The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Search  

logo
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Surf A Little Torah
Yeshivat Har Etzion


PARASHAT VAYEISHEV

by Rav David Silverberg

 

Parashat Vayeishev sows the seeds of the Egyptian exile, seen by our tradition as the forerunner of all exiles suffered by Am Yisrael. The Midrash notes, however, that the seeds of redemption are likewise planted in this parasha. Introducing the incident of Yehuda and Tamar, Bereishit Rabba (85:1) comments, "Yossef's brothers were engrossed in their decision to sell Yossef, Yossef was fasting in sackcloth [concerned for his fate], Reuven was fasting in sackcloth [guilt-ridden by his failure to save his brother] and Yehuda went to find a wife. Meanwhile, the Almighty was engrossed in creating the light of the Moshiach." Whereas the Davidic line emerged from the union of Yehuda and Tamar, this incident marked the initial stage of the final redemption.

The Avnei Nezer explains this passage by connecting the various clauses therein. While Reuven continued drowning in the tidewaters of guilt after the tragic sale of Yossef, Yehuda picked himself up from the mourning bench and began anew. He moved away from his brothers and returned to the basics, the first mitzva issued to man: procreation. Rather than allowing adversity to halt his productivity, Yehuda picks up the pieces and moves forward, getting married and starting his life again.

This courage marks the sowing of the seeds of redemption. On one level, Yehuda's resilience rendered him worthy of leadership, upon whom lies the responsibility of inspiring and encouraging a downtrodden populace during difficult times. This quality of Yehuda gave rise to the kingdom of David, which manages to surmount obstacles until the final redemption. But more generally, this quality itself allows for the very possibility of redemption. Only a nation capable of boldly resisting the influences exerted upon it and overcoming hostility can realistically long for a brighter future.

****

The Torah tells us that throughout Yossef's term of service in Potifar's house, "God was with him, and he was successful" (39:2). This verse is usually understood as a cause and effect: because God was with him - meaning, He helped him -, Yossef had success. The Chafetz Chayim, however, reads the verse as follows: "God was with him, despite the fact that he was successful." Although success often leads one to forget his total dependence on the Almighty, this did not happen to Yossef. God remained with him, in his mind and heart, even as he rose through the ranks in Potifar's home.

The Chafetz Chayim adds in this context an insightful comment regarding the special prayer recited on "Shabbat Mevarchim" (Shabbat before Rosh Chodesh, such as this coming Shabbat). Twice in this prayer we beseech God for "yirat Shamayim" (fear of Heaven): "lives that have within them fear of God lives that we should have love of Torah and fear of Heaven." The Chafetz Chayim explains than an additional petition for fear of Heaven becomes necessary after the request we submit in between these two clauses: "lives of wealth and honor." All too often material prosperity and high social ranking steer one away from Torah study and fear of Heaven. We therefore pray for the power of Yossef, the ability to retain our genuine love for God and His Torah, even when success threatens to blind us from our religious obligations.

****

The custom of playing with a "dreidel" on Chanukah needs no introduction. It may, however, require some justification. The Chafetz Chayim writes in his Bei'ur Halakha (671:2), "In our many sins, there are people who instead of [engaging in] songs and praise with which it is worthwhile to sing to the Almighty for the miracles he performed for us, they indulge in card games One who guards his soul should distance himself from this."

Apparently, spinning the "dreidel" bears religious significance that renders it more "kosher" than the card games mentioned by the Chafetz Chayim. In fact, it is recorded that the Chatam Sofer would make a point of playing with his silver "dreidel" one night every Chanukahh! Needless to say, however, the justification of playing this game rests upon its serving the religious function for which it was instituted. As such, it behooves us to properly understand the significance of the "dreidel," so as to ensure that when spinning this toy we truly fulfill the requirements of the festival, rather than just "play cards."

The most common reason given for this practice claims that during the Greek oppression, Jews would illegally assemble to study Torah and quickly pull out toys similar to the "dreidel" when a Greek official approached. Another explanation cited in the name of the "Benei Yissaskhar" views the "dreidel" on a more symbolic level, distinguishing this religious article with its Purim counterpart: the "grogger." While the Purim noisemaker is generally held and swung from the bottom, we spin the "dreidel" from the top. The "Benei Yissaskhar" suggested that this distinction represents the difference between the two miracles. On Purim, God was "hidden," as it were, and salvation came through the efforts of the Jews themselves, with God providing only the most indirect assistance. On Chanukah, as indicated by the miracle of the oil, God's Hand was undeniable, clear and present: a minuscule, untrained army overthrew the world's largest and most powerful empire. We commemorate these different forms of salvation through their respective "holiday accessories": on Purim we turn the "grogger" from the bottom, symbolizing man's efforts, while on Chanukah we hold the "dreidel" from the top, alluding to the Almighty's supernatural intervention on our behalf.

Tomorrow we will iy"H have a bit more to say about this time-honored tradition.

****

Yesterday we looked at the custom of spinning the "dreidel" on Chanukah. We mentioned the most popular basis for this practice, the use of toys by the Jews living under Greek rule as cover for their Torah study gatherings. We then saw a symbolic approach to the "dreidel," that it is spun from the top to represent the supernatural assistance provided for us by the Almighty in our struggle against religious persecution.

A third explanation for the custom of "dreidel" is suggested by the Avnei Nezer. The halakha dictates that optimally one must light his Chanukah candles outside one's home near the street. Due to difficult social and weather conditions, the custom evolved to light indoors. However, whereas indoor lighting does not produce the same publicity achieved by candles placed right near the road, the members of the household must gather round the Chanukah candles in order to ensure "pirsumei nisa" (publicizing of the miracle). It is imperative, then, that even young children remain awake on the nights of Chanukah to participate in the lighting of Chanukah candles. The Avnei Nezer argues that the game of "dreidel" was used to keep the children awake so that they may take part in the publicizing of the miracle. (Of course, one may question this approach based on the simple fact that nightfall, at which point one is to light Chanukah candles, occurs quite early in the evening during mid- to late December, particularly in Eastern Europe, where the Avnei Nezer lived.)

It would seem that those who wish to strictly follow this custom must carefully consider the various explanations given, as they may yield some practical ramifications. For example, according to this third approach the "dreidel" itself may not be necessary; one may employ any means accessible to keep the children awake. (Presents generally do the trick.) If the "dreidel"'s significance lies in the method of the spin, as the second approach maintains, then this custom would require specifically a "dreidel" or a similar toy spun from the top. According to the common notion that in Greek times the Jews would pretend to play "dreidel" rather than study Torah, it would seem that an actual "dreidel" should be used.

Additionally, according to the second explanation, one looking to properly observe this practice should make sure to spin the "dreidel" only from the top. The fancy spinning-method of holding it from the bottom would not accommodate this approach towards the custom.

In any event, one must certainly bear in mind the words of the Chafetz Chayim cited yesterday, and ensure to focus on our enormous debt of gratitude to the Almighty for the miracles He has performed and continues to perform on behalf of Kelal Yisrael. This constitutes the essential requirement of Chanukah.

****

The second of the two berakhot recited over the lighting of the Chanukah candles is "she'asa nissim." An interesting dispute exists regarding the proper text for the final clause of the berakha: "bizman hazeh." (Most people are accustomed to pronouncing the first of these two words as "bazman," though grammatically "bizman" seems more correct, as several "poskim" have noted. Consult a competent halakhic authority for practical guidance.) While the common text reads as cited, some add the Hebrew conjunction "u" (and) before the final two words: "u'bizman hazeh." The Mishna Berura (676:1) rules that one should omit the extra letter, while the text in the common editions of the Rambam's Mishneh Torah in Hilkhot Megilah reads "u'bizman." This is also the version used by some followers of the Arizal. [See Piskei Teshuvot, 676:2.]

So, why did we refer to this dispute as "interesting"?

If one recites the berakha without the conjunctive letter "vav," then he acknowledges only the miracles God performed for our forefathers. The English translation of the berakha would read as follows: " Who has performed miracles for our forefathers, in those days, at this time," meaning, this time of year. If, however, we choose to add a conjunction, the berakha would translate into, " Who has performed miracles for our forefathers in those days, and in this time." The "and" modifies the word "performed," such that we thank God for the miracles performed for our ancestors in ancient times, as well as those performed in contemporary times.

Rav Soloveitchik zt"l upheld this latter position, that one should include the conjunction and recite "u'bizman hazeh." He noted that in the end of Hilkhot Chanukah, where the Rambam speaks of the importance of the mitzva of Chanukah candles, he writes that through this mitzva we praise and thank God "for the miracles He performed for us" (4:12). Apparently, on Chanukah we must give thanks not only for the miracles performed to the Chashmonaim in their struggle against Greek oppression, but for the miracles performed for us, as well. The halakha requires that when one expresses gratitude to the Almighty for a given kindness, he must acknowledge not only that specific kindness, but God's overall bestowal of goodness upon him. (See Taz, 682:5.)

This requirement conveys a most critical message. Thanking the Almighty for a given act of kindness may suggest that only now has the individual benefited from His goodness. A person or nation who thanks God for saving us from a certain crisis may unknowingly give the impression that throughout our lives He has not saved us. In truth, of course, God stands at our side at every moment and in every situation. It is therefore imperative that whenever we express appreciation, we include in our thanksgiving all of God's kindness, that of which we are both aware and unaware. We must declare our genuine debt of gratitude to the Almighty for the abundant acts of kindness He performs on our behalf throughout our lives.

****

This rarely happens, but it is interesting to consider the case of one who, on a given night of Chanukah, lights more candles than required for that night. For example, if an individual lights two candles on the first night of Chanukah thinking that it was the second night, must he light them again after realizing his mistake?

Recall that strictly speaking, a single candle each night of Chanukah suffices. However, we observe the stringent level of "mehadrin min ha-mehadrin" as mentioned in the Gemara, by which we light an additional candle each night. This practice is meant to publicize to all which day of Chanukah is currently observed.

Accordingly, some authorities argue that one who lit the wrong number of candles has not fulfilled the obligation dictated by the accepted practice of "mehadrin min ha-mehadrin." He must therefore light the candles once more. (Piskei Teshuvot citing from Shut Ohel Moshe 2:69 & 3:21, and Shut Mishneh Sakhir 2:199.)

Many other authorities disagree, and maintain that in such a situation one need not light the candles again. Rav Shlomo Kluger (Chokhmat Shlomo 671; "Ha-elef Lekha Shelomo 380) argues that once the individual had already lit the required number of candles for that night, any additional candles cannot disqualify his lighting.

How may we understand the underlying rationale behind this dispute?

The first approach focuses upon the purpose and end result of the "mehadrin min ha-mehadrin" requirement: to inform onlookers as to how many days of Chanukah have passed. Therefore, if this end is not achieved, a new, accurate lighting is required. The second position, by contrast, stresses the actual act of lighting the required number of candles. The end result of publicizing the number of days that had passed is seen as merely the underlying motivation behind the institution of this requirement. It does not, however, govern the rules of this lighting. Therefore, so long as the individual has lit the required amount, he has fulfilled his obligation even should he distort people's perception through added candles.

Tomorrow we will iy"H develop these two approaches a bit more fully.

****

Yesterday we saw a dispute among the authorities regarding a case of one who lit too many candles on a given night of Chanukah, for example, one who lit two candles on the first night. As we noted, some authorities reason that since the point of the additional candles - beyond the first, original candle which represents the essential requirement - is to publicize the number day of Chanukah currently observed, one who lights too many candles has not fulfilled this requirement and must therefore light again. Another view argues, claiming that once one has lit the required number of candles on a given night, no subsequent candles can undermine the fulfillment of his obligation. [It is recommended that you look at yesterday's "S.A.L.T.," if you haven't already, before continuing.]

This argument may very well relate to a classic question often raised in the context of the "mehadrin min ha-mehadrin" requirement (which mandates lighting extra candles beyond the necessary single candle), and that is its relationship to the basic obligation of lighting a single candle. Does the stringency of the additional candles constitute an extension of the basic rule, or an independent measure of piety? Said otherwise, when we light the number of candles mandated by the "mehadrin min ha-mehadrin" standard, have we fulfilled one, single mitzva at a high standard of stringency, or have we accomplished two things: the fulfillment of the basic requirement to light a Chanukah candle, and of a separate mitzva to add more candles each night.

If we view all the candles as part of one, integrated obligation of lighting Chanukah candles, then the laws applicable to the additional candles should correspond to those governing the first, original candle. Hence, just as the basic mitzva of Chanukah is simply to light the candle, then the obligation pertaining to the other candles must also require simply the lighting. The interest in publicizing the number of days would be seen as merely the motivation behind the lighting, while essentially the requirement is the act of lighting, not informing people of the number of days that have passed. Therefore, once an individual has lit the two candles on the second night, he has fulfilled his obligation, even if he adds more candles and thus did not successfully publicize the number day. However, if we maintain that the addicandles comprise an independent obligation, then that obligation may differ substantially from that of the original candle. Hence, we may view the "mehadrin min ha-mehadrin" standard as focused not on the act of lighting per se, but rather on the end result: the publicizing of the number day of Chanukah. Therefore, if that end is not achieved, such as if one lit too many candles, he has not fulfilled this requirement and must light once more.

 

 

 

To see this year's S.A.L.T. selections:

 

www.vbm-torah.org/salt.htm


This shiur is provided courtesy of the Virtual Beit Midrash, the premier source of online courses on Torah and Judaism - 14 different courses on all levels, for all backgrounds.

Make Jewish learning partof your week on a regular basis - enroll in the
Virtual Beit Midrash


(c) YeshivHar EtzioAll rights reserved to Yeshivat Har Etzion

Yeshivat Har Et
Alon Shvut, Israel, 90433
office@etzion.org.il


 

 

 

 

To see this year's S.A.L.T. selections:

 

www.vbm-torah.org/salt.htm


This shiur is provided courtesy of the Virtual Beit Midrash, the premier source of online courses on Torah and Judaism - 14 different courses on all levels, for all backgrounds.

MakeJewish learning partof your week on a regular basis - enroll in the
Virtual Beit Midrash


(c) YeshivHar EtzioAll rights reserved to Yeshivat Har Etzion

Yeshivat Har Et
Alon Shvut, Israel, 90433
office@etzion.org.il


 
Copyright (c) 1997-2014 by Yeshivat Har Etzion. Please send comments or questions to: office@etzion.org.il