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Parshas Mikeitz - Vol. 10, Issue 10
Compiled by Oizer Alport


Vayomer Paroh el Yosef acharei hodi'ah Elokem es kol zos ein navon v'chochom kamocha (41:39)

After Yosef was freed from prison to interpret Pharaoh's dreams, he explained that they foretold seven years of abundance to be followed by seven years of famine. Therefore, he recommended the appointment of a wise advisor to oversee the project of storing for the famine during the years of plenty. Upon hearing this proposal, Pharaoh responded that there was nobody more fitting for the role than Yosef himself, who demonstrated great insight by suggesting this idea.

Rav Eliyahu Lopian asks an obvious question: what intelligence do we see on the part of Yosef? Any rational person should realize that if one anticipates good years followed by bad years, the obvious solution is to save for the future during the good years. Rav Lopian explains that from the fact that Yosef is praised for his wisdom, the Torah is revealing to us a deep insight into human nature: the prevalence of short-sightedness. Even though our minds recognize the need to prepare for the future, we have great difficulty looking past the affluent present. Therefore, Chazal tell us (Tamid 32a), "Eizehu chochom ha'roeh es ha'nolad" - a wise person is one who sees the future - and plans for it accordingly.

The time we have in this world is analogous to the years of plenty. When we are young, the time we have left in this world seems abundant, almost infinite, and it is quite easy and natural to let it go to waste. Americans even have a concept called "killing time." However, there inevitably comes a time when we must leave this world and enter the next. In that world, we won't have any more time available to perform mitzvos and continue our spiritual growth. Let us learn from Yosef what it means to be wise and "save" by studying Torah and doing mitzvos during our time in this world so that we will have them to take with us when we pass on to the next world.

B'nei binah y'mei shemona kav'u shir u'renanim (Ma'oz Tzur)

Historians refer to the period of the Greek Empire as the Enlightenment, as the Greeks were on the cutting edge of new insights and understanding of the natural world. Studying science and revealing the depth and intricacy of Hashem's magnificent Creation often brings people to believe in Hashem as they marvel at the impossibility of it all occurring by chance. Why is it that rather than being inspired to recognize Hashem's hand in the Creation, the Greeks heretically espoused a belief in a static universe?

This question may be answered with a parable. There were two families who performed acts of chesed (kindness). The first family invited a poor homeless beggar to their home and provided him with a warm supper, a shower, a change of clothes, and a good night's sleep. The second family heard of the tragic plight of an orphaned child and with great mercy adopted him and raised him as their very own. While both acts are admirable and praiseworthy, the latter clearly far outweighs the former, as it is an obligation for life versus a commitment of one night.

Nevertheless, upon speaking with the homeless man and the adopted child and measuring their levels of gratitude, one will paradoxically find the homeless man gushing with effusive praise for his compassionate hosts, while the child will be far less enthusiastic. The explanation for this phenomenon is that because the child was adopted at such a young age, he has grown accustomed to the myriad acts of kindness to the point of taking them for granted, whereas the homeless man is able to recognize the magnitude of the unexpected thoughtfulness from which he benefited.

Similarly, the ancient Greeks were leaders in furthering their understanding and awareness of the natural world, but they were led astray by the very fact that the focus of their inquiries - nature - is by definition constant and self-perpetuating. Just like the adopted child, this led them to take nature for granted and to view it as an independent power unto itself.

This insight provides a deeper understanding of the victory of the Chashmonaim over the Greeks. The struggle wasn't merely military in nature, as it also represented a triumph over the mistaken worldview of the Greeks. The Chashmonaim realized that everything in the world comes from Hashem, and everything - including nature itself - is in reality a miracle. The Ramban writes (Shemos 13:16) that clear and open miracles should lead a person to the recognition that even the mundane things that he takes for granted are also miraculous, albeit in a "hidden" form. This concept is so fundamental to Jewish belief that the Ramban writes that a person who denies it has no portion in the Torah.

With this introduction, we can now appreciate the answer given by the Alter of Kelm to the well-known question attributed to the Beis Yosef: Since enough oil was found to burn on the first day, no miracle occurred on that day, in which case Chanuka should only be celebrated only for the seven days that the oil burned miraculously. The Altar of Kelm answers that the miracle of the first day is that oil burns at all! Although we view oil burning as the mere functioning of the laws of nature and not miraculous in any way, this is precisely the point: The first day of Chanuka commemorates the recognition that nature itself is a creation of Hashem, and just because we are accustomed to it on a daily basis, it is no less miraculous than the subsequent miracle that the oil burned for longer than it was supposed to.

The Gemora in Taanis (25a) relates that one Friday, the daughter of Rav Chanina ben Dosa accidentally put vinegar into her Shabbos candles instead of oil. When she reported her mistake to her father, he was unfazed and unequivocally declared, "He Who told oil to burn can also tell vinegar to burn." Rav Chanina ben Dosa recognized clearly that the laws of nature are essentially arbitrary; if Hashem willed them to be another way, they could just as easily be different. He understood that there is nothing intrinsically more miraculous in the burning of oil than that of vinegar, as nature is just another, more hidden, form of a miracle. The Gemora concludes that for somebody on such a lofty spiritual level, an open miracle occurred and he lit his Havdalah candle on Saturday night from the vinegar candles which were still burning strong.

Rav Moshe Feinstein uses this idea to resolve a difficulty with the text of the Al HaNissim prayer which is added to the Shemoneh Esrei prayers and to Birkas HaMazon, in which we thank Hashem for the miracles that He performed for us on Chanuka: Why is no mention made in this paragraph of the most well-known miracle associated with Chanuka, the fact that the oil burned for eight days? Rav Moshe suggests that the miracle of the oil is indeed mentioned, in the words v'hidliku neiros b'chatzros kadshecha - they lit candles in Your Holy Temple, as the fact that the oil burned at all was no less miraculous than that which occurred on the remaining seven days.

With this understanding, we can appreciate the explanation given by Rav Shmuel Rozovsky for the fact that in the song Maoz Tzur which is sung after lighting the menorah, we refer to the sages who established Chanuka for singing and rejoicing as b'nei binah, as opposed to b'nei de'ah or b'nei chochmah, which are synonymous terms that also connote wisdom. Rashi writes (Devorim 1:13) that binah is used to connote the wisdom of being meivin Davar mi'toch davar - extrapolating from one concept to understand something else. This is the precise description of the Chashmonaim, who witnessed the open miracle of the oil burning for seven additional days, and inferred that the lighting of the first day was just as miraculous.

The Gemora in Berachos (7b) teaches that in naming her fourth son Yehuda to express her gratitude to Hashem (Bereishis 29:35), Leah became the first person in history to thank Hashem. How can it be that the righteous Avos and Imahos who preceded her never once thanked Hashem? The K'sav Sofer answers that they thanked Hashem repeatedly, but only for open miracles. Leah was the first person in history to thank Hashem for something which could be classified as "natural," the birth of four children. Leah recognized that nature is also a miracle and requires just as much gratitude as open miracles.

The Bach writes (Orach Chaim 670) that the Greeks were able to persecute the Jews at the time of the Chanuka miracle because the Jewish people weakened themselves in their Divine Service. The Shem MiShmuel clarifies that the Bach doesn't say that they weren't observing the mitzvos. They were doing everything required by Jewish law, but they were doing it k'mitzvas anashim melumada - from rote and habit.

In discussing how long the menorah should burn, the Gemora (Shabbos 21b) doesn't give a precise amount of time as we would expect, but rather an unusual measurement: ad she'tichleh ha'regel min ha'shuk, until people are no longer walking around outside in the marketplace where they will be able to see the menorah, at which point there is no purpose in publicizing the miracle. Why did the Gemora use this nebulous and potentially misleading expression instead of explicitly stating for how long the menorah must burn? The Chiddushei HaRim points out that the word "ha'regel" (the foot) can also be read "hergel" (habit), and the Gemora can be re-read to require "ad she'tich'leh hergel," meaning that on Chanuka a person must serve Hashem in a thought-out and premeditated manner in order to rectify the original cause of the Greeks' decrees.

This insight can help us answer a question raised by Rav Eliezer Waldenberg (Shu"t Tzitz Eliezer 18:42), who points out that in the Al HaNissim prayer for Chanuka, after describing all of the miracles that Hashem performed for our ancestors, we conclude v'kav'u shemonas y'mei Chanuka eilu l'hodos u'lehalel l'shimcha hagadol - and they (the sages) established the eight days of Chanuka to give thanks and praise to Your Holy name. In the Al HaNissim prayer for Purim, no analogous mention is made of the mitzvos we perform, such as reading the Megillah and dispensing charity to the poor, to commemorate the miracles that Hashem performed for Mordechai and Esther. Further, when mentioning our obligations on Chanuka at the end of Al HaNissim, why is no mention made of the requirement to light the menorah, which is the primary mitzvah that is associated with our observance of Chanuka?

Rabbi Yosef Sonnenschein of Waterbury suggests that because the goal of Chanuka is to overcome the power of habit, thanking Hashem is an integral part of the holiday. He explains that if most mitzvos are performed without proper intent, such as lighting the menorah without intending to publicize the Chanuka miracles, it certainly detracts from the value of the mitzvah, but nevertheless, the mitzvah was ultimately done. The burning menorah publicizes the miracle to all who see it regardless of the concentration, or lack thereof, of the person who lit it.

On the other hand, there are other mitzvos, such as expressing gratitude and praise, which are completely dependent upon the concentration and meaning of the person saying the words. If he insincerely says "thank you" or robotically gives a compliment as if he is being compelled to do so and he does not really mean it, it's not considered that he expressed gratitude or praise, albeit somewhat deficiently. His words are completely meaningless, as if they weren't said at all. Because gratitude and praise can only be properly expressed through focus and concentration, they are therefore mentioned at the end of the Al HaNissim prayer for Chanuka, which is a time that we are required to serve Hashem with thought and intention.

Although it is difficult to reflect upon all of the kindness that Hashem does for each of us at every moment of our lives, Rav Nosson Wachtfogel points out that the days of Chanuka are a time of being above the laws of nature. Let us use this precious opportunity to recognize that even what is cloaked in the guise of nature is indeed miraculous, and to reflect upon the numerous miracles that Hashem performs for us every second of every day, and to thank Him with hearts full of appropriate gratitude.

Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
To receive the full version with answers email the author at oalport@optonline.net.

Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1) What set of twins was born in Parshas Mikeitz? (Seder HaDoros, HaK'sav V'HaKabbalah)

2) What was Yosef's intention in accusing (42:9) his brothers of coming to spy out the land of Egypt, a charge which he knew was false? (Peh Kadosh)

3) On Chanuka we add a paragraph, known as Al HaNissim, to the Shemoneh Esrei prayers and to Birkas HaMazon in which we thank Hashem for the miracles that He performed at this time. In it, we mention that the Chashmonaim lit candles in the chatzer - courtyard of the Temple. Why didn't they light the menorah inside of the Temple where it is normally lit? (Derashos Chasam Sofer Vol. 1 pg. 67, Taima D'Kra)

4) The Gemora in Shabbos (21b) teaches that the primary obligation on Chanuka is to light one flame on each night. The mehadrin - more preferable - level is to light one flame for each member of the household on each night, and the mehadrin min hamehadrin - most preferred - level is to light an additional flame on each successive night. Why did Chazal specifically enact a level of mehadrin min hamehadrin on Chanuka, a concept not found in conjunction with any other mitzvah? (B'nei Yissachar Kislev 3:19, Imrei Emes Shabbos 21b, Shu"t Divrei Yisroel 3:38, K'Motzei Shalal Rav Chanuka pg. 109-111, Peninei Teshuvos Chanuka pg. 49)

  2014 by Oizer Alport. Permission is granted to reproduce and distribute as long as credit is given. To receive weekly via email or to send comments or suggestions, write to parshapotpourri@optonline.net


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