Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann
Thank Goodness for Small Miracles
Parshas Vayeishev, of course, centers around mechiras Yosef, the
sale of Yosef to the Egyptians. The original plan to kill Yosef was
averted when Yehuda suggested that instead of killing him, they could
simply sell Yosef as a slave. In the spirit of the dictum of Chazal, our
Sages, that, "Hashem creates the solution to the problem before he
creates the problem (Megillah 13b)," even before the Torah
introduces Yehuda's suggestion, it describes the caravan of
Ishmaelites that were ultimately to become Yosef's
They sat to eat food; they raised their eyes and saw:
Behold - a caravan of Ishmaelites was coming from
Gilead, their camels bearing spices, balsam, and lotus,
on their way to bring [the spices] down to Egypt.
Rashi (ibid.) questions the need for the Torah to apprise us of what
the Ishmaelites were carrying:
Why did the Torah publicize their load?... Normally,
Arabs [in those times] transported foul smelling cargo,
such as naphthalene and tar. But in order to spare Yosef
from their offensive odor, Hashem arranged that this
caravan be an exception [and carry fragrant spices].
It kind of makes you wonder: If, on a scale of life-harrowing
experiences from one to one hundred, being sold into slavery by your
own brothers to a tar-bearing caravan ranks say a 95, then what does
being sold into slavery by your brothers to a spice-bearing caravan
rank? - Perhaps a 94.99? After such a distressing and life-changing
occurrence, was the cargo of his abductors really cause for
Everyone knows the story of Chanukah: The occupying Greek forces
overtook the Beis HaMikdash (Holy Temple) and defiled all its
vessels. A three-year war ensued, and ultimately a small, untrained
Jewish army comprised mainly of Torah scholars emerged victorious.
A small jar of pure, undefiled, olive oil was found which should have
only been capable of burning for one day. To produce new oil would
take a full eight days. The Jews lit the Menorah for one night, and a
miracle occurred and the one-day oil lasted for a full eight days. In
gratitude for this miracle, our Sages decreed that every year we
should light Chanukah candles for eight days.
The part of the Chanukah story that usually eludes us, however, is
this: How many days until that point had the Beis HaMikdash stood
barren, and the Holy Menorah bereft of her lights? On a grand scale,
is the difference between three years of destitution, or three years and
seven days of destitution, so great that it is a cause for celebration
and Yom Tov?
A woman calls her husband to chat while he's at work.
"I'm sorry," he says, "but I'm up to my neck in work here.
Maybe we can talk later."
"But I've got something important to tell you. Actually,
I've got good news and bad news - which would you like
"Okay, but I've really got no time now - just give me the
"Well - the air bag works."
Perhaps the above questions, puzzling as they may at first seem, are
in fact erroneously rooted in the perfectionist, excessively-indulgent
attitude of self-centeredness that permeates modern society. When
everything works out just the way we expected, when things go just
as planned, then there is cause for thanks and celebration. But if,
Heaven forbid, there was a hitch in our daily routine; the doctor kept
us waiting, someone broke our favorite coffee mug, or - and this is
certainly the most distressing of all - someone messed up our carpool
arrangements, then, as they say in Yiddish, we have every reason to
be ois mentsch! How dare someone (or G-d for that matter) have the
audacity to completely ruin our otherwise picture-perfect day! Let's
face it: The conveniences of the "civilized world" have produced a
generation of shamelessly spoiled brats.
How different and refreshing, then, is the attitude of the Torah and
Chazal. Not only is a bad-sheitel day not due cause for mourning and
lamentation - to the contrary: A small measure of grace, hidden within
a mountain of hardship and adversity, is still reason for joy and
gratefulness. The Torah, in its description of Yosef's abductors, and
Chazal, in their formation of the mitzvah of Neiros Chanukah, are
impressing upon us the need to seek the good within bad, and not
to focus on the negative. Instead of declaring a national day of
sadness over the bitter war and destruction, we focus on the small
measure of goodness granted us by G-d: The candles were able to
burn for seven more days!
As we gaze intently at our Chanukah candles this Sunday night,
perhaps it is an appropriate time to ponder over the small (or large)
sparks of light and joy within our lives, and remember that small
miracles are cause for celebration too.
Have a good Shabbos, and a freilichen Chanukah.
This week's publication was sponsored by
Text Copyright © 2001 Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann and Project Genesis, Inc.