Photo Credit: Asher Schwartz

In this week’s Torah portion, we see the prophetic culmination of Yosef’s dreams. Yosef is the first of the two Messiahs – Mashiach ben Yosef, symbolizing material salvation, to be followed by Mashiach ben David, symbolizing spiritual salvation. It is Yosef’s role to be the mashbir, the provider, the statesman who will make peace with the nations of the world in preparation for the arrival of Mashiach ben David.

Yosef is the gateway through which Hashem showers His blessing of sustenance on the whole world. Using the gift of Divine wisdom, Yosef – Tzofnat Pa’aneach – the decipherer of mysteries, speaker of seventy languages, mobilizes Egypt to prepare for and endure the seven-year famine. Eventually, his father and brothers find their way to Egypt and enjoy the Divine sustenance, through Yosef, as he had prophesied.


Over 200 years later, we encounter a similar phenomenon – in the Mishkan and, following it, in the Beit HaMikdash. Four main vessels reside in the Holy of Holies and the Sanctuary: the Aron, the Menorah, the Shulchan Lechem HaPanim, and the Incense Altar. The purpose of the Shulchan Lechem HaPanim is to serve as a gateway through which Hashem channels Heavenly abundance throughout the world. According to the Midrash (Tanchuma, Kedoshim 10), Shlomo HaMelech in his wisdom saw “arteries of prosperity” radiating out from the Beit HaMikdash, across the world, each with its own unique characteristic. Thus, Shlomo knew where the best place in the world was to plant mango trees, apple trees, cucumbers, tomatoes, etc.

For almost 1,311 years, from the time of the Mishkan until the destruction of the Second Beit HaMikdash, (briefly interrupted by 70 years of exile in Babylon), this state of material prosperity persisted in Am Yisrael. During this time, people had to work less than two hours a day for their livelihood (the minimum hishtadlut), having the rest of the day free to spend with their families and study Torah. We have many rich people in the world today, but this concept of effortless prosperity across the entire spectrum of Am Yisrael, and through them to the entire world, is unprecedented.

Yosef was a living Shulchan Lechem HaPanim; through him Hashem channeled sustenance and prosperity to the entire world. Not only grain during the period of famine but even before that – in the house of Potiphar and as head warden in the prison – he was successful in everything he did. The Midrash (Tanchuma, Vayeishev) relates how everything Yosef touched turned to “gold.” He would bring Potiphar a cup of red wine and Potiphar would say, “Today I prefer white wine!” Yosef would simply touch the cup and the red wine would miraculously turn to white wine.

He would say, “Yosef this soup is already cold!” and Yosef would touch the bowl and the soup would miraculously become boiling hot. Everything Yosef touched or was involved in resulted in enormous prosperity.

We are currently celebrating Chanukah. Our Sages say that the chief target of the Greek exile was Yosef; the Greeks tried to eradicate the attribute of Yosef from Am Yisrael.

Among the many evil decrees that the Greeks imposed on Am Yisrael was that they required each Jew to take a bull’s horn and inscribe on it, “We do not have any part in the G-d of Israel.” Why specifically a bull’s horn? It was because the shor, bull, is the symbol of Yosef.

What was it about Yosef that the Greeks despised? The Greeks were great scholars, they were the first nation in the world to translate the Torah. They understood what Yosef represented – Yosef never uttered a sentence without mentioning Hashem’s name. How did Potiphar recognize that all his prosperity was due to Hashem? It was because in everything that Yosef did, he mentioned Hashem’s name. Potifar would ask, “What was the tally of today’s harvest?” and Yosef would answer, “Forty-five 45 bushels in the east field, baruch Hashem!”

Potiphar would ask “What is this morning’s schedule?” to which Yosef would reply, “Be’ezrat Hashem we will be pruning the Cabernet grape vines this morning and composting the field.”

When solving the dreams of royal baker and vintner and the dreams of Pharaoh, Yosef was quick to point out that the solution was not his, but Hashem’s. Yosef’s very essence was the umbilical association of everything with HaKadosh Baruch Hu. It was this very association that the Greeks were trying to erase, which is why they chose the symbol of Yosef.

The Shulchan Lechem HaPanim did not exist in a vacuum. It was paired with another vessel, the Menorah. Both stood side by side in the Sanctuary facing the Aron. The Menorah and the Shulchan were a symbiotic pair symbolizing material prosperity and Torah, which are mutually dependent. Without the Torah, radiated through the light of the Menorah, there can be no prosperity. Without prosperity, we cannot physically survive to study Torah.

The Rokeach (Hilchot Purim, 240) says that the festival of Chanukah is associated with the Menorah, and the festival of Purim with the Shulchan Lechem HaPanim. Chanukah is not a festival of food like Purim (except for sufganiyot and latkes). Some jokingly say that the reason we eat oil-saturated foods, like the sufganiyot, is because after eating one, it burns for eight days!

Chanukah is not specifically about the Shulchan (the food); it is about the mix of the Shulchan and the Menorah. The focus is on Yosef, who embodied the symbiotic pairing of the Shulchan and the Menorah. Yosef was the mashbir, the provider of prosperity, who never uttered a sentence without recognition and gratitude to Hashem.

Parshat HaShavua Trivia Question: When the brothers arrived in Egypt in search of food, what was the first thing they did?

Answer to Last Week’s Trivia Question: The Yishmaeli merchants who took Yosef to Egypt were carrying perfume, but this was not their normal cargo. What was? Foul-smelling oil and tar (Breishit Rabba 84, 17). Hashem had mercy on Yosef that he would not have to endure the journey with a foul smell.

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Eliezer Meir Saidel ([email protected]) is Managing Director of research institute Machon Lechem Hapanim and owner of the Jewish Baking Center which researches and bakes traditional Jewish historical and contemporary bread. His sefer “Meir Panim” is the first book dedicated entirely to the subject of the Lechem Hapanim.