Weekly Pre-Shabbos D’var Torah from Rabbi Gutstein

D’Var 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, 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 – Righteous” by not giving in to the temptations surrounding him, even in small matters like his Jewish name.

Perhaps this is a reason that Parshas Mikeitz is almost always read on the Shabbos of Chanuka The Maccabees were not willing to concede an inch to Greek culture . . . not even a Jewish name.

What about our lifestyle here in America? 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 is 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.