DECEMBER 22-23, 2000 26 KISLEV 5761
- Rabbi Shmuel Choueka
The following is a beautiful story I saw about the holiday of Hanukah. Its author is unknown.
The winter of 1777 was harsh, almost unbearable. A division of soldiers stationed in Valley Forge had no inkling of what they were doing there or what they were waiting for. In their midst was a lone soldier, different from the rest, one that was Torah-observant.
The first night of Hanukah arrived. Years had passed since our hero had left his home. It had been on Hanukah, too, back in Poland, and his father had given him a menorah saying, "When you light these candles, my son, they will light the way for you."
When all of the soldiers in the tent were fast asleep, he lovingly took out his father's keepsake and lit one candle, recited the blessings, and sat down to watch the small flame dancing merrily. It fired his imagination and brought a string of memories parading before his eyes. The General, in person, stood by his side. He looked at him and said gently, "Why are you weeping? Are you cold, my friend?"
Pain and pity were intermingled in his tender voice. It had made the Jewish soldier forget for a moment who was standing above him, but in a twinkling he leapt to his feet and saluted. Then he said quietly, "I am weeping before my Father in Heaven, sir. Everyone's fate lies in His hands; He controls the fate of His millions of creatures all over the world. I was praying for your success, General Washington. I came to this country because I was fleeing the persecution of all the tyrants who have forever oppressed my father, my townspeople and my nation. The despots will fall, sir, but you will be victorious!"
"Thank you, soldier!" The General replied heartily, and sat himself on the ground before the menorah. "And what have we here?" he asked, full of curiosity.
This is a keepsake from home. Jews all over the world are tonight lighting the first candle of our festival, Hanukah. This serves to commemorate a great miracle that occurred to our ancestors. They were only a handful compared to the massive armies, but they held out, thanks to their faith in G-d, and were granted a miracle."
The bright flame ignited a flame of hope in the weary General's eyes and he cried out joyfully, "You are a Jew? Then you are descended from a people of Prophets! And you say that we will win the war?"
"Yes, sir!" he replied confidently.
The General rose, his face glowing with renewed hope. They shook hands heartily. Washington asked the soldier for his name and address and disappeared into the night.
On the first night of Hanukah, 1778, our Jewish veteran was sitting in his home on Broome Street in New York. The first Hanukah light was burning brightly on his window sill. Suddenly, there was a knock on the door. His wife rose to open it wide. To her astonishment, there stood President Washington.
"There is that fabulous light, the Hanukah light," he cried out happily, spotting the candle by the window. "That flame, and your remarkable words, kindled a light in my heart on that dark and bitter night," he reminisced. "We were in a tight situation then, and your words encouraged me so! They spurred me on with new hope. You will soon be awarded a medal of honor from the United States of America together with all your compatriots of Valley Forge, but tonight, you will receive a personal memento from me." With these words he placed on the table a gold medal upon which was engraved a Hanukah menorah with one light burning. Upon this medal was inscribed: "As a sign of thanks for the light of your candle. George Washington." Happy holiday!
- Rabbi Reuven Semah
"And You with Your great mercy stood up for them at their time of suffering" (Al Hanisim)
As we gather our families together to light the Hanukah Menorah, we can truly feel the great kindness Hashem has done for our people. At the time of dire need, when we had no one to turn to, Hashem took up our battle and defeated our enemy. We recite Al Hanisim all eight days of Hanukah. We also recite Al Hanisim on Purim. Rabbi M. Bergman notes a difference in the language of these two prayers, which gives us a deeper understanding of what went on at this important time of Hanukah. On Purim we say, "You undid his (Haman's) plans and destroyed his thoughts." On Hanukah we say, "You stood up for them at their time of suffering." We must explain this difference.
Th evil decree of Purim was to physically destroy every Jew, man woman and child. In this case, even if the Jews didn't feel the severity of this decree, they would have been answered if they prayed. The physical survival of the Jewish people is guaranteed by Hashem. However, the evil decrees of Hanukah were different. The Greeks were stopping us from observing the Torah. They would have let us live as Greeks. This decree was bad only if it bothered us. If the Jews wished, they could have lived in peace with their enemies. Our salvation depended on how much it bothered us if we couldn't observe Shabbat, if we couldn't learn Torah. According to the pain and suffering that we felt, that is how much Hashem would come to our rescue. On this note, the prayer of Al Hanisim emphasizes that Hashem rescued us at the time of our suffering. We really suffered without our Torah, so Hashem came to our rescue. The miracle of the pure oil that burned for eight days instead of only one day brings home this very point. Hashem made this miracle in order to enable us to light the Menorah in the Temple, which was an important part of the service, which we yearned to do. We yearned for that misvah, so Hashem made a miracle to restore it to us.
"And [Yosef's brothers] continued even more to hate [Yosef] for his dreams and for his words" (Beresheet 37:8)
The Torah tells us that the hatred was because of Yosef's dreams and his words. "His words" seems to be superfluous, since this expression is already included in "his dreams." Rabbi Meir Simcha Hacohen explained this with a statement in Sifri (Korah 117) that the word hineh denotes joy. Here in Yosef's report of the dream the term vehineh is repeated three times (in verse seven). When Yosef reported his dream, he experienced joy in relating each detail. This joy which Yosef felt because he would rule over them increased their hatred towards him. Rabbi Shmuel Walkin commented on this: There are people who feel pleasure when they speak against others. Even if what they say is accurate, it is still very wrong to feel any joy in relating another person's wrongdoings. How is it possible to feel happy about the downfall of others?
When you are truly compassionate, you will feel the suffering of others. This attribute will prevent your feeling any pleasure at the expense of someone else. Work on increasing your level of compassion and you will find it impossible to speak lashon hara against others. (Growth through Torah)
"The butler did not remember Yosef, and he forgot him" (Beresheet 40:23)
If the butler did not remember Yosef, obviously he forgot him. Why the two expressions of forgetting: "Velo zachar" and "vayishkahehu"? Yosef originally asked the butler to mention him to Pharaoh. The ungrateful butler, whose life was saved through Yosef's interpretation, did not return the favor to Yosef.
In addition, the Torah tells us that Yosef immediately regretted asking the butler to do him a favor. Yosef forgot about the butler entirely and put all his faith in Hashem. Thus, the second part of the verse is talking about Yosef, as each one forgot about the other. (Vedibarta Bam)
This week's Haftarah: Zechariah 2:14 - 4:7.
The usual haftarah reading for Parashat Vayesheb is from the prophet Amos, where it makes a reference to the sale of Yosef by his brothers. However, we read a special haftarah this week in honor of the holiday of Hanukah.
This haftarah speaks of the time when the Menorah of the Second Bet Hamikdash was inaugurated. The prophet Zechariah is shown a vision of a golden Menorah, complete with a bowl of oil and two olive trees to ensure that the supply of oil will never run out. An angel explains to Zechariah that the vision symbolizes the fact that Hashem provides for all of man's needs.
In a year when Hanukah contains two Shabbatot (when the first day of Hanukah falls on Shabbat), then this haftarah would be read on the first Shabbat, and a different haftarah would be read on the second Shabbat. That haftarah tells about the construction of the Menorah for the First Bet Hamikdash in Shelomo's time. The reason our haftarah takes precedence over this haftarah is because the miracle of Hanukah occurred during the era of the Second Bet Hamikdash.
"When the Greeks entered the sanctuary they defiled all the oils." (Gemara Shabbat 21b)
If the purpose of the Greeks was to extinguish the light of the Menorah and prevent its rekindling, why did they defile the oil; they could have accomplished this more effectively by using it up or destroying it? The true objective of the Greeks was not to prevent the rekindling of the Menorah, but rather that it should be rekindled with defiled oil; hence they purposely left a supply of defiled oil in the Sanctuary to be readily available for this purpose.
The Greeks were willing to recognize the Torah as a beautiful literary creation, exceptional wisdom, and a profound philosophy, provided it was considered as a human creation, like their own mythology. As such, the Torah could be, nay, ought to be, changed and modified from time to time, so as to harmonize with the character of the ruling class and the novel ideas and mores of the period. Thus, it was not the suppression of the Torah that they aimed at, but "lehashkicham Toratecha - to make them forget Your Torah" - and not treat it as G-d given.
Similarly, they were not averse to the moral and ethical values contained therein, but their concern was "leha'aviram mehukei resonecha - to violate the decrees of Your Will" - not to observe the Divine hukim, the so-called "supra-rational" precepts, which more than any other distinguish the Jewish way of life.
Their objective was, thus, not to prevent the rekindling of the Menorah, but that its light should come from oil that had a Greek "taint." (Vedibarta Bam)
Answer to Pop Quiz: Peretz and Zerah.
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