Yosef’s Brothers, the Chashmonaim, and Bitachon by Yaakov Schiff


The question is often raised: why are there such vast differences between Chanukah and Purim? On Purim, we are involved the entire day with the Mitzvot HaYom, such as Keriat HaMegillah, Matanot LeEvyonim, Mishloach Manot, and the Seudah; the day’s Halachot are recorded in their own Masechta (tractate) in the Gemara; its story, Megillat Ester, is canonized as a Sefer Kodesh and its reading is endowed by Chazal with such importance that it supersedes even the Mitzvah of Talmud Torah. Chanukah, in contrast, has but one unique mitzvah: lighting the Menorah. Its Halachot are summarized in a mere three pages in Masechet Shabbat, and, barring a brief synopsis in the Gemara, the story of Chanukah is given no account whatsoever in the Sifrei Kodesh (Sefer HaMaccabim is counted among the Apocrypha). Additionally, another peculiarity is that Parashat Mikeitz is almost always read on Shabbat Chanukah. Is there a possible connection between the two oddities?

At the end of Parshat Mikeitz, after Yosef’s brothers have returned to Mitzrayim with their brother Binyamin, Yosef invites them to a Seudah. The Torah tells us “VaYishtu VaYishkaru Imo,” “And they drank and were merry with him” (BeReishit 43:34). Rashi (ad. loc., quoting BeReshit Rabbah 92:5), explains that neither Yosef nor his brothers had drunk wine since Yosef had been sold as a slave. If this is so, one might understand why Yosef had a reason to drink wine on this particular occasion, for he was aware that he was being reunited with his brothers. However, why did the brothers see fit to drink wine?

Rav Moshe Feinstein suggests that the brothers feared that all the hardships that they had encountered in Egypt, such as finding their money returned to them in their bags, were their punishments for selling Yosef so many years ago. Therefore, when Yosef tells them that whatever money they had found in their possession had been placed there by God, and was theirs alone to keep, the brothers recognized Hashem’s kindness and concluded that their Teshuvah has been accepted and their Kaparah is now complete. Because of their great Bitachon (trust in Hashem) they now saw fit to drink wine.

Rav Baruch HaLevi Epstein offers an alternative explanation. Previously accused of being spies, the brothers now wanted to prove their innocence to Yosef and the other Egyptians. Chazal teach, “MeSheNichnas Yayin Yatzah Sod,” “When wine enters, secrets come out.”  By drinking, the brothers hoped to gain the Egyptians’ trust by showing that even in an intoxicated state they retain their integrity. This aligns to a reason given as to why the Gemara (Megillah 7b) tells us “Chayav Inish LeVesumei,” there is an obligation to drink wine on Purim: we want to show Hashem that even while we engage in the Gashmiut (worldly pleasure) of Purim, we remain “Tocho KeBaro,” in and out, Benei Torah.

The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 671) explains that Seudot (meals) on Chanukah, unlike Seudot on Purim, are Seudot Reshuyot (optional repasts). Rama adds that only through the addition of Hallel and Hoda’ah to Hashem can Chanukah Seudot be transformed into Seudot Mitzvah. How is it that the victory of Chanukah achieved by Tzaddikim and Osekai Torah (devout Jews) does not merit a commemoratory Seudat Mitzvah as Purim does?

It is possible that on Chanukah we must omit this aspect of Simchah, which we include in the commemoration of Purim, to recognize the conspicuous deficiency in the greatness of the Chashmonaim. Sefer HaMaccabim records that after the war against the Syrian-Greeks the Maccabim, already possessing the Kehunah, also took the vacant Malchut (kingship) by usurping the Davidic line and established a dynasty that lasted for over 200 years. Moreover, the Sefer HaMoadim tells us that the descendants of the Chashmonaim eventually joined the rebellious Tzeduki sect and became the cause of much aggravation for the Chachamim (sages). Chazal needed to remind us of the significance of the Chashmonaim’s lack of Bitachon in Hashem and its consequences for later generations. Chanukah itself had the potential to be remembered as a Yeshua, a saving moment, as great as “Yemei Mordechai VeEsther,” yet it was downgraded by the shortcomings of the Chashmonaim. For this reason, Chazal made sure that there would remain several prominent differences between Purim and Chanukah.

The story of Yosef and his brothers coincides with Chanukah each and every year to remind us of the importance of the common theme of Bitachon in Hashem. Let us remember the lesson to be learned from Yosef’s brothers, and correct the mistakes of the Chashmonaim. Let us appreciate each and every occurrence as a message from Hashem and always retain our Bitachon in Hashem’s rule of the world.

Yosef’s Chanukah Story by Zach Margulies

Celebrating Teva by Rabbi Sariel Malitzky