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Torah Attitude: Parashas Vayeishev: The light at the end of the tunnel
Joseph had a special relationship with his father Jacob and this relationship disturbed his brothers. When the brothers saw how pained their father Jacob was, they blamed Judah for the sale of Joseph. When everything appeared to be bleak and black, G'd was preparing the light at the end of the tunnel. G'd brings about the darkness in preparation for the light that emanates from that very darkness. A special spiritual light existed throughout the seven days of Creation. By studying Torah, one gets the ability to see with one's intellectual eye much further than ordinary people can see. It is hidden from all of mankind when this special light will finally appear and illuminate the world at the time of the Redemption. Throughout the eight days of Hanukkah we light a total of 36 lights corresponding to the 36 hours that Adam enjoyed the hidden light when he was created on Friday till the following motzei Shabbos. It is no coincidence that the Talmud consists of 36 volumes. Once a year, throughout the eight days of Hanukkah, when we kindle the 36 lights, we all get an opportunity to connect with this special light that reminds us that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Joseph and his brothers
In this week's parasha the Torah relates how Joseph had a special relationship with his father Jacob, and how this relationship disturbed Joseph's brothers. As Joseph told them of his dreams, they felt that he believed that he was superior to him, and eventually things became so bad that they decided to kill him. At the last moment, Reuben saved him and convinced his brothers to put him in a pit. When they saw an approaching caravan, Judah suggested that rather than letting him perish in the pit, they should sell him as a slave. In this way, they would not suffer any more from him. Reuben had not been present at the time of the sale when the other brothers pulled Joseph out of the pit. His true intentions became clear when he later returned to the pit to bring Joseph back home and was devastated when he discovered that Joseph was gone.
The Torah continues to relate how Judah left his brothers and moved elsewhere. Rashi (Bereishis 38:1) explains that till then Judah had been considered the leader of the brothers. But when the brothers saw how pained their father Jacob was, as he thought that Joseph had been killed, they did not accept his leadership any more. They blamed him for the sale of Joseph. For if Judah had suggested to bring Joseph back home, they would have listened to him.
G'd preparing the light
The Midrash Rabbah (85:1) sums it all up and describes the situation: The brothers were occupied with their regret of the sale of Joseph. Joseph was mourning his situation and regretted his behaviour towards his brothers. Reuben was mourning the fact that he had not managed to save Joseph. Jacob was mourning the loss of his son. And Judah was seeking comfort in his misery and went and got married. But what was G'd doing? He was busy developing the light of Mashiach, the future king of Israel. At this time, when everything appeared to be bleak and black, G'd was preparing the light at the end of the tunnel. As the Midrash concludes: "Even before the birth of the first oppressor of the Jewish people, the ancestor of the final redeemer was born." The Midrash is referring to how the sale of Joseph brought about that Judah left his brothers and started his own family, and eventually had a set of twins with Tamar, one of which is the ancestor of Mashiach.
Light and darkness
But what light does the Midrash refer to when it says that "G'd was busy preparing the light of Mashiach?" To understand this we must go back to the first day of Creation, where it says (Bereishis 1:2-3): "And the earth was empty and desolate, and darkness was upon the face of the depth … And G'd said, 'There shall be light.'" The Talmud (Chagigah 12a) explains that ten things were created on that day. Two of them were light and darkness. As we say every morning in our prayers, in the beginning of the blessings of Shema, "Blessed are You, HASHEM, Who forms light and creates darkness." The Vilna Gaon explains that darkness is not just the absence of light, but as the Talmud says, an actual part of Creation. In a metaphysical sense, this teaches us that also in the times of darkness, we must remember that this is part of G'd's Creation. And as the above Midrash shows, G'd brings about the darkness in preparation for the light that emanates from that very darkness.
Special spiritual light
The Talmud asks, what light was there on the first day of Creation? The Torah explicitly says that only on the fourth day were the sun and the moon created (see Bereishis 1:14-17). The Talmud answers that this was a special spiritual light that existed throughout the seven days of Creation. When Adam was created he could see from one end of the world to the other with this light. However, G'd knew that the world would be host to wicked people as well, such as the generation of the Flood and the generation of the Tower of Babel, He therefore decided to hide this special light.
The Maharsha explains that throughout the generations righteous people may merit to enjoy this spiritual light by studying the Torah, which itself is referred to as a source of light. As King Solomon says in Mishlei (6:23), a mitzvah is comparable to a candle and the Torah is like light itself. By studying Torah, says the Maharsha, one gets the ability to see with one's intellectual eye much further than ordinary people can see.
The Zohar (30b) explains that this spiritual light is generally hidden but is allowed to shine forth in small measures to sustain the world. The Zohar (Toldos 140a) further explains that the numerical value for the Hebrew word for light, "or", is 207. This is the same numerical value as the Hebrew word for a hidden secret, "roz". This teaches us that the time of the Redemption is hidden from all of mankind, when this light will finally appear and illuminate the world.
36 Hanukkah lights
The Bnei Yissoscher quotes the Rokeiach (Laws of Hanukkah paragraph 225) who discusses how G'd performed open miracles at the time of the Chashmonaim, when they rededicated the Temple and lit the Menorah. The oil that only sufficed for one day miraculously burned for a full eight days. This miraculous light, says the Rokeiach, emanated from the hidden light created on the first day of Creation. This is the hidden light of the Torah that the Hellenists wanted to extinguish. G'd therefore performed a miracle especially through those who toiled in Torah study, as it says in the special Al HaNissim prayer. This is also the deeper significance why G'd chose to perform a miracle through the medium of oil that symbolizes the wisdom of Torah. The Rokeiach further explains that throughout the eight days of Hanukkah we light a total of 36 lights corresponding to the 36 hours that Adam enjoyed the hidden light when he was created on Friday till the following motzei Shabbos (see Jerusalem Talmud Berachot 8:5). Our sages instituted that we should kindle 36 lights every year, as they understood that through the kindling of these lights we also will merit to connect to this special spiritual light. The literal translation of the word "Hanukkah" is dedication of something new that should last into the future (see Rashi Bereishis 14:14). With the kindling of our lights, we participate in the dedication of this spiritual light that will shire in its full glory at the time of the Redemption.
36 volumes of Talmud
The Bnei Yissoscher further quotes Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz who explains that it is no coincidence that the Talmud consists of 36 volumes. The Hellenists wanted to destroy the Jewish people, and disconnect them from the light of the Torah. This light is primarily contained in the Talmud, as the Midrash Tanchuma (Noah paragraph 3) explains. The Midrash quotes the Prophet Yeshaya (9:1) who says: "The people that walk in darkness saw a great light." Says the Midrash, "These are the masters of the Talmud who saw the great light as G'd enlightens them in their halachic decisions. It is in regards to them that it says (Shoftim 5:31): 'And the ones who love Him will come out with the strength of the sun.'" The Torah scholars who toil in the study of the Talmud merit to connect to the hidden light, and at the time of the Redemption, they will shine as the bright light of the sun. Our exile under the rulership of the Greek-Assyrians is compared by our sages to total darkness (see Torah Attitude: Parashas Miketz-Hanukkah, Will the real Maccabees please stand up, December 19, 2006). Therefore, the salvation from their rulership was symbolized by the light of the menorah.
Light from beginning to end
As we kindle our Hanukkah lights, we should be aware that we are connecting with the light that was created at the very first day of the Creation of the world, and has been hidden till the end of days. This special spiritual light is concealed within the oral law of the Torah. Whenever a Torah scholar sits down to study one of the 36 volumes of the Talmud, he connects with this light and gets a clearer vision of the purpose of the world. Once a year, throughout the eight days of Hanukkah, when we kindle the 36 lights, we all get an opportunity to connect with this special light that reminds us that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. This special light will come out in full force and illuminate the entire world with the coming of Mashiach. This is the light that G'd was occupied to prepare when Judah had his children with Tamar. May we together with the whole world speedily merit to experience this light in its full glory.
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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