“And it came to pass at the end of two years” (Bereshit 41:1) Our Parasha starts out exactly two years from the end of last weeks Parasha. Yosef is languishing in prison. Just like Yosef predicted from his interpretation of the dreams, the Wine Steward of Pharaoh got out of prison. But he “forgot” to put in a good word for Yosef, which left him in the darkness of the dungeon. The Torah now announces that from the darkness of Pharaoh’s bedroom come dreams that will start a chain of events that will bring Yosef’s two years of darkness to an abrupt end.
The Midrash compares Yosef’s sojourn in the darkness of prison and its sudden end, to the reality that we all live in. We live in a world of darkness, and one day it too will come to an abrupt end. The Midrash learns this from a verse from Iyov: (28:3) “He made an end to darkness…” The darkness is the reality of the world that we live in. The Talmud also refers to the darkness of this world (Baba Mezia 83b): “What is meant by, ‘You make darkness, and it is night’ (Tehilim 104:20)”? This refers to this world, which is comparable to night.” This is the darkness of our lusts and desires, of the Yetzer Hara (Evil Inclination) which darkens the world so that we don’t see the truth that is in front of us, or we see it in a distorted way so that we are fooled into thinking that things that are false are actually true, and things that are true look false. (Mesilat Yesharim ch.2)
The Midrash continues: One day all of this darkness will end. Why? Because evil will be vanquished in the end. But until then, there will be the Yetzer Hara in the world to fool us, and that is compared to darkness and the shadow of death, as the verse in Iyov continues: ‘…and every end He fathoms; a stone of darkness and the shadow of death.‘ So just like Yosef’s darkness ended suddenly with the dramatic events of Pharaoh’s cryptic dream, so will the darkness and evil of our world end.
But what can we do in the meantime, while we are stuck in this world of darkness? The Mesilat Yesharim (ch. 2) shows us the way. It’s called “Cheshbon Nefesh” – the accounting of the soul. Just like a good businessman keeps careful track of his accounts to make sure that he is making money and not losing it, so should we keep careful accounts of our actions, to make sure that everything we do is for good, and not the opposite. This can only be done by setting aside regular times to make this moral accounting and inventory. In this way we can start to correct our actions, and find our way through the darknes.
In the Jewish calendar, the Torah reading of Miketz, the end of Yosef’s darkness, almost always coincides with Channukah. Perhaps one of the reasons for this is just to teach us that lesson of light and darkness. On the longest nights of the year, we go out into the dark to light a candle. It’s a small act of banishing the darkness of this world. It commemorates event that happened in a time of great darkness, where we were miraculously brought into light. It reminds us that just like there was an end to the darkness in the time of the Maccabees, so too there will be an end to the darkness of this world. Until that moment arrives, we do our small part to light a candle, and to look into all of our actions to banish the darkness of the Yetzer Hara, and to live by the light of H-shem.