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Weekly Chizuk

Parshas Mikeitz - Chanukah

A Flash of Light To Tell You That You're Not Alone

(Dedicated to )

"And G-d said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light." We all appreciate the simple pshat. But the Chassidim have a strange way of reading possukim. They read the possuk in a fashion that everything is said in a way of crying out to Hakadosh Baruch Hu. And he said, Hashem, let there be light. And there was light. The Yid cries out, Ribono Shel Olam, it's so dark. I beg you that there should be some light in my life. And Hashem answers that tefilla and gives us light.

The Rambam (Hilchos Chanukah 4:12) makes an amazing statement, "The mitzvah of Chanukah candles is exceedingly dear and precious." We don't find such a statement by any other mitzvah. Not by Shabbos, Yom Tov, Shofar, Succah. Only by the Ner Chanukah.

Moreover, the gemara (Shabbos 23b) makes a remarkable statement. One who is careful about the mitzvah of candles, will merit having children who are talmidei chachomim. Which candles are the gemara referring to? Rashi explains, that it is referring to the candles of Shabbos and Chanukah. These candles bring the light of Torah into the world, as the possuk tells us (Mishlei 6:23), "A mitzvah is a candle, and Torah is light." In the merit of the mitzvah of lighting Chanukah candles, one will have children Talmidei Chachomim who bring the light of Torah into the world.

This raises a very perplexing question. What is so great about Chanukah candles? On Chanukah, we merited two miracles. One was the miracle of the military victory and the other was the miracle of the oil. The military victory was necessary to save Am Yisroel from destruction. The miracle of the oil was not necessary; as the meforshim (Pnei Yehoshua, Shabbos 21b) explain, we could have used shemen tameh if necessary until more tahor oil was available. The neis of the pach shemen seems unnecessary. And yet Chazal make such a big thing of this. And Chanukah lights have such a powerful segulah. How are we to understand this?

Chanukah is the last Yom Tov in history. It was instituted in during Bayis Sheni as the final golus was about to fall on Klal Yisroel. It represents Klal Yisroel's struggles and sufferings during this long golus in which we still find ourselves. Being the last of all the Yomim Tovim it is very interesting that we find that it is probably one of the most, if not the most widely celebrated of all the holildays. A young yeshiva bochur was driving with his family and as they passed by they made notice of all the electric menorahs in people's windows. The boy, having learned the halachos diligently, blurted out, "Look at all these electric candles. They're not yotzei with electric menorahs!" The boy's father calmly answered. "What are you talking about, yotzei or not yotzei? Don't pay attention to whether they're yotzei or not. Notice all the Jews who still have a spark of Yiddishkeit in them and want to express to the entire world, "Look at me! I'm still a Jew! I have a menorah and not a tree!" However far they are, yet they feel the urge to show all their neighbors and passersby, I'm a Yid! For these lost neshamos, Chanuka is the last thing they're holding onto.

Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz zt"l (Sichos Mussar, ma'amar 16) answers our question. We learned in parshas Vayeishev, that when Yosef was being taken to Mitzrayim by the Yishma'elim, they were carrying various sweet smelling spices. Rashi points out that this was not the norm. In general, in those days the Yishma'elim carried skins and other foul smelling items. But, the midrash explains, Hashem wanted to help the tzaddik, Yosef, and therefore Hashem orchestrated that these particular Yishma'elim would be carrying sweet smelling spices.

Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz asks a very poignant question. This midrash seems difficult to understand. Yosef is in trouble, Yosef is in the middle of tzaros, the darkest moment of his life. He's being dragged down to Mitzrayim to be sold as a slave. He's never going to see his family again. Is the sweet smell of spices going to help Yosef in any practical way at that time? Who cares about the smell of some perfume? What is the midrash trying to teach us?

The famous mashpiah, Rav Moshe Weinberger (rav of Congregation Aish Kodesh in Woodmere, New York) related the following story: Many years ago my father shared with me how he was transported to Mathausen (a Nazi concentration camp - slave labor camp in Austria). They were packed into a cattle car and half the people were already dead. But it was Friday night and they started davening Kabbolas Shabbos together. There was a tzaddik who led the davening and his father said he never heard such a davening in his life. This tzaddik's lecho dodi gave him a tremendous chizuk as he was being taken to the concentration camp in Mathausen.

Rav Weinberger was eleven years old at the time and didn't like that story. But it took some time until he got up the nerve to ask his father about it. "Daddy, what ever happened to that tzaddik who sang lecho dodi that Friday night in the cattle car?" His father answered, "He didn't make it." "And how many of that group who sang lecho dodi made it? You got out alive, but how of them made it?" He answered, "A few. I know two or three."

So he told his father, "I don't see what's so gevaldik about that story you told me." Rav Weinberger was bothered by the same question that Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz was. Why should Yosef care about the smell of some perfume? He's being taken away from his family to Mitzrayim! His father also. Who cares about lecho dodi? They were being taken away to a death camp to die!

His father didn't explain this until two years later when it came time for him to put on tefillin. It was a month before his bar mitzvah and he had a brand new pair of tefillin that they bought from a chashuve sofer in Williamsburg. He was all excited to put them on and go to shul.

His father said, "Before you put them on I want you to come with me." OK. He went with his father to his room. His father took out his tefillin and said, "First put on my tefillin."

"Why should I put on your tefillin? I'm a lefty, you're a righty."

"It doesn't make any difference, you're not bar mitzvah yet. Put on my tefillin."

So he put on his father's tefillin. And while he was sitting there with his father's tefillin on, his father said, "Now listen to me. That question you asked me two years ago, now listen to me."

The Mathausen Tefillin

Then his father told him the following story. When he and all the young men in town were being taken away by the Hungarian army to the German forced labor camps, his grandfather took his father to the train station. He believed like everyone else in the yeshiva that they were being taken away for a short time. The war was winding down. They heard on the radio of the advances of the Allied forces. The Americans were coming from the West, and the Russians from the East. It wouldn't be long.

But his grandfather understood the truth. He bid goodbye to his son and told him that they would not meet again in this world. "Why are you saying such things? The war is finishing up and we'll see each other."

"That's not true. We're all going to be taken away. We're all going to be killed. But make sure to put on your tefillin every day. If you put on your tefillin every day, then you'll see that Hashem will take care of you and then after 120 we'll be reunited and see each other again."

Rav Weinberger's father told him that when his father told him this he was crying. "Why are you talking this way?" But that was the last time he saw his father. And he put on his tefillin every day. It's written in the history books that there were tefillin in Mathausen. We don't know how he was able to hide them. Not only did he put on tefillin every day in Mathausen, but there were thousands of Jews who risked their lives to put them on, because if you got caught you were shot on the spot. They would make circles and each one would quickly put on the tefillin and say Shema Yisroel and quickly hand them to the next fellow. Years ago there was someone who heard about the Mathausen tefillin and wanted to buy them for the Holocaust Museum in Yerushalayim. His father was offered a large sum of money. But he refused. His father told them there's no money in the world for these tefillin. His father told this over to Rav Weinberger while he was wearing the tefillin.

Then he told him the following: twice, while he was in Mathausen, the Germans all of a sudden barged in to the barracks early in the morning and woke everyone up. They were yelling and hitting everybody and police dogs were barking. They ordered everyone out of the barracks. It was early in the morning and they had barely slept a few hours on the planks. The Germans, yemach shemom, just barged in, beating everyone, screaming at everyone, "Araus, Araus. Out, out!"

His father got very scared. He grabbed his tefillin and wrapped them in the shmatte pajamas he was wearing and ran outside. He thought they were taking them to be killed. But really all the Germans wanted was to burn down the bunk. It was infested and infected and the Germans were afraid they would catch it. So they were going to burn it down. They were taking the Jews to spray them. Some sort of delousing and disinfectant spray.

His father ran outside. It was freezing cold and all they had on were the thin pajamas. He didn't know what to do. He was trying to think of how he would hide his tefillin. The bunk next door was already on fire so he couldn't leave his tefillin in his bunk. So he hid the tefillin under his shmattes. Then they ordered everyone to undress and throw all their clothes in a pile. There was a big tractor that was dumping all the shmattes into a big pit where it would all be burned. He didn't know what to do. So he wrapped his tefillin in the pajamas. He thought that this was it, because his tefillin were saving him, and now he had to say goodbye. So he wrapped them up and threw them in the pile. The Germans then dumped everything into the pit, poured some gasoline all over the shmattes and lit the fire to destroy their infected clothing.

He didn't know what they were going to do with everyone. He thought they were being taken to be killed. Instead they took them to be disinfected and they were given new pajamas. The Germans were screaming at them ordering everyone to go back. He passed by the pit. Everything had been burnt and the only thing that remained were his tefillin. Hundreds of shmattes had been burned. He had wrapped his tefillin in the pajamas. Everything was gone except for his tefillin, his tefillin were still there. He quickly scooped them up and hid them under his pajamas.

This happened twice.

His father then told him, "I don't have an answer why I had to go through what I went through, and why your mother went through what she went through, and what happened to our whole family. I don't have the answer to those questions. And I don't need it. Maybe after 120, Hashem will explain it to us. But I can tell you this, I saw Hashem was with me. And when I saw the tefillin I could see that Hashem was telling me, don't give up, keep on pushing."

This is the lesson of Yosef's spices. Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz explained that the "coincidence" of the spices taught Yosef that Hashem had not abandoned him, chas v'shalom. Hashem was with him. Yosef understood that this was strange and out of the ordinary. When Yosef smelled the spices he realized that Hashem was sending him a message. He realized that Hashem is with him and He loves him and He is with him in the midst of the darkness.

This miracle that Hashem performed for Yosef was not necessary. It was not crucial to the survival of Yosef. Why did Hashem do the miracle? To show Hashem's love for Yosef. This was like a "neshikah," a "kiss" from HaKadosh Baruch Hu to Yosef. This neshikah reflects Hashem's love for His people.

On Chanukah we merited two miracles. One was the miracle of the military victory and the other was the miracle of the oil. The military victory was necessary to save Am Yisroel from destruction. The miracle of the oil was not necessary. The neis of the pach shemen reflected Hashem's special love for the Jewish people, the chiba yeseirah that Hashem has for Am Yisroel.

This then explains the connection between the story of Chanukah and the parshiyos of Vayeshev and Mikeitz. As Yosef was being taken down to Mitzrayim, Hashem showed His special love for Yosef with the "unnecessary miracle." Yosef realized that all of the difficulties that were befalling him were really part of Hashem's plan and they were somehow coming from Hashem's love as well.

On Chanukah, Hashem showed His special love for Am Yisroel with the "unnecessary miracle" of the oil. That is the special quality and segula of neiros Chanukah. When one looks at the neiros Chanukah one should think about and focus on the special love Hashem has for His people and we should be more b'simcha with this knowledge of Hashem's love for His people.

Wishing Everyone A Freilechen Chankah!

Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
4 Panim Meirot, Jerusalem 94423 Israel
Tel: 732-858-1257
Rabbi Parkoff is author of "Chizuk!" and "Trust Me!" (Feldheim Publishers), and "Mission Possible!" (Israel Book Shop Lakewood).
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