Vayeshev Genesis (37 – 40)
GOOD MORNING! Hanukah is coming soon: Tuesday night, December 12th. It’s a wonderful family holiday. After we light the candles, we sing Maoz Tzur, eat jelly donuts, tell stories, have quizzes about Hanukah — all in the light of the Hanukah candles. Memories are made up of a collection of precious moments. Hanukah can provide you with many wonderful memories!
Q & A: WHAT IS HANUKAH AND HOW DO WE CELEBRATE IT?
There are two ways which our enemies have historically sought to destroy us. The first is by physical annihilation; the most recent attempt being the Holocaust. The second is through cultural assimilation. Purim is the annual celebration of our physical survival. Hanukah is the annual celebration of our spiritual survival over the many who would have liked to destroy us through cultural assimilation.
In 140 BCE, the Syrian-Greek emperor, Antiochus, set out to destroy Judaism by imposing a ban on three mitzvot: The Shabbat, The Sanctifying of the New Month (establishing the first day of the month by testimony of witnesses who saw the new moon) and Brit Mila (entering the Covenant of Abraham through Torah-ordained circumcision). The Shabbat signifies that God is the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe and that His Torah is the blueprint of creation, meaning and values. Sanctifying the New Month determines the day of the Jewish holidays. Without it, there would be chaos. For example, if Succot is the 15th of Tishrei, the day it occurs depends upon which day is declared the first of Tishrei. Brit (or Bris) Mila is a sign of our special covenant with the Almighty. All three maintain our cultural integrity and were thus threats to the Greek culture.
Matityahu and his 5 sons, known as the Maccabees, started a revolt and three years later succeeded in evicting the oppressors. The victory was a miracle — on the scale of Israel defeating the combined super-powers of today. Having regained control of the Temple in Jerusalem, they wanted to immediately rededicate it. They needed ritually pure olive oil to re-light the Menorah in the Temple. Only a single cruse of oil was found; enough to burn for just one day. However, they needed oil for eight days until new ritually pure olive oil could be produced. A miracle occurred and the oil burned for eight days.
Therefore, we light Hanukah candles (or better yet, lamps with olive oil) for eight days. One the first day, two the second, and so forth. The first candle is placed to the far right of the menorah with each additional night’s candle being placed to the immediate left. One says three blessings the first night (two blessings each subsequent night) and then lights the candles, starting with the furthermost candle to the left. The menorah should have all candles in a straight line and at the same height. Ashkenazi tradition has each person of the household lighting his own menorah. Sefardi tradition has just one menorah lit per family. The blessings can be found on the back of the Hanukah candle box or in a Siddur, prayer book. The candles may be lit inside the home. It is preferable to light where passersby in the street can see them — to publicize the miracle of Hanukah. In Israel, people light outside in special glass boxes built for a menorah or little glasses with olive oil and wicks.
The tradition to eat latkes, potato pancakes, is in memory of the miracle of the oil (latkes are fried in oil). In Israel, the tradition is to eat sufganiot, deep-fried jelly donuts. The traditional game of Hanukah uses a dreidel, a four-sided top with the Hebrew letters Nun, Gimmel, Hey, Shin (the first letters of “Nes Gadol Haya Sham — A Great Miracle Happened There.” In Israel, the last letter is a Pay — for “here.”) In times of persecution when learning Torah was forbidden, Jews would learn anyway. When the soldiers would investigate, they would pull out the dreidel and pretend that they were gambling. The rules for playing dreidel: Nun — no one wins; Gimmel — spinner takes the pot; Hey — spinner get half the pot; Shin/Pay — spinner matches the pot!
If enough oil was found to burn in the Temple menorah for one day and the oil lasted for eight days, then the miracle was really only for the seven additional days of lighting. Why then do we celebrate Hanukah for eight days and not seven? The Rema, Rav Moshe Isserlis, answers that in these 8 days we can celebrate a Bris, Rosh Chodesh (the new month which occurs during Hanukah) and a Shabbat — thus countering the Greek ban!
TORAH PORTION Vayeshev (Genesis 37:1 – 40:23)
This week’s portion includes four stories: 1) The selling of Yosef (Joseph) as a slave by his brothers — which eventually positioned Yosef to be second in command in Egypt and enabled him to save the known world from famine 2) The indiscretion of Yehuda (Judah) with Tamar (Tamar) … 3) The attempted seduction of Yosef by Potifar’s wife, which ends with her framing Yosef and having him imprisoned 4) Yosef interprets the dreams of his fellow prisoners, the wine steward (who was reinstated and forgot to put in a good word for Yosef) and the baker (who was hanged).
DVAR TORAH from Twerski on Chumash
by Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, M.D.
Rabbi Avraham Pam, of blessed memory, asked, “What was so special about the miracle of the oil burning for eight days? The Talmud tells us that there were ten miracles that regularly occurred in the Temple (Pirke Avos, Ethics of the Fathers 5:7). None of these are commemorated.
Rabbi Pam cites the halachah (Jewish law) that for communal rituals, the prohibition against tumah (ritual impurity) may be waived. Many commentaries, therefore, ask why was there a need for a miracle at all? It was permissible to light the Menorah even with ritually impure oil.
The P’nei Yehoshua answers that precisely because it was permissible to use impure oil that the only purpose of the miracle was to show God’s intense love for Israel — especially towards those who had defected to Hellenism, but returned to Torah observance with the triumph of the Macabees.
This is the message of Joseph and his brothers. Joseph did not simply forgive his brothers and suppress his resentment for their abuse of him. Rather, he loved them and cared for them as if nothing had happened, telling them that he feels toward them as he does to Benjamin, who was not involved in his kidnapping (Rashi, Gen. 45:12).
The celebration of Hanukah is, therefore, more than the commemoration of a miracle. We are to emulate the Divine attributes (Talmud Bavli, Shabbos 133b). Just as when God forgives, His love for us is completely restored, so must we be able to restore the love for one another when we mend our differences.
As we watch the Hanukah candles, let us think about the light they represent: the bright light of a love that is completely restored.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“Seek joy in what you give, not in what you get”
JOKE OF THE WEEK
Morris was sitting with his granddaughter, Rachel, on his lap telling her a story when his hearing aid started to beep.
Surprised, little Rachel looked up at him and said, “Oh, Zadie, you just got an email!”
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