Pharaoh’s Two Dreams
The Torah reading of Miketz always coincides with Chanukah. According to the 17th Century Sage known as the Shaloh, one may always find a connection between a Holiday and the weekly Torah reading that coincides with that Holiday.
What connection is there between this parsha and Chanukah?
The very beginning of the parsha recounts Pharaoh’s two dreams. In both dreams the big is swallowed up by the small.
In the first dream, he sees seven fat cows swallowed up by seven extremely lean cows, which oddly enough remain in their emaciated state.
In the second dream he sees seven healthy and good ears of grain swallowed by seven meager ears of grain.
There is a well-known dispute, recorded in the Talmud (Shabbos 21b), between the School of Shammai and the School of Hillel concerning the proper way to light the Chanukah candles. According to the School of Shammai we must start with eight candles on the first night and then seven the second night, and so on.
The School of Hillel states that we should light in the reverse order. On the first night we kindle just one light and then add another light each succeeding night.
One explanation for their dispute, cited in the Talmud, is that the School of Shammai follows a certain Biblical precedent. During the festival of Sukkos, they brought special offerings each of the seven days of the holiday. On the first day they brought 13 bullocks, the second day, 12, and so on, for a total of 70 sacrifices, which were offered on behalf of the 70 root nations of the world.
Since they offered these sacrifices in descending order, the School of Shammai maintains that the Chanukah lights must follow this precedent and be lit in descending numbers each night of the Holiday.
The School of Hillel, however, follows a different legal precedent. They point to the general rule that one must always ascend in matters of holiness. Thus, they increase the number of holiday lights each evening.
The final decision of our Sages has been to follow the School of Hillel, which has been our sole guide for over 2,000 years.
Connecting Cows and Grain with Chanukah Lights
Here is the connection between Pharaoh’s dreams and Chanukah:
Just as the School of Shammai favored the approach of decreasing and diminishing the number of Chanukah lights each night, so too Pharaoh’s dreams are about diminishing cows and stalks of grain.
However, this nominal parallel raises an obvious question. Why would the Torah allude to the opinion of School of Shammai when that approach was not accepted in practice? Nobody lights eight Chanukah candles on the first night and then goes down to seven the next night, and so on. Why would the hint in the Torah to the Holiday of Chanukah reflect the opinion of the School of Shammai rather than the established view and widespread practice of the School of Hillel?
One answer that comes to mind is that, according to the great Kabbalist the Arizal, things will change in the Messianic Age. Then we will follow the opinion of the School of Shammai rather than the School of Hillel and embrace the “descending order” model.
It follows then that Pharaoh’s dreams were a portent of the future Messianic Age! It is strange indeed that the dream of a tyrant and idolater should reflect and allude to the future Messianic Age. How do we explain these dreams in the context of the future?
The Dream Metaphor
To better understand the connection to Pharaoh, we must first appreciate why the Torah would want us to go down in matters of holiness during the Holiday of Sukkos and, according to the School of Shammai, follow the declining order of kindling the Chanukah lights.
Pharaoh’s dreams fundamentally related to the exile of the Jewish people, for it was through his dreams and Joseph’s interpretation of them that Joseph’s family relocated to Egypt, and set in motion the events which lead to the Egyptian exile.
The Rebbe explains that the fact that the Egyptian exile, source of all future exiles, was initiated by a dream suggests that exile itself is a dream state.
This, the Rebbe explains, is illustrated by the fact that in a dream two opposite phenomena can coexist simultaneously. Similarly, in an exile mindset we can live in two opposite worlds. While we pray, we are totally consumed with awareness of and love for G‑d, only then to find ourselves enmeshed in mundane affairs the rest of the day. This fluctuation between holiness and physicality is the essence of a dream.
A dream may be so vivid that it appears to be reality, but, in truth, it is not reality. A dream can be sweet or a nightmare, but both exist outside the realm of reality.
Similarly, Galus is an obfuscation of the Divine reality. At the time of our Redemption we will awaken from our dream and see reality; we shall see that the entire cosmos is nothing but G‑d’s creative light.
We can now grasp the significance of the School of Shammai’s emphasis on doing things in a descending order; contrary to the general principle espoused by the School of Hillel that in matters of holiness we ascend and increase.
However, it depends on which reality we are in. If our reality is the dream state, then the more we reduce the sleep-inducing toxic fumes of Galus, the higher we actually ascend. Descent then actualizes our ascent.
Now we can understand the dispute between the School of Hillel and the School of Shammai in a different light:
The School of Hillel focuses on the need to increase in matters of holiness. They want us to bring more light into the dream state of Galus. The School of Shammai wants us to decrease the grip Galus has on us by getting rid of its dream state entirely. This is why they compare Chanukah lighting to the seventy bullocks offered during the festival of Sukkos which, in turn, correspond to the 70 nations of the world. These 70 nations are powerful symbols of the forces of exile that have caused us to descend into a dream state. When we light the Chanukah candles, we decrease the power of exile-induced sleep.
Until the Final Redemption we will continue to follow the opinion of the School of Hillel. Living in exile in a dream state, it is hard for us to awaken.  The toxic fumes of Galus put us into an ever-deeper sleep. This explains why, on one hand we are so close to the Final Redemption, while on the other, there is so much assimilation and so many Jews distance themselves from anything G‑dly and Jewish.
The longer we stay in Galus, the longer we are exposed to the spiritual carbon-monoxide that puts us into an even deeper sleep. We may not presently have the capacity to reduce our exposure to these fumes. What we can do is strive to increase the light, and add to our spiritual lives even as we are bound into this dream state. Let the light of Torah and Mitzvos enter into our dream state and allow us to have pleasant and uplifting dreams. The surge of positive energy they introduce into our dream state will surely, ultimately awaken us.
This perhaps is what the Rebbe meant when he said that as long as we are in exile “we have to live with Moshiach.” Living with Moshiach entails bringing more light into our exile existence by constantly increasing our study of Torah and Mitzvah observance; focus on the future and bring that future into the present.
Once we reach the time of Redemption, we will be empowered to decrease the forces of exile and rouse ourselves from our slumber and awaken from our Galus-induced dream state. No longer will we need to bring the future into the present dream state; we will be fully awake and in the future. At that point, we will follow the opinion of the School of Shammai and decrease the number of Chanukah lights each night because we will have diminished the forces of exile.
Getting Closer to the Source
One can understand the approach of the School of Shammai on yet a deeper level based on the Rebbe’s analysis of the scheduling of Chanukah so that it always falls on the 25th day of Kislev.
The Rebbe (Sefer Hasichos 5752, Vayishlach) asks why Chanukah (and the Chassidic holiday of the 19th of Kislev) is in the second half of the lunar month. All other Holidays occur in the first half of the month, when the moon is waxing and symbolizes the increased light and fortune of the Jewish people. Yet Chanukah is observed at the end of the month when the moon has nearly finished waning.
Furthermore, why do we continue counting the days after the 15th, which is a full moon?  Why don’t we reverse the count of days to reflect the diminishing light of the moon?
The Rebbe answers that while the light of the moon wanes in the second half of the month the moon is actually getting closer to the sun, its source of light.
This suggests that the Holiday of Chanukah, rather than being inferior to the holidays which occur in the first half of the month when there is more light, is actually superior, in one significant respect.  It alludes to the time in the future when the moon’s light will no longer be diminished and the sun and the moon will be equal.
Perhaps this is also the core meaning of the School of Shammai’s view that we kindle the Chanukah lights in declining order.  When we do, we are invoking the process of Redemption where, notwithstanding the appearance of reduced light, we are actually getting closer to the Divine.
Returning to Pharaoh’s dreams, although they marked the very beginning of our first exile, they nevertheless defined its ultimate objective; the diminishing of the light.  As a result of Galus we are actually moving closer to an intimate relationship with G‑d that will transcend our world with Light.