah is prioritizing for us who has precedence when it comes to saving lives by mentioning the saving of their father before that of their children to teach that one’s father has priority.

A: Harav Eliyahu Mizrachi answers that because the observance of Chanukah is only Rabbinical in nature, Chazal were not stringent to require the observance of an additional day due to this doubt. The Eitz Chaim points out that because Chanukah is celebrated at the end of the month, there was no doubt about the precise date by this time because the messengers of the Sanhedrin had already reached the farthest Jewish settlements to inform them of the date on which the new month was sanctified.

Harav Yonason Eibschutz suggests that this question can be resolved through the well-known question of the Beis Yosef. Rav Yonason writes that Chanukah would have only been seven days as the Beis Yosef suggests, but the eighth day was added due to this doubt about the calendar. The Chasam Sofer rejects this explanation, as it would mean that in Israel, where there is no such doubt, Chanukah should only be observed for seven days. The Pri Chadash explains that because one of the decrees of the Greeks was to prohibit circumcision, which is performed on the eighth day, Chazal wanted Chanukah to be exactly eight days.

Harav Eliyahu Posek posits that Chazal wanted it to be clear on each day that the law is in accordance with Beis Hillel, who maintain that one should light one candle the first night and an additional candle on each successive night, and not Beis Shammai, who argue that one should light eight candles on the first night and subtract a candle on every night thereafter, but if Chanukah was observed for nine days, this would not be clear on the fifth day, when both opinions would rule that one should light five candles.


Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email