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by Daneal Weiner
L’ilui nishmas Rachel bas haRav Yoseph, a’h.
The last day of Chanukah is referred to as “Zoes Chanukah” because of the special Torah portion we read that morning, “Zoes chanukas hamizbe’ach”- This is the dedication of the alter. Zoes Chanukah means ‘This is Chanukah’. Seems a little strange that we wait till the last day of Chanukah and then say, Zoes Chanukah- This is Chanukah. But that is exactly the point! To say, “This is Chanukah” at the beginning of Chanukah would miss the point entirely! What point is that (I bet you’re wondering)? Allow me to point you in the right direction.
A couple months back we spoke about Shmini Atseres, an 8th day holiday following the 7 days of Sukkos when we leave the sukkah and bring the festivities into the house. We introduced a mystical ideas behind the number 8. While 7 represents nature, 8 represents a step beyond nature. While 7 is a natural cycle of time, 8 takes out outside of the realm of time. The relevance at that time was that the sukkah represents the Holy Temple and the Divine protection of the Clouds of Glory. Holy writings of our Sages say that when we come into the house on Shmini Atseres we bring the influence of the Holy Temple and the Divine protection of the Clouds of Glory into the house with us! Add to this our first idea, that day 8 takes us beyond time and what we end up with is the Holy Temple and the Divine protection of the Clouds of Glory are with us in the house not just one day but all year! 7 days are 24 hours long. The 8th day is 8,496 hours long.
The only other 8 day holiday, Chanukah, waits till its last day to say Zoes Chanukah because its 8th day is also a year long day. To say this is Chanukah on day one misses the point. To say it on day 8 says don’t think it’s over, the year has only just begun. Our holidays are not short-lived ceremonies remembering days gone by. They are alive today as they were then and they inject into those who are open to it the same influence and inspirations as when the events of the holiday first manifest themselves in the world.
Zoes Chanukah says the bitachone- trust in Hashem, the self sacrifice, the Divine intervention, the miracles and the redemption which the events of Chanukah exemplify are year round Yiddishkeite! You thought you had to wait a year till your next latke? Zoes Chanukah! And Zoes Chanukah brings in the new month of Teves and Zoes Chanukah almost always is the preface this weeks
As Rav Wolfson explains, although Chanukah was a victory over the Greeks, it carries the message of salvation from all the exiles. Ma’oz Tsur speaks about each exile! The 4 sides of the dreidle allude to the 4 exiles. The letter gimmel stands for our 'guf'- body, which the Persian exile tried to destroy (Haman wanted to kill every Jew). The shin stands for our 'saichel'- wisdom, which the Greek exile tried to corrupt (The Greeks forbade those mitsvos which flew in the face of their philosophies). The nun stands for our 'neshama'- soul which the Babylonian exile tried to contaminate (by setting up idols in the Temple). And the hey stands for 'Hakol'- all of it, all the poisons of all exiles with which Edom is succeeding in destroying major portions of Israel, r’l.
When Yaakov left Lavan and was headed for an encounter with Eisav he prayed to Hashem, “Save me from my brother, save me from Eisav.” It’s asked why the dual expression? Because as much as Yaakov feared the deadly enemy called Eisav he feared even more his influence as a loving brother. 50 years ago there were 6 million Jews in the United States. Now there are 5 million. According to demographics, a population of 6 million people over 50 years should grow to 14 million. The brotherly love of Eisav has killed 9 million Jews, r’l. In the last 50 years 1.5 million Jewish children have been killed at the hands of pro-choicers. What Eisav did to us with gas chambers and ovens our brother’s influence had us do to ourselves with “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” Gimmel- shin- nun- and now hey. Yaakov’s descent to Egypt is the precursor of all exiles and as it see in the parsha, Yaakov is heading "Goeshnah"- to Goeshen. The 4 letters of Goeshnah and the 4 letters of the dreidle are one in the same.
Knowing well where they are going, Yaakov sends Yehudah ahead to prepare Goeshen for their arrival. Yehudah builds mikvas, day schools, Yeshivas and seminaries BEFORE his family arrives. The preparation of Goeshen is a message for Jews for all times. To optimize chances of survival rather than make a place Jewish it should be Jewish before we get there. If the kids are sent to public school while the day school gets built, don’t expect them all to transfer. Of course, after the fact we have to do what we have to do but Yaakov wants optimum security. That’s step one. What about the neighbors? That’s step two.
Last week Yoseph invited his brothers to a meal. The Torah told us how the brothers were seated separately because Egyptians despise us shepherds. After all, they treat sheep like gods and we treat them like lunchmeat. This week the Yoseph’s family is going to be introduced to Pharaoh. For diplomacy sake, what do you think Yoseph told his brothers (if you haven’t read the parsha yet) to say to Pharaoh? “Ix-nay on the epherds-shay,” maybe? Perhaps, “Don’t say your shepherds, say your ‘karakul engineers’.” ZOES CHANUKAH! Bitachone!! Self sacrifice!!! Yoseph took his 5 WEAKEST looking brothers, to make the worst impression possible and he tells his brothers, “You tell Pharaoh, ‘We are shepherds! Our fathers were shepherds! All we know is shepherding! Sheep shepherding shepherds, that’s us! And Pharaoh, feel free to stop on b’a’a’a’a’y anytime you’re in Goeshen and we’ll whip you up some sheeps, uh, we mean some eats.’” Let the gentiles want as little to do with us as possible, that’s the second key to surviving 2000 years of exile. When the “No dogs or Jews allowed” signs came down from in front of the restaurants and clubs we lined up around the corner to get in. Intermarriage isn’t 70% because Jews marry out. It’s because the non-Jews are willing to marry in. [That’s 70% between the ages of 20 and 30. The widely publicized figure of 50% intermarriage, is the average of all ages. As Yaakov feared, when his children’s children wandered out of their ghetto fortress of Goeshen I don’t think it was even 2 generations before they were enslaved and on their speedy decline to idolatry and the lowest possible level of impurity.
Zoes Chanukah prefaces Vayigash because Hashem always puts out the refua before the makka- the cure before the sickness. Zoes Chanukah is the message and method of redemption before the exile and that message (bitachone and self sacrifice for Torah) are again reiterated in the parsha as the two keys to survival.
Zoes Chanukah also brings in the month of Teves every year for the same reason. Teves is the coldest month of the year and its nights are the longest. The cold and darkness are symbols of strict judgment and evil influences. Again, the refua comes before the makka. However cold and dark our history may seem, the flames of Chanukah constantly warm and comfort us and illuminate the road to salvation. They are the lights at the end of the proverbial tunnel.
Some other messages out of the parsha. After Yoseph reveals his identity to his brothers, for four verses he tells them what they did to him was part of a great plan of Hashem's. He sums it up in the final verse (45:8), "It was not you who sent me here but Hashem. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, master to his entire household and ruler throughout the entire land of Egypt." Rav Moshe Shternbach sees here the Jewish way to make things right. It wasn’t enough for Yoseph to forgive and forget. Yoseph went to lengths to try to remove any regret the brothers may have btelling them how critical it was that he end up in Egypt and how great is his position because of their actions! Practically a ‘thank you’ for throwing me in that pit. Also evident, if I may add, is that Yoseph hadn’t spent the last 22 years speaking lashon horah against his brothers for what they did and, I would venture to say, not even once did he speak it! Because if he had the Egyptian’s reaction to the news of the brothers’ arrival wouldn’t have been that of excitement and “pleasing to Pharaoh and his servants” but rather, “Wonder if he’ll kill them outright or starve them to death.” Not speaking lashon horah paves the way to forgiving and forgetting and allows for recognizing Hashem’s hand in all that happens to us!
When Yoseph's cup was found in Binyamin's sack the brothers rent their clothes. Yoseph gave them new clothing. 45:22, "To each of them he gave a change of clothing but to Binyamin he gave 300 pieces of silver and 5 changes of clothing." What?!? The Gemorah Megilla laments, "For 2 measures of cloth did all Israel go into exile," meaning, due to the brothers’ jealousy over Yaakov's gift to Yoseph, the striped coat, did the slavery in Egypt come about. To be politically correct, an imbalance of garmental distribution caused our exile… and Yoseph is doing it again!? The Gemorah asks how Yoseph could do what he just did?!
The Gemorah answers that the 5 garments to Binyamin are an allusion to one of his descendants who will make an appearance also in 5 articles of clothing. Mordechai, Ish Yimini- a Binyaminite man is that descendant! King Achashveirosh will order Haman to dress Mordechai in 5 royal garments and lead him through the streets of the capital, Shushan. The Gaon of Vilna (the Grah) says, “That's great... now how about answering the question!?” The question was HOW could Yoseph do such a thing. Not, WHY did he do it? What did the Gemorah think it was answering?
The Grah says the real answer is already in our verses in the Torah. The word for a change of clothing is 'chalifos,' spelled ches-lamed-fey-vav-sav. It can also be spelled without the vav. Hey, it is! The chalifos of the brothers is spelled full, i.e., with the 'vav,' while the chalifos of Binyamin were lacking, i.e., without the vav. The Grah says this hints to us that Yoseph gave the brother clothes that were ‘full’ and he gave Binyamin clothes that were ‘lacking’. In other words, Yoseph gave each brother a $1000 Tuten Kleinen designer while he gave Binyamin 5 $200 specials. No favoritism was shown. There is no cause for jealousy here. Now that we know that, the only question is why did he do that- which the Gemorah answers very nicely.
The story goes that Rav Yitschak Zev Soloveitchik, zt’l, told over the Grah’s insight to an audience and someone asked, "What about the 300 pieces of silver Yoseph gave to only Binyamin?” As the Rabbi pondered an answer, his young son, the not yet Rav Yoseph Dov Soloveitchik, (the Beis Halevi), said he thinks he's got it. (I would have said since Binyamin wasn’t there to rent his clothes he missed out on the rent money.) With his father’s permission he started with Rambam’s Mishan Torah, the laws concerning slaves. If a Jewish slave is sold to non Jews (a big no-no), the Jewish court can force the ex-owner to pay up to 10 times the sale price to redeem the slave. Regarding the Brothers’ sale of Yoseph, it would be incumbent on each and every brother to redeem Yoseph! A Midrash on last week’s parsha quotes the brothers as saying they would pay anything to get Yoseph back.
The Brothers sold Yoseph for 20 silver pieces and 20 x 10 = 200. Not what we’re looking for. But, the Torah puts the market value of a slave at 30 pieces of silver! The brothers said they would pay anything, right? Let the brothers be accountable for the maximum! 10 x 30 = 300! Or, we can say the brothers sold him to wholesalers, who sold him to distributors, who sold him to retailers, who sold him to Potiphar. Yoseph's price could easily have ended up at 30 silver pieces. Obviously, the cost of redemption would be 1O times that which the final owner paid. So, again, 30 x 10 = 300.
The way things turned out, Yoseph is not going to need to be redeemed. Money saved is money earned! Each brother was now 300 pieces of silver in the black- except Binyamin! Binyamin was not involved in Yoseph’s sale and was not spared this expense of redemption. Little Yoseph Dov concluded that Yoseph gave Binyamin 300 pieces of silver to even the score! Wow! The mind of a Torah Giant, even in his youth!
Yoseph loaded up the Brothers with food, gave special gifts for Yaakov, provisions for the return trip and a train of wagons. Why the wagons? Yoseph wanted Yaakov to know it was really him. The last thing they learned together was the Gemorah of the ‘Eglah Arufah’. The word ‘eglah’ can be read ‘agalah’ which means wagon. The Torah says Yaakov heard Yoseph was alive and did not believe it. He couldn’t believe a 17 year old boy could be taken captive into a place that makes Vegas look like Sesame Street and come out alive. Not alive as in breathing. Alive as in, still a G-d fearing Jew! When Yaakov saw the wagons he rejoiced! Why?
I once hitched a ride and the driver was listening to a tape by a Rabbi Yitschak Bernstein, zt’l, a Rav from England. He said that the ‘eglah arufah’ is an offering for when a murdered corpse is found between 2 or more cities and it is not known from which he came. The Sages of each city come out and they measure the distance from their respective border to the body. The closest city bears the scar of negligence and brings the sacrifice. The Torah is telling us that even a murderer who goes out to a remote area to kill, he will still stay closest to his home. On a deeper level, it’s not a time for just measuring distances. All involved have to take measure of themselves. If the man’s identity can be traced, did he do something for which he fell to such a fate? If not him, what about his family? If not them, what about his community? And so on. Every Jew is a limb of the single body of Klal Yisrael. We all need to measure up.
When Yoseph sent the wagons, hinting to the eglah arufah, Yaakov made an accounting. If it is really is Yoseph then Yaakov would be seeing him again after 22 years. Yaakov would think, “What did I do to deserved losing my son 22 years? That was the length of time I was away from my father at Lavan! Measure for measure, the punishment fits the crime. And I came away from Lavan with my spiritually in tact. The whole family is spiritually well. That means Yoseph should be spiritually whole as well!!!” Now Yaakov could rejoice knowing his son was being returned to him in all senses of the word.
Verse 45:24, "And he [Yoseph] sent off his brothers and they went. He said to them, 'Al tirgzu baderech.’- Do not become agitated on the way!" Rashi's first explanation of this strange advice follows the Gemorah in Taanis in the name of Rabbi Elazar. Yoseph is telling the brothers not to get caught up in halachic debate. Rashi, on the Gemorah, explains Yoseph is warning them if they get caught up in debate they’ll err in their travel and delay reaching their father. That request floors me.
Let's understand this more clearly. Let's look at the ever popular 'big picture.' What else MIGHT the brothers be thinking of on the way home? Hmmm?
Yoseph just reintroduced himself saying “Is MY father alive?! You’re so worried about Yaakov’s relationship to Binyamin. What about MY father?” The Torah says the brothers were speechless from the rebuke! A Midrash says their souls left them from the shock and Hashem resurrected them! Speechless! Killed!!! To these brothers Yoseph advises not to get lost in Torah on the way home???
The brothers dipped Yoseph's coat in blood and showed it to Yaakov. Yaakov sat shiva 7 days. Mourned the 30 days. Said Kaddish for a year...and then he started! Zoes Chanukah? How about Zoes Mourning! Yaakov did not get up from his mourning for 22 years!!! Due to his saddened state Yaakov did not have Divine inspiration for 22 years! Now the Brothers are on their way to tell their father “Guess what, dad?” How will they put it him? And Yaakov is 130 years old now, how will he take it? Do they think he’ll ask, “How he got there?” After 22 years in 2 words, "I'm Yoseph," their whole world turns upside down, inside out and over. And the only advice Yoseph can say to them is not to busy themselves in Torah on the way home???
Yoseph is the 2nd in command of Egypt. That's the second in command of the only world power. Yehudah didn't fear Yoseph when he thought he was a shagits Egyptian but now there is what to fear. Sure, Yehudah knows that Yoseph knows "Thou shalt not carry a grudge." Ok. If Yoseph's neighbor didn't lend him the drill Yoseph would still lend them his weed whacker. But the Brothers wanted to KILL him!? They sold him as a slave to the biggest slime balls on earth!! Maybe he does have a grudge? In, fact, when Yaakov dies the Brothers do express a fear that Yoseph will now take retribution! And the only advice Yoseph can say to them is not to busy themselves in Torah on the way home???
Like the eglah arufa, our Sages say that any time trouble befalls a person G-d is signaling it’s time for introspection. When the Brothers first smelled trouble, the very first trip home when their money showed up in the sacks, they did some souls searching. They didn't regret sentencing Yoseph to death. They didn't regret selling him to Egypt. The Brothers determined they sinned by turning a deaf ear to Yoseph when he was screaming from the pit. A little too much cruelty in carrying out their judgment. But the judgement was 100%! Maybe Yoseph would have judged the case differently? Maybe he feels the brothers weren't 100% objective? Maybe 22 years of Egypt is too much for even a Tsaddik to forget? What does Yoseph really have in store for them now that they are bringing their families down?!? One would have to even wonder, no??? And the only advice Yoseph can say to them is not to busy themselves in Torah on the way home???
It's mind boggling that Yoseph would imagine they could possibly be thinking Torah on the way home, let alone getting caught up in it. And yet, this is the Torah, and it is Yoseph talking and he does say, "Al tirgzu baderech" and the Gemorah explains, "Don't busy yourselves in Torah on the way home." So maybe I need to rethink this one through?
Rav Volensky spoke of a Rabbi Dovid Rappoport would walk down the street thinking Torah, he'd brush against a telegraph pole and politely throw out an, "Excuse me." and continue walking. Rav Volensky himself used to learn in Baltimore under Rav Vuderman, ztl. Rav Vuderman lived just blocks from the Yeshiva. He would walk home for lunch at 1:00. At 2:00 his wife would call, "Is the Rabbi coming home for lunch?" He was already 4 miles from home. "Don't busy yourselves in Torah on the way home." The ‘why’ of it is easy enough to hear. But weren’t there other things on their minds?
We say an interesting prayer every morning just before the Shema. In all 19 requests of the Shmona Esrai, the pinnacle of our prayers, we don't use the language like e find before the Shema. The words are, "Our Father, the merciful Father, Who acts mercifully, have mercy upon us...!!!" What a build up! For what? Must be health! Money!! Success!!! It continues"...instill in our hearts to understand and elucidate, to listen, learn, teach, safeguard, perform and fulfill all the words of Your Torah's teachings with love."
Hashem can give us anything. Absolutely anything! ALL the riches. ONLY good health. ALWAYS long lives. But as the ultimate gift He didn't give us any of these. He gave us His Torah. Hashem's most prize possession, so to speak, and it's ours! How could we not appreciate such a gift? Not want it? Not learn it? Not live it? Some do want it so badly that the rest of the world just fades away. Great Rabbis from just the last generation are known to have undergone surgery without anesthesia by delving into a Gemorah till they became oblivious to pain! As a young man, the Steipler Rav’s schedule was to learn 36 hours and sleep 6.
Going back 200 years, the Chasam Sofer would go 3 days without food or sleep if he was troubled with a question for which he had to have an answer. Not as a test. Not as self discipline. How could he stop to eat? And to sleep just wasn’t possible?
300 years ago, the Grah’s schedule was to learn 22 hours a day! He had 4 half-hour naps. When he saw his sister after 50 years he spoke to her for 2 minutes and said he has to get back to the learning. He told her this world is very brief and in the next they can talk all eternity.
What were our Rabbis like 1000 years ago? What kind of schedule did Rashi, Rambam, Ramban, or the Tosofists keep? What was their learning like? How about 2000 years ago, back to the Rabbis of the Gemorah? 3000 years ago, David Hamelech did not sleep even a half-hour a night and he ate old bread and a cup of his own tears?
And we’re discussing 3700 ago and the study habits of our holy, holy, did I mention holy Forefathers. As hard as it is, maybe it is now a little easier to grasp what we learned back in Vayaitsay, that Yaakov learned 14 years straight without going to bed even once! Even after everything the Brothers had been through and even with everything they were going to go through, the only thing that Yoseph needed to tell them was, not to busy themselves in Torah on the way home because the sons of that Yaakov couldn't possibly be doing anything else. These are our forefathers, our ancestors, our great grandparents. These are the genes that are part of our make up. A glimpse of the potential we have as Jews.
Of the possible 15 million or so Jews in the world today, how many even know what Torah is? And of those who know what it is how many take it seriously enough to make time to study? And of those who study, how many want it to permeate every aspect of their lives? A handful. A measly handful of Jews want Torah to be the most important thing. A measly handful want to be a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of what our forefathers and foremothers were. And their brothers and sisters say to them, “Make yourselves useful! Get a real job!" Even more ridiculous, "You want to learn? Pick up a gun!" Zoes Chanukah! Torah, bitachone and self sacrifice = redemption. The only strength we have is our Torah. The only life we have is our Torah. "Ki haim chayainu v'orech yamainu u'v'hem nehegeh yomam v'lielah." It is our life and our length of days. And by it we will conduct ourselves day and night. No matter how long, dark and cold the night.
Rav Wolfson draws this conclusion in his unique way. The words "Es Yehudah shalach l'fonov"- Yehudah he [Yaakov] sent ahead [to Goeshen] = 945 = "shmonas yimay Chanukah"- 8 days of Chanukah. And the four letters of the ghetto "Goeshnah" = 358 = "Mashiach". ‘Nuf said.
Yehudah represents the Mashiach ben David. Yoseph represents the Mashiach ben Yoseph who will militarily pave the way for the Mashiach ben David. Although tradition says the Mashiach ben Yoseph will die in battle we know our prayers have the strength to overturn that decree. Our parsha opens with "Vayigash alav Yehudah."- And Yehudah approached [Yoseph]. The refua before the makka. Both lineages come together as we descend into exile to assure us they will be there to take us out and we pray the Mashiach of Yehudah will again be able to approach the Mashiach of Yoseph and give him a “Yosher Ko’ach” on a job well done. Appropriately enough, the haftorah this week is about the unification of the kingdoms of Yehudah and Yoseph. Hashem tells Yechezkel that David ben Yishai will be established as the single shepherd over the entire flock of Israel. Hey, who said ‘shepherd’?!
We are certainly in a cold and dark time. There is an exceeding amount of suffering and grief amongst Klal Yisrael. Rachel bas haRav Yoseph, a’h, said of her suffering to her best friend, just a month before she was niftar, “Gam zu latove”- This is also for the good. We know that all the ‘bad’ Hashem does for us is for our good. We also know He knows that even good can be for our good. When Yaakov was stricken in the thigh by the angel of Eisav, the sun rose early and he arrived in Shchem whole. May it bHashem’s will to turn up the light of Chanukah early and let its rays warm us and make us whole. Shabbot Shalom.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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