Brothers, Candles and Unity by Alex Feldman


Parashat MiKeitz tells us about Yosef's rise to power in Egypt, culminating with his appointment as viceroy to Par’oh. When his brothers come to Egypt to purchase grain, which is in short supply in Kena'an, almost immediately after recognizing the visitors as his brothers, Yosef accuses them of spying on Egypt. His brothers defend themselves by pleading their innocence. They say, "Sheneim Asar Avadecha Achim Anachnu Bnei Ish Echad BeEretz Kena'an VeHineih HaKaton Et Avinu HaYom VeHaEchad Einenu," "We, your servants, are twelve brothers, the sons of one man in the land of Kena'an. The youngest is now with our father and one is gone" (BeReishit 42:13). Rather than killing or jailing his brothers, Yosef provides them with an interesting method through which they can prove their innocence. If they return with Binyamin, who had remained at home with Ya'akov, then it will be clear that they are not spies. This test has a rather large problem. Should the brothers fail to present this last family member, their family will face starvation from the famine. Yet how can the individual presented to Yosef as the last brother be confirmed as such? Any stranger would suffice as "Binyamin" and a foreign ruler would have no way to verify his identity. With such severe consequences, how could any test have such an obvious loophole? To this question, Seforno (42:15 s.v. BeZot Tibacheinu) suggests a remarkable answer. He says that other than a sibling, no individual would put himself in such a risky situation, where he could easily be killed by Yosef.

We may be able to better understand the meaning behind Seforno’s insight by looking at Chanukah. A well-known Machloket rages between Beit Hillel and Beit Shamai (Shabbat 21b) with regard to the optimal procedure for lighting the Chanukiyah. Beit Shamai suggests that, like the bulls brought as Korbanot on Sukkot, we reduce the number of candles each day. This would mean that on the first night we would light eight candles, and on the last we would light only one. Beit Hillel prefers to be Ma'aleh BaKodesh, to ascend in holiness and not to descend, and argues that the proper way to light is to increase from one candle to eight. This disagreement can be explained as a larger argument about the path to achieve perfection. Rav Meir Orlian explains that Beit Shamai prefers to eliminate the bad. On Sukkot we offer bulls that symbolize the seventy nations of the world. With each progressing day we reduce the number of sacrifices to show the weakening power of the other nations relative to the Jews. Likewise, the flames of the Chanukiyah are meant to burn away evil, and we need fewer flames as more evil is burnt away. Beit Hillel, on the other hand, would rather build up the positive and outshine all the bad. This perfection cannot be achieved with a single candle; rather, each night we build up to reach our final goal. We see from this that starting small and building up generates holiness.

Chanukah is an excellent opportunity to unite Jews from all different backgrounds. The Mitzvah and practice of lighting Chanukah candles spans across all levels of observance in a way that is rare in Judaism. The message of Beit Hillel teaches us the importance of all of Bnei Yisrael joining together with a single purpose. Chazal teach us that there are 70 faces to the Torah, a multitude of ways to interpret it. Oftentimes throughout the year it is difficult to feel connected to Acheinu Bnei Yisrael as their practices, while completely legitimate, can differ from our own. The Neirot Chanukah connect all Jews and remind us that we are brothers. Yosef knows that only a family member, specifically Binyamin, would be willing to potentially give his life for his brothers' cause. On Chanukah, as we light the Chanukiyah, we need to remember all the Jews, our brothers and sisters, all over the world that are doing the same act as us. Only through this togetherness can we hope to grow as a people to burn brighter than all the negative influences in the world.

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