Vayeishev / Chanukah
By Rabbi Yisroel Ciner
In a parsha laden with intriguing episodes, the sale of Yosef by his
brothers certainly stands out. The question shouts at us, how could
tzadikim of the magnitude of the sons of Yaakov Avinu, the shivtay kah,
commit such a grievous sin.
Both the Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh and the Sforno deal with this issue. The Ohr
HaChaim deals with it in a more technical manner so I will discuss the
Sforno's pshat. He explains that the shvatim when they saw Yosef coming,
assumed that he was not coming to check on their welfare, but rather to
either find some fault on their behalf, or to cause them to sin. This would
either lead to their father cursing them or their being punished by Hashem,
thereby leaving Yosef alone as a 'blessed' son. If Yosef was trying to kill
them in this world, and certainly in olam habah, then he was considered a
rodef, one who is actively in pursuit with intention to kill. The halacha
in such a situation is that one is obligated to take the initiative and
kill the rodef. The ten tzadikim sat as a beis din and this was the clear
halacha which they decided upon.
The fact that they were tzadikim and were still considered as such even
after the sale can be illustrated by their names being on stones of the
breast plate of the Cohen Gadol as a reminder before Hashem. We see that
their state of mind was that they had not sinned by their calmly sitting
afterwards and having a seuda. Whereas Bnei Yisrael after killing Shevet
Binyamin sat and cried to Hashem, and even Daryavesh was distraught after
throwing Daniel into the lions den, they sat calmly and had a seuda!
Lastly, when confronted by the harshness of the second in command to Paroah
they knew that it must be midah kneged midah from Hashem for some sin they
had committed. They care takingly scrutinized the previous twenty one years
without finding any sin for which they might deserve it! (We'd probably
find ample cause with a cursory look at our past twenty one minutes!)
Finally, when they reviewed the events of twenty two years past, they
understood that this was punishment, not for the sale itself, but rather
for their harshness and lack of sympathy to Yosef, midah kneged midah!
However, as Hashem, who sees deep inside each individual testifies, the
brothers were jealous of Yosef. Even if these feelings didn't influence
their judgment, they were held accountable for them.
Where did this jealousy stem from?
Yosef was a "ben zekunim" of Yaakov Avinu, and was therefore given the
ksonas pasim, the special silk coat. Rashi's second pshat quotes the Targum
that ben zekunim means a wise son to whom he passed the teachings that he
had absorbed from Shem and Ever. The Klay Yakar explains that the reason
that he taught Yosef as opposed to the other sons is simply that Yosef
displayed more of an interest.
I, however, saw in the name of Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky zatza"l, that the
teachings of Shem and Ever were different then the regular Torah teachings
of the Avos and were particularly pertinent to Yosef and not to his
brothers. The Toras Avos was to set up a yeshiva in every place that they
would find themselves, teach to others, and proclaim the name of Hashem to
all. Shem, who lived in the generation of the flood and Ever, who lived in
the generation of the tower, found it impossible to begin yeshivas. Their
Torah was how to survive amongst terrible resha'im. How not to be affected
by the surroundings which are acting contrary to the will of Hashem. This
was the Torah that Yaakov learned for 14 years on his way to Lavan, far
different than the Torah he had learned as an "ish tam yoshev ohalim", for
63 years. Yaakov foresaw that Yosef would need this Torah and not his
brothers, and therefore taught it only to him. The brothers misunderstood
their fathers intentions and thought that they were being treated as an
Esav or Yishmael and were therefore jealous. This jealousy set the stage
for the galus of Mitzrayim.
As we celebrate this Shabbos Chanuka, we have to realize that the golus of
Yavan also had jealousy at its very root. Chazal say that the Yevanim
darkened our eyes with their decrees. Chazal choose one decree which seems
to epitomize the deeper intentions of the Yevanim. "Write on the horn of an
ox that you have no portion in the Elokay Yisrael."
The Siftei Chaim expounds beautifully on this medrash. "On the horn of an
ox." They wanted to remind us of the chait ha'agel. The Yevanim believed
that as a result of that sin, Hashem had rejected us. On a deeper level,
Hashem has two ways of dealing with this world; the natural and the
supernatural. On the 'maaseh hamerkavah', the face of a lion is to the
right and the face of an ox is to the left. The 'stronger' right hand side
symbolizes the hanhagah of the supernatural, the strength and the dominion
of the lion. The ox on the 'weaker' left symbolizes the 'natural' events of
the world. The plowing and the planting which allow us to have nature serve
our needs. When Moshe Rabeinu was leading us through the wilderness, we
merited the miraculous hand of Hashem. The manna, the clouds, the well of
water, etc. The mistake of Klal Yisroel was their thinking that if Moshe
was no longer with them to bring them to the level of the miraculous, then
they were supposed to now drop down to the level of the natural. This was
exemplified by the calf that they made. Not a denial of Hashem, but rather
a symbol and a reminder that all the natural events which would occur were
in reality the 'hidden' hand of Hashem. However, for Klal Yisroel to deal
on such a level was a spiritual catastrophe which led to actual idol worship.
The Yevanim, along the same lines, wanted us to write on the horn of the
ox. The ox which symbolizes the natural and it's horn which symbolizes it's
strength. They were extremely jealous of the miraculous bond between us and
Hashem They wanted us to accept that Hashem only deals, even with the Jews,
on a natural level. That there is no special relationship between us and
"You have no portion." Portion, in this context means a partnership. Hashem
has made us partners with Him in this world. As the Nefesh HaChaim writes,
every act that we, Klal Yisroel do, affects the influences which will come
down to this world. Hashem has, in effect, handed the reins over to us. The
'tov' and 'ra' in this world are brought about by our acts of drawing close
to Hashem or by, c"v, distancing ourselves from Him.
Rav Brevda came to the Yeshiva and spoke about how we all want to make the
big decisions. Nuclear disarmament, peace with Syria, pullout from Chebron.
In reality, of course, we can't make those decisions. We must settle for
the little decisions; should I go to minyan, should I make the seder,
should I speak the lashon horah. What we must realize is that it is those
'little' decisions which will determine those big issues. That is our
portion, our partnership, with Hashem. The bracha that can be in this world
is in our hands to bring. That, the Yevanim, couldn't handle. They wanted
us to write that we have no portion, no partnership.
"In Elokay Yisroel." Hashem runs this world through a command structure of
agents. Many of these agents were, at different stages of world history,
worshiped as idols. As if they had some power, independent of Hashem. They
do have power, and therefore can carry the same name as Hashem, elohim, but
only as delegated by Hashem. The name of Hashem which refers to this aspect
of Him being the power source is Elokim. That's why we say, Hashem Elokim
Emes. The only true power source. Elokay Yisroel refers to our actions
having the ability to either turn on, or turn off, that power. We have that
partnership with Elokay Yisroel and we affect that power with our 'little
decisions'. With our adherence to Torah and mitzvos and our conquering of
that olam hakatan, ourselves. The Yevanim wanted to have that control
through their connection to the natural. External beauty as opposed to
inner perfection. "No portion in Elokay Yisroel."
May Hashem give us the meiras einayim, the clarity of vision, to realize
the unique and central role that we play in this universe. To recognize the
special partnership that we share with Elokay Yisroel, and with the vigor
of a lion, to accept that responsibility and act accordingly. May that bond
be strengthened to the point that we too will light the menorah in the Beis
Copyright © 1997 by Rabbi Yisroel Ciner
and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author teaches at Neveh Tzion in
Telzstone (near Yerushalayim).