By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
Although Chanukah is a mitzvah miderabonon, there are several oblique references in the Torah to the yom tov we celebrate this week. The Ramban in Parshas Beha’aloscha famously connects Aharon Hakohein’s lighting of the menorah in the Mishkon to the lighting of the Chanukah menorah in our day.
Additionally, in Moshe Rabbeinu’s final brochah to Klal Yisroel, he blesses shevet Levi, “Boruch Hashem cheilo, Bless his army, Hashem“ (Devorim 33:11). Rashi explains that Moshe was referring to the Chashmonaim, as they set out to battle the Greeks, begging Hashem to cause the righteous ones to emerge victorious over a much larger, better trained army of scoffers.
We will discuss the hints to the epic events of yemei Chanukah in the parshiyos of Sefer Bereishis we currently study as pointed out by the sifrei Kabbolah.
One of the more cryptic exchanges occurs between Yaakov and Lavan when they part from each other at the end of Parshas Vayeitzei. They formed a mound of stones as testimony to their agreement to keep a safe distance from each other. Lavan referred to this monument as Yegar Sahadusa, while Yaakov called it Galeid, the Lashon Kodesh version of Lavan’s Aramaic name.
The Megaleh Amukos, who, as the name of his sefer suggests, reveals all sorts of deep secrets in his work, explains that the numerical value of the word “Yegar” is 213. He says that this is a reference to the 213th year of the Second Bais Hamikdosh. It was then that “gavra haklippah,” the forces of evil were strengthened, to the point that the rasha Antiyochus was able to slaughter a chazir in the Bais Hamikdosh. Lavan was anticipating that sad day when he said “Yegar.”
Yaakov Avinu beheld the same historic moment and beseeched Hashem for mercy. He called the pile Galeid, hinting to the Chashmonaim, who would rise up to avenge the act of Antiyochus and his decrees. Yaakov was pleading for Hashem to hear their prayers and deliver them just as he would hear the pleas of Shmuel in Gilad.
Like many of the accounts in Sefer Bereishis, this one, as well, is replete with historical significance and import. The era of the neis Chanukah was clearly foreseen and influenced by Yaakov Avinu.
Additionally, the sefer Tzeidah Laderech quotes the Maharshal, who saw another connection between Yaakov Avinu and the neis Chanukah. When Yaakov crossed the Yaabok River to retrieve his pachim ketanim, Hashem said to him, “You sacrificed for the sake of pachim ketanim, small jugs, and I will repay your children with a miracle involving pachim, small jugs,” referring to the pach shemen tahor with which the Chashmonaim re-consecrated the menorah in the Bais Hamikdosh.
Beneath the surface of the pesukim depicting our forefather Yaakov, Kabbolah masters see the neis Chanukah playing itself out. Although we aren’t mekubolim, we can benefit from the messages they uncover.
Yosef earned the appendage of “tzaddik.” He is identified for his piety in rising up to face off a challenge in the nisayon involving aishes Potifar in last week’s parsha of Vayeishev.
Yosef’s spiritual heroism and strength are relevant to us in our day. Isolated in a foreign land and an unfriendly environment, Yosef, at the age of seventeen, was cut off from his beloved father, and deprived of his prime role model and teacher.
Yosef was a lonely teenager sold by his own brothers into servitude in the most impure country. If ever a young man had an excuse to fall hard, it was he.
From where did the rejected, hated, handsome young man find the inner fortitude to muster the ability to rise above his nisayon?
The Gemara (Sotah 36b) relates that when confronted by aishes Potifar, Yosef stood at the edge of a spiritual cliff, engaged in a fierce battle with his yeitzer hora. Suddenly, he beheld the image of his father, “Be’osah sha’ah bosah deyukno shel oviv.” Yosef saw the image of his father, Yaakov. Seeing the picture of his father propelled him to the status of a tzaddik.
Like a flash of lightning on a stormy night, it showed him the way.
I recall the time many years ago, as a talmid in the Philadelphia Yeshiva, when we merited a visit from Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky zt”l, father of our rosh yeshiva, Rav Shmuel.
Rav Yaakov shared something he heard from a Litvishe Yid, a former yeshiva student who was faced with challenges in his life. The man related that he never succumbed, because in his youth, he had seen Rav Boruch Ber Leibowitz zt”l. Beholding that luminous countenance was an experience that equipped him with resources of purity and strength. Every time he wanted to engage in something he knew he shouldn’t be doing, he thought of that image of Rav Boruch Ber and changed his mind.
Yaakov was the last av, the third of the three avos who imbued nishmas Yisroel with the strength to endure. Yosef was the first of the next generation to tap into those kochos, bringing them to the fore and making them a reality.
Yosef was the first Jew sold into exile. Lonely and seemingly forgotten, he nevertheless was able to make the choice of seeing something bigger and remembering a different time and the message it sent. As he engaged in a fierce battle with his yeitzer hora, he looked out the window, and in its glass he saw his father’s saintly image, the face of Yaakov Avinu, lovingly gazing back at him.
What did that face tell him? The face of Yaakov was a plea, a demand, a rallying cry. He was saying to him, “My dear son, you have the potential for greatness. You are better than them and better than that. My son, you don’t have to do it. You don’t have to sink. You don’t have to succumb! My dear son, I speak from personal experience. I lived with Lavan. Im Lavan garti, vetaryag mitzvos shomarti, velo lomadeti mimaasov haro’im.
“Yosef,” the image proclaimed, “I was also forced from my father’s home, chased and oppressed, alone in a strange land surrounded by impurity. Yet I didn’t fall. I never yielded to the pressure. I never let the rasha, in whose home I lived, influence me, and you, my son, have that same strength. Rise above it! You can do it. Yes, you can.”
Yosef saw all that in the window and was energized to resist the pull and temptation to forsake his heritage. He was reminded from where he came and where he was headed. Thus armed, he was able to resist succumbing to the moment and preserved himself for eternity.
The images of Yaakov and Yosef were the inspiration for the tzaddikei bais Chashmonai, the heroes of the neis Chaunkah. Yovon had taken hold of Eretz Yisroel, the Bais Hamikdosh, Am Yisroel, and everything holy. As foretold by Lavan, Antiyochus had sacrificed a pig on the mizbei’ach.
One can only imagine the reaction of the people around them as the Chashmonaim announced their intention to resist the progressive Hellenists and fight for kedushas Yisroel and kedushas haMikdosh.
“The battle is lost. Give it up,” the overwhelming Jewish majority told the recalcitrant Chashmonaim. “The people aren’t with you. You have to accept the fact that we are not in control and that the people lined up against us are more powerful, better armed and better organized than us.”
Sitting in their homes, the Jewish people looked out the window and saw darkness. They saw Yovon gaining on them. They felt weak and pointless. They viewed themselves as small, their actions inconsequential.
The Chashmonaim refused to accept the defeatist attitude. Like Yosef Hatzaddik, they refused to let anyone tell them who they were. They didn’t submit to letting others write the rules for them. They were inspired by Yosef’s example of a Jew living in golus, surrounded by temptation, dominated by a heathen, hedonistic culture. And just as he had done, they channeled succor from Yaakov Avinu. Empowered by his example as well as his tefillos and zechuyos, they embarked upon an impossible task.
Like Yaakov Avinu, who understood that even the smallest jugs can belong to the side of kedushah and was therefore moser nefesh to ensure that they also had a tikkun, the Chashmonaim fought valiantly for the sanctity of the Bais Hamikdosh, to take back Hashem’s earthly abode, re-consecrate it, elevate it and cleanse it of the profane. Just as Yaakov stared down Lavan and the malach of Eisav, they had the courage to face a foe much more powerful than they and triumph.
When they gazed out the window into the darkness of Yovon, they saw light. They saw the light of Yaakov and of Yosef. They saw their images counseling them to fight for kedushah. They heard their voices telling them not to succumb to the temptation of yielding to the moment. They saw Yaakov and were encouraged to battle the forces of Eisov. They wouldn’t permit the defilement of Antiyochus to go unpunished. They davened, they summoned up the tefillos of Yaakov from way back when at Galeid, they girded themselves, and they went to war against the prevailing tumah.
They refused to be pulled down and lowered. They didn’t become disheartened, overwhelmed by the difficult task at hand. They didn’t see what simpler people saw. They didn’t permit their gaze to be directed by those who were spiritually blind and worshipped the forces of darkness. They didn’t let their thought process be influenced by propaganda. They lived lives of correctness and justice in a period dominated by corruption, banality, immorality and evil.
Their message and example, together with that of Yaakov and Yosef, should inspire us as we are faced with temptations the yeitzer hora devises to detour us from our missions as bnei and bnos Torah. We are heirs to a glorious tradition and forerunners of generations following the path laid out for us by the avos and imahos. Let’s never forget that.
If we believe in ourselves and our ability, we can overcome everything. There is nothing that can conquer the demus deyukno of Yaakov.
Alexander was an eleven-year-old boy studying in a Shuvu school in one of Israel’s southern development towns. His Russian immigrant parents had high hopes for their brilliant son. They sent him to the religious school because of its reputation for sterling general studies and well-behaved students.
Alexander’s parents slowly became disillusioned as they watched their beloved son develop a connection with the religion their families had cast off generations prior. It seemed like the boy came home every day with new rules to follow and practices to observe. Loathe to switch schools in the middle of the school year, the parents watched with growing consternation as their son fell in love with Torah Judaism.
One Saturday, the day dedicated to reviewing what was learned in school that week and doing homework, Alexander sat at a table with his homework sheet, books and pen, but he wasn’t writing. His parents asked him why he wasn’t doing his homework. Each time they asked, he brushed off the question.
Finally, his father made a big show of forcefully sitting down next to him and demanding to know why he refused to do his homework. He loved his son and had big dreams for him. The immigrant’s life was in ruin. Not only was the apple of his eye destined for greatness in the sciences falling in love with religion, but he was refusing to do his schoolwork.
The boy met his father’s gaze and explained that it was Shabbos, a day on which Jews are forbidden to write.
The father was furious. Unable to contain his anger, he slapped his son across the face.
“Write! I insist that you write this instant!” he shouted.
The young man remained calm. “I will not write on Shabbos,” he said, equally determined.
The father was apoplectic, screaming and showering his stubborn son with blows.
Finally, he drew an ultimatum. “This is my house. You will write on that paper or I will throw you out,” he hissed.
Alexander stood up and walked to the doorway. He opened the door wide and then suddenly slammed the door, sticking his finger in its way before it closed. The sickening sound of his finger breaking was audible. His hand immediately swelled up and turned colors.
The boy looked at his father. “Now my finger is broken and I can no longer write,” he said.
The father, who repeated the story publicly many years later at the engagement of his yeshiva bochur son, said that it was at that moment that he knew that he would never win and that his son would triumph.
Like generations of Jews in golus before him, like Yosef in Mitzrayim, Alexander would not succumb.
My friend, Rav Eliezer Sorotzkin, who heads Lev L’Achim, related that during Operation Cast Lead, when Israel was at war with the Arabs of Gaza, his organization waged its own battle. As schools in the line of fire were closed, a group of teenagers in Ashkelon were kept busy. Kollel people from Ashdod would come and learn Torah with them in a bomb shelter, providing warmth, instruction and pizza. The teenagers had been so bored that they showed up for the entertainment and food. But something strange happened. When the war was over, the youngsters asked the yungeleit to continue coming.
As life returned to normal, word spread about the group and more neighborhood boys joined. The school kids and yungeleit studied regularly, and a year after they began, they completed a masechta.
They held a siyum on Chanukah in the home of Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman in Bnei Brak. Rav Shteinman was emotional as the teenagers proudly promised, “Hadran aloch. We will return to you, beloved masechta.”
One of the mesaymim asked the rosh yeshiva for a brochah that the resistance of his parents to his Torah studies weaken.
“In fact,” he told the rosh yeshiva, “if they knew where I am now, they would be furious. I told them that I am going to play soccer.”
Rav Shteinman listened to his request and told the teenager, “You have just answered a question I have always had. Why do we thank Hashem in Al Hanissim for the milchamos, the battles? Now, however, I know that it is for milchamos such as yours, the battles waged by teenagers determined to be loyal to Torah, that we thank Hashem.”
The Chashmonaim taught us about the glories of a milchamah, a war fought not with strategy or expectation to win, but with a stubborn unwillingness to be dragged down.
Chanukah gives us the eyes to see. Each of us has a demus deyukno shel oviv that reminds us of who we are and what we can accomplish. Chanukah is unique in that it has a birchas haro’eh, a special brochah for one who simply sees the neiros. Perhaps it is because the yom tov owes its existence to those who saw beyond their immediate surroundings and glimpsed the light of truth, the Ohr Haganuz concealed in the lechtelach.
It was true when Yaakov Avinu crossed the dark, lonely river. It was true when Yosef was in the clutches of aishes Potifar and that image saved him. It was true when the Bluzhever Rebbe lit Chanukah candles on a makeshift menorah in Bergen-Belsen. As he recited the brachos, someone asked him what he referred to when he said the brochah of ‘She’asah nissim laavoseinu bayomim haheim bazeman hazeh.”
“Rebbe,” the person said, “with all due respect, look at us, a crowd of starving, broken people who’ve lost everything, prisoners in the worst place on earth. What’s the neis?”
“The neis,” replied the rebbe, “is that even here, even though we’re starving and shattered, we still rejoice over the fact that we can come together and see these flickering lights. We see with our own eyes that they endure, and so will we.”
It’s a time when, once again, gavra haklippah. But we know that the light shines bayomim haheim bazeman hazeh, now as then. We look into the flame and we behold its timeless message.
We think of the battles fought by Yaakov and contemplate that Yosef was not just a young orphan who dreamed of a better future. He was the embodiment of the hopes and aspirations of Am Yisroel. He dreamed of redemption and the messianic age. But in order for his dream to be realized, he was forced into exile, slavery and darkness.
He was placed by a malach, who appeared out of nowhere, into a situation with his brothers that led to an awful dispute, causing them to seek his demise.
It was through that tragic period and the chain of events to which it led that he was appointed head of the Egyptian viceroy’s household.
From there, once again, fate intervened. He was tempted by the foreign culture and resisted as he saw the demus deyukno shel oviv. Instead of his heroic strength being rewarded, he was thrown into jail. From there, once again, he was redeemed and eventually placed in a leadership position.
Yosef represents Am Yisroel in golus. He paved our path with ambition and hope, dreaming of redemption and better days. Not always is the realization of his dreams and prayers readily apparent. In the end, he survives and achieves great salvation and prominence.
At the beginning of Parshas Vayeishev, we read, “Aileh toldos Yaakov, Yosef.” Rashi quotes the Medrash, which explains that Yaakov saw the armies of Eisov approaching and wondered how he would defeat them. The Medrash answers with the words of the prophet Ovadiah (1:18): “Vehoyo vais Yaakov aish, uvais Yosef lehovah, uvais Eisov lekash.” One spark will emanate from Yosef and will incinerate the approaching armies of Eisov.
That spark is evident every year as we light the menorah. It is the light of the Ohr Haganuz, created at the beginning of time, but hidden after man sinned. The light with which it was once possible to see misof ha’olam ve’ad sofo has been dimmed every day of the year. The holy seforim say that the light of the Ohr Haganuz is evident on Chanukah in the flickering flames of the menorahs we light in our homes. That tiny spark can illuminate our lives and the world if we contemplate and absorb the messages it bears.
It is interesting to note that we ourselves bring about the great light with our actions. We place oil and a wick in a small container and light it. Just as we activate the Ohr Haganuz with our menorah, we have the ability to cause that light to shine again across the world.
If we believe in ourselves, if we surmount the darkness that surrounds us, if we cleave to Torah in a hedonistic world, if we donate so that others can learn Torah, and if we raise ourselves above the morass that fills our world, we can bring about the awaited geulah.
Yosef gives birth to Moshiach ben Yosef, who prepares the world for Moshiach ben Dovid. May his light shine and enable us to merit strength, succor and redemption.