Rebecca Masinter

Mikeitz, Chanukah, and Imagination

In Parshas Mikeitz Yosef advised Pharaoh that seven years of plenty were coming that would be quickly followed by seven years of famine.  Pharaoh then appointed Yosef to stockpile grain during the years of plenty to feed the country during the famine.  The Torah says:


וַיִּצְבֹּ֨ר יוֹסֵ֥ף בָּ֛ר כְּח֥וֹל הַיָּ֖ם הַרְבֵּ֣ה מְאֹ֑ד עַ֛ד כִּי־חָדַ֥ל לִסְפֹּ֖ר כִּי־אֵ֥ין מִסְפָּֽר׃


Yosef gathered grain like the sand of the sea, in huge measure, until they ceased to count, for it was without number.


Rav Hirsch tells us that כִּי־אֵ֥ין מִסְפָּֽר does not mean they literally couldn’t express the grain in terms of numbers.  Once a society has a base ten number system, they can construct a number of any size: 100, 1000, 10,000, 100,000, 1 million and so on.  Certainly, Mitzrayim could count the grain.  What the Torah is telling us is that the number was so enormous that it was beyond the power of human imagination.  A person’s imagination can’t distinguish between three-trillion fifty million and three-trillion one-hundred million.  We can count those numbers but we can’t comprehend them - the numbers are beyond our ability to understand.  When the Torah says Yosef collected grain without number, it means people stopped saying “this is the number of bushels over here” because the number was already so huge that adding to it made no impression - it was already beyond the limits of human imagination.


Interestingly, Chanukah is also a time when imagination superseded the numbers.  The few, and vastly outnumbered Chashmonaim didn’t start counting and calculating the number of their warriors versus the number of Greek soldiers. They didn’t analyze how much ammunition either side had.  The numbers didn’t matter. They were able to use imagination or faith to go beyond the computations. 


One of the important aspects of motherhood is transcending reality with imagination.  It is our role to see beyond where our children are today and imagine where they can be and where they eventually will be.  When a child is stuck in a phase, whether it is a young child dealing with biting, bedwetting, or tantrums, or an older child, going through the angst of adolescence or the challenges of coping with advanced academics, they need a mother who can imagine them beyond that stage.  They may feel stuck in their present reality because that is all they know, but we know that these difficulties are simply part of the process of growing up. We use our imagination to see past the current state and through the other side of the stage.  This is a tremendous gift to our children.  Through the power of a parent’s imagination, children can also gain a glimpse of it. They can perceive that they will get through their challenges. They will see past today to know that what they now struggle with doesn’t define them. Who they are today is not who they will be tomorrow.  


The powers of our imagination are immense.  Whether or not we can imagine a thousand, a million, or a billion, we can certainly imagine our children beyond the point they are at today, and by reflecting that image to them, we allow them to imagine that too.