The Lesson of Yosef and Chanukah by Rabbi Raphi Mandelstam


The Shelah HaKadosh teaches that there is always a connection between a Chag and the Parashiyot which surround it. Considering that the Chag of Chanukah always falls out around the Parashiyot which revolve around Yosef, we need to understand what might be their common theme.

When thinking of the miracle of Chanukah, we tend to focus on the miraculous oil that lasted for eight days. After all, the primary Mitzvah of the holiday, the lighting of the Menorah, is certainly meant to remind us of the miracle of the Menorah in the Beit HaMikdash. At the same time, we know that there was another miracle which occurred on Chanukah which cannot be overlooked, that of the miraculous victory of the Chashmona’im over the mighty Greek army. In fact, if we take a close look at “Al HaNissim,” we find that it focuses exclusively on the miracle of the war and does not even make an explicit mention of the miracle of the oil. How are we to understand the relationship between these two miracles and why is the miracle of oil given a back seat in “Al HaNissim.”

The Maharal explains that although the oil miraculously lasted eight days on Chanukah, it is not the main miracle of Chanukah. After all, was that miracle really so necessary? Let’s say the oil did not last and we would not have been able to light the Menorah for a few days. That would certainly have been unfortunate, but it would not have been a life or death situation. Additionally, as many Acharonim (such as the Penei Yehoshua) point out, the Jews would have been able to use their supply of impure oil, which is allowed to be used if the majority of the Jewish community is impure, a condition which was met during the times of the Chanukah miracle. On the other hand, the miracle of the war between the Chashmona’im and the Greeks was absolutely necessary. We were fighting a battle for our religious identity and had we lost, it is likely that the continuity of Torah and Mitzvot would have been lost! Therefore, explains the Maharal, it is quite clear that the focus of “Al HaNissim” should be on the more necessary miracle, namely the miracle of the war. The obvious question which remains is why then did Hashem make the oil miraculously last for eight days?

The Maharal suggests that the obvious difference between the war and the oil is that the war is what we call a Neis Nistar, a hidden miracle. Despite the unlikelihood of our victory, there was no deviation from the laws of nature and one could have attributed our success to our own good fortune or military strategy. Explains the Maharal, that was precisely the mistake the Jewish people made. Instead of attributing the military victory to the hand of Hashem, we attributed it to ourselves. Therefore, Hashem sent us a Neis Nigleh, a revealed miracle, as the oil lasting eight days was beyond the laws of nature. Hashem performed this miracle simply to remind us that even the events that are not as obviously acts of Hashem are nonetheless miracles as well. The Chanukah Menorah is simply the sign that we need to remind us that Hashem is the one running the show, regardless of who appears to be running the show.

This is also the message of Yosef’s life. Yosef’s life is one which is full of unlikely events one after the other. Yosef manages to go from being a slave who is ultimately thrown in jail to being the savior of Egypt and the second-in-command to Par’oh. It is a great story and one could easily attribute Yosef’s successes to his personality or intuition without recognizing the hand of God. However, as Rav Kook points out, there is one Neis Nigleh which does happen to Yosef, namely his surviving a pit of snakes and scorpions, which the Gemara (Yevamot 121a) writes is something which nobody can survive. Rav Kook suggests that Hashem saved Yosef for the same reason we needed the miracle of the oil in the times of Chanukah. For Yosef to understand that everything that was happening in his life was truly from the hand of God, he was given a clear and open miracle. May we remember the miracles of our ancestors to remind us that all of the events in our lives are truly in the hands of Hashem.

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