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Torah Attitude: Parshas Miketz/Hanukkah: A little light pushes away a lot of darkness

Summary

Darkness in reality is a creation of its own. G'd created darkness and the negative experiences associated with darkness as part of His masterplan. G'd made a limit of how many years Joseph should languish in the darkness of the prison. Asking the butler for help was an act of desperation that shows that Joseph lost his high level of trust in G'd. We all have our times of "light" with pleasant and enjoyable experiences, and no one goes through life without times of "darkness" with suffering and other challenges. G'd is the Creator of "darkness", just as He is the Creator of "light". Of all the exiles, the one that is described as "darkness" more than any other is the time we suffered under the Hellenists during the rule of the Greek-Syrian empire. When our oppressors make decrees against us like the Hellenists, and try to restrain us from studying Torah and observing mitzvos, then our very raison d'?tre is in danger and we find ourselves in total darkness. Even during the darkness of the exile under the Greek-Syrian empire, a little light started to flicker when a handful of Chashmonaim stood up against the huge and mighty armies and pushed away the darkness of so-called "enlightened" Hellenism. As we celebrate Hanukkah, we take strength from our glorious past, and although there is still a lot of darkness out there, we kindle our Hanukkah lights and pray to G'd that our little light shall push away all the darkness in its various formats.

Darkness a creation of its own

In general, we perceive darkness as a void of light. However, every morning we quote the Prophet Isaiah (45:7) in the first blessing before Shema and say that G'd "forms light and creates darkness". The Vilna Gaon explains that that darkness in reality is a creation of its own, which by the Divine laws of nature is "pushed away" by light (see Hakesav Vehakabalah Bereishis 1:4 and Kol Eliyahu paragraph 53). As our sages say: "A little light pushes away a lot of darkness." Even a small, weak flame will enable a person to see in a place otherwise shrouded in darkness.

G'd's masterplan

In a metaphysical sense, light is associated with anything good and pleasant, whereas darkness is associated with difficulties and suffering. People often feel that they experience Divine providence and see the hand of G'd. We feel like this when we have success and accomplish what we endeavour to do. Especially when things work out exactly the way we want them and we meet the "right" person at the "right" time, then we feel and clearly see how G'd orchestrated everything for us. We tend to forget that G'd not only created light and everything positive associated with light, G'd also created darkness and the negative experiences associated with darkness. It is all part of G'd's masterplan down to the minutest detail.

End for darkness

In the beginning of this week's parasha it says (Bereishis 41:1): "And it happened at the end of two years and Pharaoh was dreaming." An obvious question arises here, what are the two years that this verse refers to? The Midrash Rabbah (Bereishis 89:1) explains this verse with a quote from Job (28:3): "An end was made [by G'd] for darkness." Says the Midrash, G'd made a limit of how many years Joseph should languish in the darkness of the prison. As soon as the end of these years came, G'd made Pharaoh dream.

Joseph's act of desperation

The Midrash Rabbah (Shemos 1:7) further explains that originally Joseph was supposed to be in the darkness of his prison for ten years as a punishment for the evil reports he gave Yacov about this ten brothers. But when he asked Pharaoh's head butler to remember him and mention him to Pharaoh, he was punished with an additional two years in prison. Joseph should have realized, explains the Chazon Ish (Emunah and Bitachon 2:6), that the butler was not a reliable person that he could trust, and asking him for help was not an appropriate effort to get out of prison. Rather, it was an act of desperation that shows that Joseph lost, for a moment, his high level of trust in G'd. But as soon as the two years were up, that very night Pharaoh had his dream to facilitate Joseph's release from prison and his rise to become the viceroy of Egypt.

Times of light and darkness

Every night we say in the first blessing before Shema that G'd "opens gates with wisdom, and with understanding changes the times and removes light for darkness and darkness for light." Every act of G'd is done with ultimate wisdom and understanding, and every change in a person's life is exactly at the appropriate time. Just like Joseph, we all have our times of "light" with pleasant and enjoyable experiences, and no one goes through life without times of "darkness" with suffering and other challenges. Everyone's mix of experiences is custom-made to fit our purpose in life and our particular situation.

G'd is the Creator of darkness

The same applies to every nation in general, and to the Jewish people in particular. Throughout the eight days of Hanukkah it is customary to sing the song of Maoz Tzur after kindling the lights. In this song we describe the various exiles that the Jewish people has gone through and how G'd delivered us from them. We have suffered a lot. But if we ask where was G'd during our suffering, or how could G'd allow all the atrocities we have experienced, then we have forgotten that G'd is the Creator of "darkness", just as He is the Creator of "light". We can never understand and fathom G'd's detailed plans why good and innocent people are suffering, or are killed, and why people who do acts of evil have a good time. We must always remember that we only see what is going on at the present, and therefore we only have a very limited scope. But G'd looks at the world taking into consideration what has transpired since the first day of Creation. The Kabbalists explain that a good and pious person may suffer for evil he did in a previous life, and in this way he is purified and prepared for eternal blessings in the World to Come.

Greek-Syrian exile is the darkest

It is most interesting to observe that of all the exiles, the one that is described as "darkness" more than any other is the time we suffered under the Hellenists during the rule of the Greek-Syrian empire. The Midrash Rabbah (Bereishis 2:4) explains that right at the beginning of the Torah there is a hint to the various exiles we have been through since we settled in the land of Israel as a nation. In the second verse it says, "And the earth was desolate." Says the Midrash, this is a reference to the exile of Babylon. "And empty" refers to the exile of Persia and Media. "And darkness" refers to the exile of Greek-Syria who darkened the eyes of the Jewish people with their decrees. Continues the Midrash, "upon the face of the deep" refers to the exile started by the wicked kingdom of Rome from which we suffer till our present day. "And the spirit of G'd is hovering", says the Midrash, refers to King Moshiach. Asks the Midrash, in what merit is Moshiach going to come? This, concludes the Midrash, is hinted at the end of the verse "upon the face of the waters" in the merit of teshuvah that is compared to water. As it says (Eichah 2:19): "pour out your heart like water opposite the face of G'd."

Total darkness

We can survive exiles, inquisitions, crusades, pogroms, and the Holocaust as a nation. We may bleed and be decimated, but we bounce right back and as light pushes away darkness, the times change and with Divine assistance we rebuild and start afresh. But when our oppressors make decrees against us like the Hellenists, and try to restrain us from studying Torah and observing mitzvos, then our very raison d'?tre is in danger and we find ourselves in total darkness.

A little flicker

But even during the darkness of the exile under the Greek-Syrian empire a little light started to flicker when a handful of Chashmonaim, with the utmost self-sacrifice, stood up against the huge and mighty armies and pushed away the darkness of so-called "enlightened" Hellenism. And with assistance from above, they miraculously rose and defeated the enemy. When they were able to enter the Temple and rededicated it, they only found sufficient oil to light the Menorah for one day. But at that moment, they merited a miracle, and G'd showed His love for His loyal servants and let the Menorah burn in full glory for eight days till they were able to produce new oil.

New light on Zion

As we celebrate Hanukkah, we take strength from our glorious past and although there is still a lot of darkness out there, we kindle our Hanukkah lights and pray to G'd that our little light shall push away all the darkness in its various formats, and we shall soon experience what we say every morning at the end of the first blessing of Shema: "May You ignite a new light on Zion and may we all speedily merit its shine." Amen.

These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.

These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.

Shalom. Michael Deverett

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