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Torah Attitude: Parashas Vayeishev / Hanukkah: The obligation and privilege of showing appreciation


Reuben tried to save Joseph from the brothers' plot. Joseph's dream motivated Reuben to save him. Reuben's obligation towards Joseph overrode any other considerations. Showing appreciation is not just an obligation, it is a privilege. Giving others an opportunity to pay back a kindness allows them not to feel embarrassed by being only a recipient. In order for goodness to be complete and enjoyed to its fullest, it must come as a reward that has been earned. Allowing someone to reciprocate an act of kindness can be just as important as the original gift. The lights of Hanukkah express our gratitude to G'd for all the goodness and kindness He has bestowed upon us.

Kill Joseph

In this week's parasha (Bereishis 37) the Torah describes how Joseph already at a young age, slandered his brothers to their father, Jacob. The real trouble began when Jacob favoured Joseph and treated him differently than the other brothers. Later Joseph told his brothers of his dreams. In his first dream, they were all binding sheaves and the brothers' sheaves bowed down to his. In the second dream, the sun, the moon and eleven stars bowed down to him. The brothers understood that Joseph anticipated that one day they would bow down to him. All this led the brothers to believe that Joseph was trying to bring them down for his own glory. The brothers formed a court and they came to the conclusion that Joseph had committed such serious offences that they condemned him to capital punishment. When Reuben heard of this, he tried to save Joseph and suggested that they should rather throw Joseph into a pit. His intention was to rescue and return Joseph to their father. However, Reuben had to leave, and when he came back to take Joseph out of the pit, the brothers had already sold him to a caravan bound for Egypt.

Reuben's motive

The Midrash Rabba (84:15) explains why Reuben was more motivated to save Joseph than the other brothers. Reuben reflected on Joseph's dreams with the eleven sheaves and stars bowing down to him. Reuben realized that in these dreams he was considered equal with the rest of his brothers. Ever since Reuben made the mistake of improperly interfering with his father's wife, Bilhah (see Bereishis 35:22), he was worried that his lineage would not be part of the tribes of Israel. In truth, when Jacob blessed his sons before his death, he told Reuben that his interference caused him to lose his special rights as the first born (see Bereishis 49:3-4). If not for this unfortunate mistake, the kings and kohanim would have been from his tribe. However, the dream of Joseph comforted Reuben, as it provided him with an assurance that his descendants would remain one of the tribes. This was an enormous relief. That, says the Midrash, is why Reuben was so eager to save Joseph from the fate that the other brothers wanted to inflict upon him.

Overriding appreciation

Rav Chaim Schmulevitz explains that Reuben understood that his feelings of gratitude towards Joseph had to override all other considerations. Reuben participated when all the brothers formed a court to judge Joseph. Nevertheless, his feelings of appreciation prevented him from carrying out the judgment.

Showing appreciation is a privilege

Showing appreciation is not just an obligation, it is also a privilege. The Midrash Rabba (Bamidbar 15:5) relates that when the Jewish people was given the commandment to kindle the Menorah in the Temple (Bamidbar 8:2), they asked G'd why He told them to light for Him, Who is the Light of the whole world. G'd answered, "You are right. I do not need your light. But I want to give you an opportunity to light for Me, like I have lit for you." G'd led the Jewish people through the wilderness with a cloud of glory and a pillar of fire. This is why He told them to kindle the lights when the Tabernacle was erected. "This will elevate your position amongst the nations. They will say, look how the Jewish nation lights for the One Who lights up the whole world."

The seeing and the blind person

The Midrash explains that this can be compared to a seeing person who leads someone blind along the road. When they come to their destination, the seeing person says to the blind one, "Please go and light a candle for me." The blind person replies, "I do not understand. As long as we were travelling, you supported and guided me. Why do you now ask me to light a candle for you?" Says the seeing person, "I want to give you an opportunity to pay me back so that you should not feel embarrassed that you only received".

Goodness as a reward

This is how G'd conducts the world in general and the Jewish people in particular. Rav Moshe Chaim Luzatto explains (Da'as Tevunos 18) that G'd only created the world to bestow His goodness upon mankind. However, says Rabbi Luzatto (Path of the Just 1), the main place where we will receive this goodness is in the World to Come. We may ask, in that case, why did G'd not put us directly in the World to Come? Why do we have to go through hardships in this world and wait for the goodness till later on? Rabbi Luzatto answers that in order for the goodness to be complete and enjoyed to its fullest, it must come as a reward that has been earned.

The young orphan

This is comparable to a young orphan who has been left on his own and is found by a kind couple. They take him into their home and pamper him in every possible way. They put him through school with the best education, and they shower him with their love and care and take him on trips and vacations. Every time the child wants to reciprocate, they tell him not to worry. They do not want him to feel obligated in any way. Although they mean well, they do not realize that each time they tell him not to worry, the child's feeling of obligation is intensified. If they gave him an opportunity to do something for them, he would feel much better. By denying an outlet for his feelings of gratitude, the couple is actually hurting the orphan. Allowing someone to reciprocate can be just as important as the original gift.

The lights of Hanukkah

In the beginning of Parasha Beha'aloscha (Bamidbar 8:2), the Ramban writes that the Torah commandment to kindle the lights of the Menorah in the Temple also includes a hint to our kindling of the Hanukkah lights. When we light our Hanukkah Menorah, it is a continuation of the kindling of the lights in the Temple. With the lights of Hanukkah, we express our gratitude to G'd for the miracles at the time of the Chashmonaim, as well as all the goodness He constantly bestows upon us. By giving us this opportunity to express our gratitude, G'd gives us the greatest gift of all, the gift of giving and showing appreciation. Despite all our hardships and difficulties throughout our long and bitter exile, we are aware that through it all G'd guides us and prepares the Jewish nation for our glorious and bright future, when we again will kindle the lights in the Temple.

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

Shalom. Michael Deverett

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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel