Keeping the Miracles in Sight by Zev Kahane


The Gemara (Shabbat 22a) cites two seemingly unconnected statements of Rav Kahane regarding two unrelated matters. Rav Kahane first says, “Chanukah candles placed above twenty Amot from the ground are invalid.” Rashi explains that this is because one cannot see a candle twenty Amot off the ground, and therefore one would not fulfill the requirement of Pirsumei Nisa, publicizing the miracle. The second comment quoted in Rav Kahane’s name is about the pit which Yosef was thrown into, which we read about in Parshat VaYeishev. Rav Kahane states that when the Torah says (Bereishit 37:24), “The pit was empty, no water was in it,” the Torah is teaching us that the pit actually was filled with snakes and scorpions. What do these two comments of Rav Kahane have to do with each other?

The Torah Temimah provides an explanation by analyzing Rav Kahane’s  second statement. The Torah Temimah wonders why, if he threw Yosef into a pit in order to return later and bring Yosef back to Yaakov, would Reuven throw him into a pit filled with snakes and scorpions. Even if Reuven did return, Yosef would be killed instantaneously by these animals. Therefore, the Torah Temimah concludes that Reuven must not have been able to see what was at the bottom of the pit.

The Torah Temimah arrives at this conclusion by first defining the depth of the pit. The Torah (Bereishit 37:24) uses the word, “VaYashlichu”, “They threw him,” to describe what the brothers did to Yosef. We know based on a Gemara in Tamid near the end of the first Perek that the root Hashlachah, throwing, is  used only regarding a distance greater than twenty Amot. Therefore, the Torah Temimah concludes that the hole must have been at least twenty Amot deep.

Next, the Torah Temimah takes Rav Kahane’s seemingly unconnected comment regarding the acceptable height of Chanukah candles and applies the same logic to the pit which Yosef was thrown into. If Rav Kahane says one cannot see Chanukah candles above the height of twenty Amot, and we know the pit was at least twenty Amot deep, then we can conclude that Yosef’s brothers were not able to see the bottom of the pit. This is the basis for the Torah Temimah’s claim that Reuven did not see the snakes and scorpions at the bottom of the pit and therefore really did intend to return Yosef to Yaakov.

These two comments of Rav Kahane which are placed right next to each other in the Gemara really are connected. We can understand his comment regarding the pit only if we understand his comment regarding Chanukah candles.

Rav Kahane is also linking two miracles; that of Yosef surviving a pit filled with snakes and scorpions and that of Chanukah. One was a personal miracle and the other was for all of Benei Yisrael. The public miracle of Chanukah enjoys the additional element of Pirsumei Nisa, and for this reason one must be able to see the candles. As we begin celebrating the upcoming holiday of Chanukah, we should not only visualize the miracle of Chanukah, but also internalize its deeper meaning. Through this appreciation and understanding may we merit  to visualize and witness the rebuilding and rededication of the Beit HaMikdash, where we will light the Menorah Shel Zahav. 

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