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Haftarah: Amos 2:6-3:8

December 19-20, 2008 23 KISLEV 5769

Pop Quiz: Where was Yaakob living when the sale of Yosef took place?


"And the pit was empty, no water was in it" (Beresheet 37:24)

In a few days it will be Hanukah. It is a time of reflection and giving thanks to Hashem. In the Gemara (Shabbat 21b) Rav Kahana makes two statements that at first sight seem unrelated. The first, Rav Kahana says that a Hanukah candle that is lit higher than twenty amot (about 40 feet) is invalid. It is too high to see, and therefore cannot publicize the miracle of Hanukah properly. The second statement concerns our perashah with the story of Joseph and his brothers. The Torah says that the brothers threw him into a pit, "and the pit was empty - there was no water in it. "Rav Kahana notes that the words "there was no water" are superfluous. If the Torah says the pit was empty, don't I know that there was no water? Therefore, the extra words are teaching us that while the pit contained no water, nevertheless it was infested with snakes and scorpions. A great miracle occurred and Hashem saved his life and Joseph was not harmed by the snakes and scorpions.

Is there a connection between these two statements, both made by Rav Kahana? Rabbi Matis Blum explains that there is a very important connection. When one first thinks about the miracle of Hanukah, it doesn't seem so bad. The danger wasn't as great as it was during the miracle of Purim. Haman wanted to wipe out every man, woman and child. He didn't care about the misvot. By the case of the Greeks, they didn't issue a death decree. They merely prohibited some misvot, Shabbat, milah and Rosh Hodesh. Their main idea was to introduce the Greek culture into our lives. Many of the Hellenized Jews thought they could be good Jews even though they believed also in the Greek philosophy. Therefore, perhaps we really don't have to publicize the miracle of the victory over the Greeks. However, these thoughts are completely wrong, for the intent of the Greeks was to uproot our religion entirely, as we say in the Al Hanisim prayer, "They wanted to make them forget Your Torah and turn them away from Your laws." Therefore, our Sages compelled us to publicize the miracle properly to always remember the great peril we were in. The candles must be lowered to normal view in order to see the candles.

Similarly with the story of Joseph. At first sight the danger was not so great. It appeared as an empty pit. But, Rav Kahana learns from the extra words, that even though the pit was empty, it had a far greater danger. It was full of snakes and scorpions. Therefore both statements of Rav Kahana are connected. Both statements were cases of unrecognized danger, that Hashem saved us from. In both cases we must thank Hashem. Happy Hanukah & Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Reuven Semah

One of the most famous questions in halachic literature deals with the lighting of the Hanukah menorah. We all know that we celebrate Hanukah for eight days because when the Jews rededicated the Temple and were looking for pure olive oil to light the Menorah, they found a jar containing oil to last for one night, and miraculously, it burned for eight. The obvious question is: If so, the miracle was only seven days, being that there was already enough oil for the first day!

Hundreds of answers have been offered. Among them: 1) Winning the war was one miracle; 2) The finding of the oil should be remembered; 3) Each night only one-eighth of the oil was used up, so it was a miracle for eight nights, etc. A latter day sage, upon seeing all the answers being debated, commented that this fact itself, that the Jewish people are asking and answering about an event that happened more than 2000 years ago, is a miracle and should be celebrated, at least with an extra day of Hanukah.

In all other cultures, holidays are purely symbolic, to remember fleetingly, and if "properly" observed, may cause a hangover. In Torah Judaism, everything that we do has a reason, and our lives therefore are filled with meaning. It is this vibrancy with Torah that has kept us going throughout the ages, while the Greeks, the Romans and other empires faded away into oblivion.

As we stand around the menorah and fulfill this beautiful misvah, let us rededicate ourselves to the ideals that the candles represent, by joining in the activities of the synagogue, thereby meriting His Divine Presence to dwell in our midst, Amen. Happy Hanukah. Rabbi Shmuel Choueka


"The butler was returned to his position, and the baker was hanged." (Beresheet 21,22)

What clue in their dreams led Yosef to this interpretation?

Yosef carefully studied their words. The butler said, "The cup of Pharaoh was in my hand; I took the grapes; I squeezed them; I placed the cup on Pharaoh's palm." (40:11). Yosef saw that the butler dreamt about doing things. Since one can only do things if he is alive, Yosef saw in his dreams a sign of life.

The baker told Yosef, "On my head were baskets full of baked goods and a bird was eating from the baskets." The dream was totally lacking human activity. He did not say who baked the goods, who put the baskets on his head, nor did he do anything to chase the bird away. Moreover, a bird is usually afraid of a person and will not come near food which a person holds in his hands.

Yosef said to the baker, "You were carrying a basket of baked goods and a bird was eating from them; obviously the bird did not consider you alive. Consequently, your dream indicates that Pharaoh will soon put you to death." (Vedibarta Bam)

Answer to Pop Quiz: Hebron.

A quick tip to boost the power of your prayer. Hazal tell us (Masechet Baba Kama Daf 92A) that Hashem loves the tefilot of one Jew for another so much that anyone who prays on behalf of a fellow Jew with similar needs will have his prayer answered first. A special service has now begun to provide people with names of others who find themselves in a similar predicament. You can call with complete anonymity and get the name of someone to pray for and give the name of someone that needs our prayers. The name of the service is Kol Hamitpalel. Categories include: Marriage; Income; Health; To have children etc.

Call to 646-279-8712 or email (Privacy of email limited by the email address)

Please pass this message along. Tizku L'misvot.

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