Parshas Mikeitz is always read during or directly before the festival of Chanukah. As such, it is appropriate to share one of our favorite contemporary Chanukah stories. It has three heroes: the first is an unnamed Lubavitcher yeshivah student handing out menorahs in the Miami airport. The second is David Shapiro, a successful Miami lawyer, and the third, Sean McDonald, a wealthy land-owner in Guatemala (not their real names).

David has made a habit of spending one week each year doing welfare work with the poor and homeless in Guatemala. He goes in the middle of the winter and lodges at Sean’s home, but spends most of his time in the city, getting down to the nitty-gritty of helping humanity in some of the places where it is most needed.

One year, his annual trip happened to include the first days of Chanukah. Now David is an observant Jew and had second thoughts about spending the holiday away from his family. On the other hand, he had made the arrangements well in advance, before he had realized when the festival would fall and he would have much difficulty rescheduling everything. “Anyway, I’ll be home for the last days of the holiday,” he thought to himself, opting to make the trip anyway.

As he was waiting in the airport for his flight, the Lubavitcher student came up to him and offered him a Chanukah menorah.

“Mine’s in my luggage,” David replied.

“A lot of people have told me that,” replied the yeshivah student. “But after a while, they get over the embarrassment of admitting they haven’t packed a menorah and they take one. Listen, Chanukah is an important holiday. Even if you won’t be at home, you should celebrate it....”

After a few minutes, David saw that it would be easier to take the menorah than to convince the student that he had his own. Stuffing it into his carry-on bag, he ran to catch the plane.

It was a very busy week. On the first night of Chanukah, he did not get back to light the Chanukah menorah until well past nightfall. After he showered, he placed his menorah in the window of his room and sat down to watch the candles.

Soon he saw Sean, who had taken an evening stroll, stop and stand outside, transfixed by the light of the candles.

“What’s this?” he asked David.

David explained to him the story of the holiday and the miracle behind the lighting of the Menorah.

“It’s coming back to me,” Sean said with a faraway look in his eye. “My grandmother used to light these.”

“Your grandmother?”

“Yes. My grandmother was Jewish. She married a good Irish Catholic and didn’t keep too much of her religion. But she would light these candles.”

“Was it your mother’s mother or your father’s mother?”

“My mother’s.”

“Do you know that you’re Jewish?”

And after a little more conversation, Sean asked David if he had another one of those candelabras. After all, if he was Jewish, he might as well do what his grandmother did.

Now would the Lubavitch student ever dream that the menorah he handed out at the airport would be used by Sean McDonald to fulfill his first mitzvah?

Parshas Mikeitz

Try to put yourself in Joseph’s shoes. He was sitting in an Egyptian prison after being framed by his master’s wife. From being a free man, his father’s most cherished son, he had sunk to being a slave, and then to a prisoner in a brief amount of time. Year after year he languished in prison. There had been a brief window of hope when he had helped Pharaoh’s butler, but that had been two years ago and he had obviously forgotten all about Joseph.

Joseph probably was not downcast. On the contrary, if he had any tendency to depression, he probably would have been overcome by gloom years ago. But how could he be happy? He had little room for optimism. How in the world would he ever leave this dungeon?

Moments later, a messenger came running for him. He was being summoned by Pharaoh. They washed him, gave him fine clothes, and ushered him into the presence of the most powerful man in the world. Moments later, that man thanked him for interpreting his dreams and made him his viceroy.

What’s at the core of this dynamic? Firstly, never to despair. A person must realize that no matter how low he has sunk, his circumstances can change, and at a moment’s notice. The most radical shifts in position and power are not only possible; they happen, more frequently than we realize.

Secondly, prepare yourself to benefit from these changes when they come. There are people who win million-dollar lotteries and several years later are little better off from it. Joseph became a viceroy because even in prison he had the mindset of a king. He possessed insight, self-control, a willingness to help others. Most importantly, he had faith in G‑d and an awareness of His providence, realizing that whether we are riding the crest of a wave, treading water, or temporarily going under, it is He who is motivating that process of change.

These and other qualities made him capable of maximizing the benefits from the change in fortune visited upon him.

Joseph was not angry with his brothers for selling him into slavery. On several occasions, he told them: “It was not you who sent me here, but G‑d.” He was not merely consoling them; he was informing them of the understanding that had accompanied him through life. When a person understands that he is living in G‑d’s world, he can find peace and satisfaction in whatever framework he finds himself.

And he lives with hope — not a dream of faraway good, but an internalized understanding that since it is an all-good G‑d who is controlling my life, “nothing evil descends from heaven.” What appears to be evil is in itself hidden good, and what’s more, it is part of a process leading to overt and apparent good. For what G‑d intends for each individual and the world at large is a greater good than our mortal intellect can possibly appreciate.

Looking to the Horizon

Parallels to Joseph’s circumstance exist for us as a whole, for prison is one of the metaphors used to describe exile. We must realize that exile is only temporary. It is not what G‑d really wants; it covers up who man really is and what the world really is.

How surprised would we be if the exile were to end tomorrow? If the present-day equivalent of Pharaoh would call upon us and ask us for guidance, would we be ready to respond?

The three concepts mentioned above are all relevant in our present lives:

a) We must realize and trust that this is possible. As Maimonides said: “Every day, I wait for him (Mashiach) to come.”

b) We must prepare ourselves and develop the inner strength to be ready for this change. It is not the world outside that must change for Mashiach to come. On the contrary, the most profound changes must take place inside, in our hearts and minds.

c) We must realize that this is G‑d’s intent. The spiritual history of mankind has a goal to which it is being led by a guiding hand. Step by step, G‑d is directing our progress to the coming of Mashiach and the dawning of the age when “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of G‑d as the waters cover the ocean bed.”