I can still remember spending a Shabbos Chanukah with my grandparents. My grandfather lit his father’s large silver Menorah, taken when he escaped Germany in 1938. For a child, there is something mystical about the sight of a parent or grandparent lighting a Menorah. Maybe it’s the association of Chanukah with family get-togethers, special fried foods, singing and laughter. Of course, every Yom Tov is best enjoyed with family, but why Chanukah specifically?
Our answer becomes clear as we delve into the origin of lighting the Menorah.
Normally, the Torah reading is centered around the holiday, but since Chanukah is rabbinic, there are no explicit verses in the Torah that mention the holiday. Still, the Torah reading touches on the overall theme of the day. For example, on Purim where we were victorious over Haman and his nation Amalek, the Torah reading is about the war that was fought against Amalek in the desert.
For Chanukah, one would assume the Torah reading would be about the lighting of the Menorah in the Beis Hamikdash. Yet, that is only read on the eighth day of Chanukah. For most days, the Torah reading is Parshas Naso, which lists the korbanos (sacrifices) brought by the nesi’im (princes) on the day of the inauguration of the Mishkan in the desert. How do these symbolize Chanukah?
Rav Gedalia Schorr gives an incredible explanation. We know the construction of the Mishkan in the desert was completed on the twenty-fifth day of Kislev (the first day of Chanukah) but Hashem told the Bnei Yisroel to postpone the Chanukas Hamishkan (dedication of the Tabernacle) until Rosh Chodesh Nissan. The day of the Chanukas Hamishkan was the happiest and most joyous day since the creation of heaven and earth (Megillah 10b), thanks to a new and more palpable manifestation of Hashem’s presence in the world.
During the construction of the Mishkan, Aharon Hakohen complained to Hashem that he would not be part of the dedication ceremony and felt left out. However, Hashem told Aharon that his involvement will be greater than that of the Nesi’im (princes of each tribe), for he alone will light the Menorah (Midrash). The Ramban explains that the Menorah was an appeasement to Aharon, for the princes’ participation applied only to the time when the Mishkan was in use, but Aharon’s role regarding the Menorah would extend way beyond that, alluding to the miracle of Chanukah and the mitzvah instituted for all homes to light a Menorah on Chanukah. This prophecy was told to Aharon the day the Mishkan was completed — the twenty-fifth day of Kislev and first day of Chanukah!!
Aharon Hakohen’s pure desire to connect to Hashem on the day of the prophecy foreshadowed the future, for on that precise day a thousand years later, the Chashmonaim would recapture the Beis Hamikdash and light the Menorah on the twenty-fifth day of Kislev. On that day, Hashem’s presence would once again come back into the world. The Chashmonaim established the holiday of Chanukah and set in motion the fulfilment of the prophecy to Aharon Hakohen years prior, that every year on the twenty-fifth of Kislev, a Menorah would be lit in each home.
This is precisely why we read the portion detailing the sacrifices the princes brought at the Chanukas Hamishkan on Chanukah. Just like Chanukas Hamishkan brought the presence of Hashem into the world, so too, the lighting of the Menorah on Chanukah brings Hashem’s presence in the world even when there is no Beis Hamikdash!
The Bnei Yissaschar points out the root word of Chanukah and chanukas – dedication – is chinuch. Chinuch is the education and raising of our children. The word chinuch means to train, to give a child the ability to continue practicing the values and actions he has learned, when he comes of age and can perform them on his own.
This explains the prevalent custom to have a family get-together on Chanukah and for children to come home for Shabbos Chanukah. It all starts with the home. We spend time with family on Chanukah to strengthen the connection between Hashem and our lives and family at home. Although this year I will be away from my wife and children for Shabbos Chanukah, to join my future son-in-law for his Shabbos aufruf, I will be with my new family that raised a wonderful son who will marry our daughter. May Hashem bring His presence into the home of my daughter and her chosson as they wed on the eighth night of Chanukah. Indeed, may Hashem’s presence be brought into each and every Jewish home, during Chanukah and during every other day of the year!
This parsha’s name Vayeshev, is indicative of two events, the first being the “dwelling” of Yaakov in Eretz Canaan and the second being the “return” (Vayeshev) of the serpent. We find the second instance by the trop relating to the word vayemain, when Yosef refused eshet Potiphar’s advance. There is a shalsheles above the aleph which in the figurine of a snake (pointing down, in attack-mode). But why is the snake coming to attack above the aleph? We can suggest two things. Firstly, this is the snake of creation that tripped up Adam Harishion (Adam beginning with the letter aleph). Secondly, it was coming to attack the oneness (echad) of Yosef as a person and the oneness between Yosef and Yaakov. My-great-great-grandfather, Rabbi Levine zt”l, notes that the word Shalom refers to Torah because Torah (Shalom) has the ability to unify the guf and neshama and bring Shalom between them. The yetzer hara was trying to pierce Yosef’s own harmony and the unity of Torah he enjoyed with his father, Yaakov.
Within the shalsheles, the “three” pronged snake, lies a hint on how to wage battle against the serpent. It is said if one is stricken by the yetzer hara, he should do one of “three” things, bring it to the beis midrash, say the Shema, or remind himself that one day every person will die.
Within the word vayemain, we also find the word amen, which be’gemetria is 91 the same gematria of the word tze, (to fulfill), 91, indicating that the snake wanted Yosef to submit the attack and fulfill his destiny with this licentious act. However, Yosef exercised emunah, also sourced in the word vayemain, and the gematria of emunah, is 102, to equal kav, 102 a measurement, as he showed the proper measure of restraint and will forever be measured by this act of refusal
The snake, in the form of the shalsheles in this parsha, tried to sever the chain of Torah that was being passed on from Yaakov to Yosef which would have halted the Mesorah. However, the snake failed and ultimately Bnei Yisroel would accept the Torah “ki’ish echad, be’lev echad” retaining the unity in body and soul needed to serve G-d in harmony, thus diffusing the conspirings of the evil inclination.
My friend’s father was a paratrooper in the Israeli army during the Six-Day War. He was dropped off in middle of the desert with orders to blow up the Egyptian planes while they were still on the tarmac. The miraculous success of the destruction of the Egyptian air force, before they were able to take off, gained the Israeli army full control of the sky during the war. This key tactical move is now studied in many military academies worldwide.
This concept explains an anomaly in Parshas Vayishlach. When Yaakov returned for the small jugs he had left behind, he encountered a man who attacked him. The Midrash tells us this man was really the ministering angel of Eisav—represented by the Satan—who was attacking Yaakov upon his return to Eretz Yisrael.
Yet, why did the angel not start up with Avraham or Yitzchak? Why only Yaakov? Rav Elchonon Wasserman quotes the Chofetz Chaim, who explained the military tactic mentioned earlier. If one wants to defeat a powerful enemy, he must destroy their arsenal. In this way they won’t even have the ability to fight!
Each of the three patriarchs perfected a different quality. Avraham was the pillar of chesed; Yitzchak perfected his fear of Hashem, and Yaakov was emes (truth) and Torah. The arsenal of klal Yisrael is Torah, and with Yaakov being at the forefront of Torah learning he became the primary target of the angel. Every day we wage war with our evil inclination (yetzer hara), and the Gemara Kiddushin quotes Hashem as saying, “I created the Torah as the antidote to the yetzer hara.” Indeed, the yetzer hara will let a Jew do all kinds of mitzvos without a problem, but gets very nervous when a Jew engages in Torah learning.
It’s worth noting the terminology the Torah uses to describe this cosmic battle. “Va’yei’aveik ish imo.” Rashi explains the root of the word va’yei’aveik—to wrestle—is avak—dust. Chazal say the dust being kicked up from their feet as they wrestled rose all the way to the throne of Hashem. How is that significant?
I read an incredible explanation from Rabbi Dani Kunstler. He said, “One day, I noticed a huge commotion on a sidewalk, and as I approached I heard the sound of police sirens. The crowd dispersed, leaving one person lying on the floor. There had been a street fight and the winner had fled with everyone else. The police arrived and arrested the losing street fighter.”
In a wrestling or boxing match, the winner is the one who is left standing and the loser is the one on the mat, who was knocked to the floor. However, Hashem views our struggle with the yetzer hara differently. It’s true that many times we struggle with our temptations or urges and end up on the floor. We feel that we lost. But there’s a lesson to be learned from the dust rising all the way to Hashem’s throne. The dust represents that deep struggle, and it is truly precious to Hashem, Who places it right before Him. Even if we end up flat on the mat, our struggle endears us to the Almighty.
But we must be in the ring!! We do so by designating time for Torah study and sticking to the schedule. This is our challenge—we must be on guard and protect our “arsenal” at all times. Our weapon—our Torah—is the greatest weapon we have against the yetzer hara.
Remember, even if we lose a struggle from time to time, every one of our struggles is precious to Hashem.