Parshas MiKeitz always falls out around Chanukah, and Chazal explain that this is not coincidental. In explanation of this phenomenon, the commentaries discuss how Yosef is connected to Chanukah, and how he symbolizes our victory over the Syrian-Greeks. This begs the obvious question as to what exactly the connection between Yosef and Chanukah is. An obvious connection both Yosef and the Greeks would be the concept of beauty. Yosef is the only male in the Torah who is referred to as “beautiful” (B’reishis 39:6). The Greeks originate from Yefes, a name which literally means “beauty.” In Parshas Noach, Noach blesses his two sons with the following: “Yaft Elokim l’Yefes, v’yishkon b’ohalei Shem–Hashem will grant beauty to Yefes, and he will dwell within the tents of Shem (B’reishis 9:27).” Yefes is the precursor to the Greeks, and Shem to the Jews. This seemingly paints the Greeks in a positive light, as a beautiful nation fitting to dwell within the framework and boundaries of Judaism. In a similar vein, the Gemara (Megillah 9b) states that despite the general prohibition of translating the Torah into different languages, it is permissible to translate the Torah into Greek due to the beauty of the language.
Based on the fact that both Yosef and the Greeks are referred to as beautiful, we must uncover the connection between them. How is the beauty of Yosef and Greek beauty connected? In order to answer this question, we must first understand what the spiritual concept of beauty actually means. To do this, let us track the spiritual concept of beauty back to the creation of man, to before Adam HaRishon’s sin.
Before Adam sinned, he looked nothing like you or I do today. When we look at each other, all we see is flesh and bone, but if you looked at Adam before he sinned, he appeared angelic, transcendent, luminescent. The Midrash says that he and Chavah wore kosnos or, skin of light. In other words, when you looked at Adam, you didn’t see his body, you saw Adam himself: his neshamah, his soul. For example, when you look at a light bulb, all you see is light; only when you look very closely, can you just make out the surface of the bulb. The same was true regarding Adam: Only when you looked very closely could you just make out the surface of his physical body. His body was transparent, with the outside loyally reflecting his inner self. This is true beauty, where the inner and outer melt into a oneness, where the physical loyally and perfectly reflects the inner and spiritual, where the physical vessel serves as a medium to project something much deeper than itself. Beauty is the harmony and synthesis between different components, which results in something infinitely greater than the sum of its parts.
However, once Adam sinned, his entire body transformed as well. The physical no longer revealed the spiritual, but hid it. Now, when we look at each other, we don’t see our true selves; all we see is a physical body instead. What was once light is now darkness. People can’t see your inner world, your thoughts, your consciousness, your emotions; all they see is your external body. Now, in order to reveal yourself to other people, you need to use the physical to reveal the spiritual; only through your words, actions, facial expressions, and body language can people gain a glimpse of who you truly are. The body used to be incandescent and reveal, now it only hides.
After the sin of Adam HaRishon, genuine beauty became elusive. Sarah Imeinu achieved this lofty feat. We know Sarah was physically beautiful, and that her beauty was not just of an ethereal and spiritual nature. When she went down to Mitzrayim, the Mitzrim, and even Pharaoh himself, desired her, and the Egyptians were steeped in immorality, interested only in beauty that ran skin deep. Interestingly, though, at the end of Parshas Noach, Rashi (B’reishis 11:29) tells us that another one of Sarah’s names was Yiskah. A name reflects essence, so why was this her name? It is because Yiskah means transparent, and Sarah’s true beauty lay in her transparency; her inner beauty loyally permeated, and was reflected through, her physical body. Genuine beauty requires the midah of transparency, where the physical body reflects the inner and spiritual beauty, something infinitely greater than any external beauty. True beauty is oneness, where the physical and spiritual melt into a oneness, where the physical doesn’t hide the inner self, but reveals it!
It is therefore no surprise that the word Yiskah comes from the same shoresh (root) as schach, the roof of the sukkah. According to halachah, the main part of the sukkah is the schach, which is why the shoresh of sukkah comes from the word schach, as well. What, though, does transparency have to do with schach and the sukkah? The answer lies in the very deep theme of Sukkos itself. Sukkos is about seeing past the illusion of self-security, and recognizing that Hashem is our only true source of protection. This is why we leave our sturdy homes and enter a diras arai, a temporary dwelling place. It is to show that our faith and trust lie in Hashem, not our “safe” homes. While on the surface, our security and safety seem to come only from our own efforts and hishtadlus, when we look past the surface, we recognize that everything comes from Hashem. This is why the schach is the main part of the sukkah – it trains us to see past the surface. The schach must be transparent, allowing you to see the stars at night. It must allow the sunlight to pour in from outside, and must be loose enough to allow rain into the sukkah, as well. Only when we have a transparent surface can we truly see what lies within.
One of the most misunderstood concepts in Judaism is the principle of tz’nius, modesty, especially when it comes to women. Most people think that tz’nius means to hide, and not be seen; accordingly, the best form of tz’nius would be to walk around with a brown bag over your head! Hopefully, though, we can suggest a deeper approach to tz’nius. Nowadays, beauty has been corrupted; it generally refers to outer beauty, a surface beauty, which hides the inner self. While the physical is also extremely important, your true self is your neshamah, your mind and consciousness. Your inner world consists of your thoughts, ideas, beliefs, midos, emotions, all of which are the deepest and most genuine parts of the self. Physical beauty is neither good nor bad; it completely depends on how it’s used. True beauty is when the physical becomes a vessel to reveal the true you into the world. Thus, true beauty will always focus on the inner and deeper beauty as the essence. Tz’nius is not meant to hide you; it’s meant to reveal you! The true you! So that people don’t focus on your external trappings, but instead, get to meet the actual self, the neshamah, which lies beneath the surface. Individuals can only be genuinely beautiful if their root and core are beautiful, and they then use the physical as a vehicle to project that inner beauty outwards.
The Chanukah Battle
The conception of beauty was a fundamental point of contention in the battle between the Jews and the Syrian-Greeks. The Greeks did not believe in using the physical to reflect anything higher; they viewed physical beauty as an end unto itself. Their focus was solely on the external; to them, beauty was physical perfection, independent of anything deeper. The Greeks glorified Olympic games, a competition that idolizes the physical body. For the Greeks, true godliness was physical and intellectual perfection, where the physical and intellectual were completely independent, where mind and soul did not permeate the physical, but remained distinct and separate. This is why the Greeks come from Yefes, which is the same word in Hebrew for “beauty,” and why their language is referred to as beautiful. Ideally, the Greeks could have reflected true beauty, whereby the physical beauty and spiritual beauty harmonize into one. They could have harmonized with the Jews, and joined the physical with the spiritual; instead, they chose to corrupt true beauty, disconnecting the spiritual from the physical, projecting the physical as an independent end in itself.
Yosef and Beauty
Yosef is connected to Chanukah because he represents the harmony between the physical and the spiritual; he successfully utilized the physical to reflect something higher. He is called beautiful because his physical body projected something infinitely deeper than itself. This is the profound meaning behind the name that Pharaoh gives Yosef, Tzafnas Panei’ach, which means “to reveal the hidden” (B’reishis 41:43). A name reflects inner essence, and Yosef’s midah was true beauty, the ability to harmonize the physical with the spiritual, the hidden with the revealed. Yosef represents our victory over Greek ideology, whereby the physical can reflect something infinitely deeper than itself.
Yosef, Tzion, and True Beauty
The Syrian-Greeks attacked Yerushalayim, trying to disconnect us from the Beis HaMikdash, the place where Hashem connects most intimately and deeply with our physical world. The place of the Beis HaMikdash is referred to as Tzion, a unique, beautiful, and distinguished place. The pasuk in T’hilim (50:2) refers to Tzion as the ultimate place of beauty: “MiTzion michlal yofi” – from Zion comes the embodiment of beauty. The Gemara explains that nine-tenths of the world’s beauty was given to Tzion, which in essence means that it received all the world’s beauty, and gave a tenth of its portion (maaser) to the rest of the world (Kiddushin 49b).
Yavan represents external, surface beauty, while Tzion represents true beauty. Yavan is comprised of the letters yud-vav-nun, while Tzion is comprised of those same three letters, along with a tzadi in front, the same root/shoresh of the word tzadik. Yosef is referred to as Yosef HaTzadik, because he places the tzadi in front of Yavan – turning surface beauty into Tzion, true beauty. Yosef represents the ability to shine forth inner and higher beauty through a physical medium. It is no coincidence that the g’matria (numerical value) of Tzion is 156, the same g’matria as Yosef.
This is the hidden light of Chanukah, the light that helps us see the truth, the ability to see past the surface. Beauty is much deeper than a description of how a person looks; it’s a way of life. A beautiful life is one of oneness, where we synthesize all the aspects of who we are; where our thoughts, words, and actions all reflect a higher purpose. This is the beauty of Yosef. This is the light of Chanukah.
Shmuel Reichman is an inspirational speaker, writer, and coach who has lectured internationally at shuls, conferences, and Jewish communities on topics of Jewish Thought and Jewish Medical Ethics. He is the founder and CEO of Self-Mastery Academy (ShmuelReichman.com), the transformative online course that is revolutionizing how we engage in self-development. You can find more inspirational lectures, videos, and articles from Shmuel on his website: www.ShmuelReichman.com.