Chanuka always falls during or immediately following Parshas Vayeishev. What is the connection?
In Parshas Vayeishev Ya’akov sent Yosef to check on his brothers. The brothers hated Yosef, so when Yosef approached them, the brothers sentenced him to death. Reuven – the oldest son of Ya’akov – objected and told his brothers not to kill Yosef but to throw him into a pit. The Torah tells us that Reuven intended to save Yosef and return him to Ya’akov. The Midrash states, “Had Reuven known that G-d would write in the Torah, “Reuven heard and rescued him from them” he would have snatched Yosef and carried him back to his father on his shoulders.”
Rabbi Yissachar Frand raises a question. Is this Midrash portraying Reuven as a publicity seeker? Is it telling us that if only Reuven had known how much press coverage the Torah would give him, he would have dashed into a telephone booth and saved his brother in distress!
Rabbi Frand explains that the Midrash is not raising a publicity issue. Reuven’s brothers – the future tribes of the Jewish people, righteous men and great scholars – had sentenced Yosef to death. Reuven was understandably uncertain that he was right. His brothers were such great people. How could they be wrong?! Perhaps they were correct and Yosef deserved to die? So Reuven chose took a tentative path, pitching the idea to throw Yosef into the pit with the hope of rescuing him later. The way we should read the Midrash, Rabbi Frand explains, is that if Reuven had known that G-d would endorse his opinion, he would have surely acted more decisively. He would have raised Yosef on his shoulders in defiance of his brothers and returned him to Ya’akov.
This coming week we will begin celebrating the holiday of Chanuka. At the time of the Maccabean revolt, the majority of the people followed Greek culture. Matisyahu and his sons demanded strict Torah observance, but they were the minority opinion. How could they know that they were right?
The Maccabees understood that they were many men down and the majority of the people were captivated by Greek influence. So they pulled out what has always been the extra player for the Jewish people - the unwavering belief in the eternal values of the Torah - to provide them with the confidence to defeat the Greeks. They won the battle for Israel and the soul of the Jewish people. To this day we remember their valiant struggle to save the Jewish religion and the Jewish people.
We live in a society that very much emulates the way of the Greeks… advances in technology, literature and democracy but also a prevalence of hedonism and immorality. We are outnumbered. The team of modernity has a edge in numbers against the eternal values of the Torah. How can we be right if so many people are assured that the Torah is outdated? Maybe the secular world is right, G-d forbid, that we are not living with the times? We must learn from Reuven and the story of Chanuka. We can always remain confident that in the long run, the Torah will persevere. The public opinion may now seem against us, but eventually the front pages will blaze with headlines thanking us for our superhuman courage.