In this week’s parsha the Torah tells about a third famine that happened in the time of Yaakov Avinu. The type of famine that occurred was a regional famine that threatened the lives of the patriarchal family. Yaakov was besieged with even further troubles. In addition to Yosef’s disappearance, another one of his sons Shimon was imprisoned in Mitzrayim. In response to the crisis, it says in the Midrash Tanchuma that Yaakov prayed: “May He Who said to the universe at the time of creation, ‘Enough!’ to my troubles. I have had no rest since my youth – troubles with Lavan, troubles with my brother Esav, the troubles of Rochel, Dina, Yosef, Shimon and now Binyamin.”
Yet previously, when Yaakov requested tranquility, Hashem responded to Yaakov’s request according to how Rashi explains, Bereishis 37:2: “Is the reward that the Tzaddikim receive in Gan Eden insufficient that they even ask for reward in this world? Since Yaakov asked for undue measure of tranquility, Hashem brought the troubles of Yosef upon Yaakov.”
If Yaakov’s initial request for a peaceful existence resulted in bitter consequences, why does Yaakov again in this week’s parsha beseech Hashem for serenity? The Patriarchs attained an aspect of Gan Eden even while living in this world. However, they did not experience the higher level of absence of all sorrow and hardship.
Yaakov’s first prayer was striving for an existence that surpassed the conditions of Avraham and Yitzchak. This was denied to him. However, now this time Yaakov was not demanding that type of tranquility. He realized that the kindness of Hashem would ultimately bring him a measure of good fortune that would bring him comfort for the turbulent episodes that happened during his lifetime.
Therefore, Yaakov asked to balance out the tragedies of his life with blessing and goodness. Indeed, this happened during his final years in Mitzrayim which were a time of peace, fulfillment and joy. May we also gain enjoyment in our own lives by considering and applying Yaakov’s profound insight to our prayers and life experience. Although life in this world cannot be totally free of all our troubles, we can daven to request to Hashem to balance out the hard times with good times.
During the time of Chanukah, it is an important time to strive to grow in our Torah as well as Yiras and Ahavas Hashem. It is also an important lesson that we should learn from Yosef in how he survived such an immoral place like Mitzrayim for Yaakov taught Yosef how to survive in Galus. If we want to bring the Ketz (End) to this Galus we must strive to better ourselves and learn from one another. With this it can bring about a higher level of Achdus which in turn could bring about the Final Geulah. In the end, we should all witness the Lighting of the Menorah in the Third Beis HaMikdash in our time.
This Dvar Torah is based on Toras Chaim of the Chasam Sofer.
Tonight R’ Bamberger continued to discuss the importance of feeling joy on Yom Tov. Tonight’s vaad was based on the sefer Michtav Me’eliyahu by R’ Eliyahu Dessler.
The Gemara in Mesechta Shabbos records a dispute between two Tanaim regarding whether we should increase or decrease the number of candles that we light each night of Chanukah. Beis Shamai maintain that we should continually decrease the number of candles, while Beis Hillel hold that we should continually increase the number of candles.
One interpretation of the dispute is as follows: Beis Shamai focus on the number of days that are left in the Yom Tov, while Beis Hillel focus on the number of days that have already passed in the Yom Tov.
Another interpretation of that dispute is the following: Beis Shamai rule that one should continually decrease the number of candles to correspond to the continually decreasing number of cows that are offered as sacrifices during Succos. Beis Hillel rule that one should continually increase the number of candles to reflect the rule that one should continually increase his level of holiness.
Parenthetically, the Beis Yosef asks what the connection is between the sacrificial cows on Succos and the Yom Tov of Chanukah. One possible answer is that the Syrian Greeks tried to abolish the Yom Tov of Succos. Therefore, we commemorate the failure of the Greeks’ designs with the lighting of the Chanukah menorah.
R’ Dessler explains that the dispute between Beis Shamai and Beis Hillel concerns the best way to grow in our service of G-d. Beis Shamai takes a realistic approach. We should always be aware of our tendencies to degenerate and should therefore take measures to prevent that from happening. Beis Hillel, on the other hand, is idealistic. Since every person is capable of reaching great spiritual heights, we should strive to constantly grow in our spiritual levels.
R’ Bamberger noted that R’ Dessler presents two different approaches to chinuch. Some yeshivos admit that their students aren’t holding on the level that they should be, and that they should therefore “water-down” the curriculum to cater to their needs. Other yeshivos recognize the infinite potential in their students and encourage them to achieve the goals of the yeshivah. R’ Bamberger emphasized that he endorses the latter approach.
There really is something special about Chanukah that tugs at the Jewish heart. Regardless of how observant (or not) they are, Jews around the world observe the lighting of the menorah. Why is Chanukah the holiday that is so widely observed by Jews of all backgrounds? The following story will shed some light.
Joe Wallis was a non-observant Jew living in Israel. His wife asked him to pick up dinner for the family. On his drive home, he stopped at the Elephant Steakhouse, famed for selling non- kosher meat. Waiting patiently in line, his mind began to wander to a story his mother had told him. His grandfather, Rabbi Shraga Feivel Winkler, was in the slave labor camp of Debrecen during World War II. One morning, the head Nazi guard assembled all the Jews and said, “The war is almost over. In a few hours the Russians will be here and you will be free. But before we go, I have one final test of how religious you think you are.” He ordered Joe’s grandfather to step in front of the assembled crowd. “Rabbiner, eat a piece of this pork and you will be free to go. If you refuse, I will shoot you on the spot,” said the guard as he placed his pistol on Rabbi Winkler’s temple. “No, I will not,” said Shraga Winkler. “You stupid Jew,” yelled the guard, “eat the pig now and you shall live and restart your life. If you refuse, I will shoot you and you will be the last Jew to be killed at Debrecen”. Rabbi Winkler refused and fell to the floor, dead from the bullet in his head.
Joe Wallis thought to himself, “Here I am standing in line to purchase pork to feed my wife and children! And my grandfather chose to be killed rather than eat a piece of pork!” He left the restaurant and picked up burgers for dinner instead. Thus began Joe Wallis’s search to learn about Torah and mitzvos. Now, Rabbi Joseph Wallis is the CEO of Arachim, an extremely popular and successful Kiruv organization.
Let’s look at the Chanukah story. The Chashmonaim were just a few men that waged war against the mighty Greek army. The Greeks were the superpower of the world. The Chashmonaim, meanwhile, were kohanim trained for the service in the Beis Hamikdash. They were most definitely not trained or skilled warriors. They did not have any hope of winning. They fought because they wanted to demonstrate that keeping Torah and mitzvos was worth dying for.
If we observe a mitzvah today, it’s because our parents were dedicated to that mitzvah and passed it onto their descendants. That is why Jews from all backgrounds connect to Chanukah and the menorah. Although Shraga Winkler surrendered his life, he implanted a seed of pure love and caring for Hashem’s mitzvos, which germinated years later in his grandchildren. Similarly, the Chashmonaim implanted a deep connection to Yiddishkeit by preserving the purity of all mitzvos.
The Nesivas Shalom explains the conviction of the Chashmonaim to preserve the absolute sanctity of Torah and mitzvos is seen once again in their refusal to light contaminated oil, even though there was a halachic exception which would permit it under the circumstances. Additionally, they could have shaved the wicks down into an eighth of the thickness, allowing the oil of the one flask to naturally last for eight days. However, the Chashmonaim wanted to perform Hashem’s will to the fullest.
We see this dedication in how we light our Chanukah candles today as well. In the laws of Chanukah, even though the base requirement is to light one candle per night per home, the actual law adopts the highest of the three tiers of observance found in the Shulchan Aruch – mehadrin min hamehadrin – the most beautiful way to perform, by lighting one additional candle each night. This is part of our legacy from the brave Chashmonaim.
The willingness to surrender one’s life for one’s ideals is called mesiras nefesh (giving over one’s soul), as was the case of the Chashmonaim. Mesiras Nefeshalso means to give everything we’ve got towards a mitzvah.
When we light the menorah, we should think about the sacrifice and dedication of our ancestors. As we add a candle each night, this should fan our flame of devotion and inspire us to go the extra mile for Hashem. May Hashem respond in kind by performing miraculous wonders and bringing us the ultimate redemption speedily in our time!