In This Issue:
Dr. Joel Berman
Rabbi Chaim Jachter
The Torah states in Parshat Mikeitz (Bereishit 41:8), "Vayhi VaBoker VaTipaem Rucho," "And it was in the morning; his spirit was agitated...". How was it that a seemingly absurd dream upset Paroh so much that he assembled all of his ministers and wise men for its interpretation? Rav Shimon Schwab says that Paroh perceived an interpretation that caused him great worry. It was Paroh's experience that in every two-sided conflict, the many overcome the few and the mighty overcome the weak. He was therefore able to sit confidently on his throne, his hold on his empire secure, knowing that he represented the mighty and numerous. In his dream, however, the weak devoured the mighty. Paroh saw this as a sign of an impending revolt in his empire, a unique revolt in which the few and the weak would overcome the many and the mighty. It turns out that Paroh would have to wait a long time to see this interpretation fulfilled. Perhaps Paroh's interpretation
was fulfilled during the time of Chanukah, when Matityahu ben Yochanan and his five sons began a rebellion in Modiin, first against their Hellenist co-religionists and later against the Seleucid (Syrian-Greek) empire itself. Perhaps Paroh's interpretation was fulfilled again this time of year, fifty- nine years ago, when Chaim Herzog reported that the total armament at the Haganah's disposal consisted of 10,500 rifles, 4,300 machine-guns, 200 3-inch mortars, and a few sightless artillery pieces from the turn of the century that belonged in museums. At that time, the Jews possessed enough ammunition for only three days fighting. Facing them were five organized, well-equipped, modern armies, possessing modern artillery, tanks, planes, and an abundance of ammunition. Yet the Jews were able to vanquish their enemies.
We see that it is no coincidence that we read Parshat Mikeitz during Chanukah. After all, this really is the time of delivery of the mighty and the many into the hands of the weak and the few. As we say in Al HaNisim, "Masarta Giborim BeYad Chalashim VeRabim BeYad Me'atim," "You [Hashem] delivered the strong into the hands of the weak and the many into the hands of the few."
Parshat Mikeitz recounts the first interaction between Yosef and his brothers since they sold him. One would expect that the brothers would rejoice and be happy to see one and other. However, the opposite occurred. The Pasuk (Bereishit 42:7) says, "VaYar Yosef Et Echav VaYakireim VaYitnakeir Aleihem," "Yosef saw his brothers and he recognized them, but he acted like a stranger toward them." Why didn't Yosef inform his brothers of his true identity? Why did he mislead them and act as if he had never seen them before? Furthermore, Yosef knew that his father was distraught and depressed over the loss of his son. If Yosef truly was a Tzaddik, why didn't he inform his father that he was indeed alive, thereby relieving his father of much anxiety?
Rav Shlomo Twerski explains what was running through Yosef's mind. Yosef knew that if he forgave the brothers immediately, they would feel ashamed. They would feel so bad that they would never be able to face Yosef or Yaakov again. Their morale would have been completely destroyed. Of course, Yosef did not wish this unto his brothers. Therefore, he provided his brothers with the opportunity to achieve Teshuva.
The Gemara says that full Teshuva is obtained only if the person is placed in the same situation but this time successfully conquers his Yeitzer HaRa and does not commit the same act a second time. Therefore, Yosef had to create a situation which would allow his brothers the opportunity to achieve such Teshuva.
Yosef's plan was to falsely accuse Binyamin of robbery and sentence him to prison. He would then see how the brothers would react. Would they neglect Binyamin as they had neglected Yosef or would they acknowledge their mistake and do Teshuva? When Yehuda offered to stay in the jail instead of Binyamin, Yosef knew that the brothers had done Teshuva. Since they had done Teshuva, the brothers would not be crushed by Yosef's revelation and would indeed be able to face Yosef and Yaakov. At that point, Yosef revealed himself to his brothers.
The question still remains why Yosef did not inform his father of his well being. Rav Twerski explains that Yosef knew his father well. He knew that his father would be willing to sacrifice years of suffering in order to provide his children the opportunity for Teshuva. Yosef would not have been able to fulfill his father's wish if he had informed Yaakov of his well being. Therefore, Yosef was indeed justified in his actions and is deserving of the title "Yosef HaTzaddik."
We can learn a profound lesson from this story. Yosef shows us the importance of helping others do Teshuva. He was even willing to be responsible for his father's suffering in order to provide his brothers the chance for Teshuva. We must all strive to put others in a similar situation and use all resources to assist them in achieving Teshuva.
A Jewish apostate named Professor Daniel Chivalson was a secular bible scholar and critic in Czarist Russia in the 1800s. He was appointed by the Russian government as chief censor for Hebrew books. Even though he had betrayed the religion into which he was born, Chivalson maintained a very positive attitude toward his erstwhile brethren and did much to help them. He corresponded with many of the famous Rabbis of his time. Chivalson always signed these letters with the name Yosef, the name he had been known by before his apostasy. When Chivalson turned 70, many communities and prominent rabbis sent him letters of appreciation as a token of their gratitude for all his work in helping Jewish causes. Only Rav Chaim Soloveitchik staunchly refused to acknowledge Chivalson, claiming that it is absolutely forbidden to maintain any type of relationship with an apostate.
When Chivalson heard about Rav Chaim's refusal, he sent him a note consisting of the Pasuk from Parshat Mikeitz (Bereishit 42:8), "VaYakeir Yosef Et Echav VeHeim Lo Hikiruhu," "Yosef recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him." Chivalson intended this as a veiled rebuke to Rav Chaim, implying that while he, Yosef, remembered his Jewish brothers, they, his brethren, did not recognize him.
Rav Chaim quickly responded that the brothers of the Torah had sold Yosef, so it was shameful that they did not recognize him, but in this case it was Yosef (Chivalson) who had sold himself, and thereby denied himself recognition.
We may derive an important lesson from this story. When a person has committed the ultimate crime of apostasy, there is no limit to how far he can fall. Chivalson had no reservations about maintaining a friendly relationship with the people he had betrayed, and continued his life as if nothing had happened. Only Rav Chaim had the strength to stand up to him and put him in his place. Although most secular Jews today do not deserve such raw treatment (and it may in fact be forbidden to treat them in such a way, see Chazon Ish Yoreh Deah 2:18 and 28) because they were never raised with a Jewish background, we must maintain the same cold attitude towards the deliberate apostates, the Chivalsons of our time.
Upon seeing his younger brother Binyamin, Yosef asks his brothers (Bereishit 43:29), "HaZeh Achichem HaKaton Asher Amartem Eilai? VaYomar Elokim Yachnecha Beni," "Is this your little brother of whom you spoke to me? And he said, ''May Hashem be gracious to you my son". Yosef's question to his brothers went unanswered; why didn't they respond? Rav Yitzchak of Volozhin solves the difficulty based on an insight of the Alshich on an earlier Pasuk in the Parsha, where Yosef tells his brothers (Bereishit 42:34), "VeHaviu Et Achichem HaKaton Eilai VeEde'ah Ki Lo Meraglim Atem…," "And bring your youngest brother to me and then I will know that you are not spies…". What connection was there between the brothers bringing Binyamin and their being cleared of the charges of being spies? The Alshich explains that questioning Binyamin, the youngest brother, would reveal the truth. It is hard for children to keep secrets and they tend to reveal
information spoken about at home. Thus, through Binyamin, Yosef would be able to find out the truth about these brothers.
Rav Yitzchak of Volozhin uses this interpretation to explain the lack of response to Yosef's question. Yosef was expecting a "little brother" to come whom he could interrogate. However, when Binyamin arrived, he was thirty years old and had ten children. Therefore, Yosef asked his brothers if this was the "little brother" they mentioned to him. Yosef's question was rhetorical and therefore received no response.
The Netziv (our own Gabi Wiseman is a nephew of the Netziv) furthers this point and explains why Yosef blessed Binyamin, "Elokim Yachnecha Beni." Since the question was asked in response to Binyamin's unanticipated maturity, it may have appeared that Yosef was viewing it with an Ayin HaRa (evil eye). Hence, Yosef blessed Binyamin to dismiss this suspicion.
When the Gemara in Masechet Shabbat 21b talks about Chanukah, it mentions only the miracle of the oil and not the miracle of the Chashmonaim winning the battle against the Greeks. Why is the miracle of the oil the only one mentioned? Isn't the miracle of the battle significant too?
Some Acharonim offer an explanation. They say that during the time of the Chashmonaim, the miracle of the battle was celebrated, but after the Chashmonaim died out, only the miracle of the oil remained. After the Beit HaMikdash was destroyed, the focal point of the Chanukah celebration became the miracle of the oil and not the miracle of the battle.
Other Rabbanim give another explanation. The one jug of oil that the Chashmonaim found when they entered the Beit HaMikdash symbolized that even though the Greeks had tried to squash all of the Judaism out of Bnei Yisrael and Hellenize them all, they hadn't succeeded. This is an important message for us. When we are in Galut, we see many things that may turn us away from Judaism and cause us to assimilate. When we light the Menorah, we remind ourselves who we really are and that we need to remain true to the Jewish faith. This is why we celebrate the miracle of the oil even when times are dark for us like at the time of the Chanukah story. All we need to do is look at the Menorah and remember to remain strong and preserve what faith we have in us. If we keep this faith we shall merit seeing the lighting of the Menorat HaZahav in the Beit HaMikdash.
Rav Yehuda Nachshoni quotes the Baal Kedushat Levi who says that there are two types of miracles in the world. The first category of miracles is common miracles which start with something that already exists, a "Yeish," which Hashem then blesses. The other category of miracles is those that are "Yeish MeiAyin," ex nihilo. These miracles are something that only Hashem can do. Rav Yehuda Nachshoni cites a Minhag that after the people lit the Chanukah candles they would say the Pasuk (Tehillim 90:17), "Viyhi Noam Hashem Elokeinu… UMaasei Yadeinu Konnenah Aleinu," "May the pleasantness of Hashem our God … and establish our handiwork for us." Because in this Pasuk it says "Our handiwork," Rav Nachshoni infers that the miracle of Chanukah is in the first category. The mighty Greeks were defeated by the small band of Jews. The few Jews were the Yeish that Hashem blessed. Even the miracle of the oil had a Yeish; there was enough oil for
From here the Taz derives his reason for lighting the Menorah for eight days rather than seven (see Rabbi Jachter's articles on this topic). The reason is that without the one cruise of oil there would be no Yeish for Hashem to bless and no miracle would have occurred. Similarly, before Hashem could let Yosef out of jail, Yosef had to try himself so that there would be a Yeish for Hashem to bless. The theory of existence of a Yeish that Hashem blesses coincides with the opinion of the Chassidic masters that the first miracle of all time led to all other miracles. The Lubavitcher Rebbe says that the miracle of Chanukah is like the recreation of Maaseh Bereishit that goes on every day, as opposed to the original Maaseh Bereishit which was Yeish MeiAyin. The goal of Chanukah is to keep trying to create situations of Yeish for Hashem to bless. If we try our hardest, we can be sure of Hashem's blessing in all of our endeavors.
In a Shiur delivered on Shabbat Chanukah 5766, Rav Shalom Carmy told over a question posed by Rav Soloveitchik. In the beginning of Hilchot Chanukah, Rambam retells the story of Chanukah, putting major emphasis on the restoration of Jewish sovereignty in Eretz Yisrael. There were many miracles that occurred during the story of Chanukah, including the Chashmonaim defeating the Greeks, the purification and rededication of the Beit HaMikdash, and the miracle of the oil lasting eight days. Rav Soloveitchik wondered why Rambam stressed the restoration of the Jewish State. What about all of the other miracles?
The Rav first suggested that Rambam valued the political triumph. Even though the Chashmonai government did not always uphold to the teachings of Chazal, and did not lead to the ultimate coming of the Mashiach, it was still worthy enough to be celebrated and be thankful for. Rabbi Carmy points out that it is difficult to interpret the Rav's words without making reference to the modern State of Israel. Although the current government in the State of Israel in many ways falls far short of what we wish it could be, it is still a Jewish government dedicated to the protection of its citizens, and supports Torah learning in Eretz Yisrael. It is therefore something to be celebrated and be thankful for.
In Rabbi Carmy's Shiur, another suggestion was offered. Had the Greeks retained sovereignty over Eretz Yisrael and the Beit HaMikdash, the Beit HaMikdash would have become a place of disgrace. Hashem and the Jewish people would have had to distance themselves from the Beit HaMikdash and put themselves into a self-imposed Galut. As terrible as the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash would have been, the abomination that it could have become would have been far worse. Rabbi Carmy points out that we even have records (through the Dead Sea Scrolls) of Jews who had to distance themselves from the rest of Bnei Yisrael in order to retain their purity. By Hashem restoring Jewish sovereignty to Eretz Yisrael, He spared the Jewish people and the Beit HaMikdash from this potentially terrible fate. Therefore, the Rambam emphasizes the miracle of the restoration of Jewish sovereignty because it encompasses the restoration of the Beit HaMikdash as well.
Over two thousand years after the miracles of Chanukah, Hashem has yet again reinstituted Jewish sovereignty over Eretz Yisrael by giving the Rabim BeYad Me'atim, the many into the hands of the few. May it be the will of Hashem, as we believe it is, that the current State of Israel lead us to the ultimate coming of the Mashiach, and the final dedication of the Beit HaMikdash.
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