Divrei Torah

PARSHAS VAYEISHEV 5778

A question is raised as to why Parshas Vayeishev is always the week leading into Chanuka or the Shabbos of Chanuka. However, the reasons given seem to miss a point. The order of the Parshios was instituted by Ezra – who lived long before the miracle of Chanuka took place. So, it is difficult to say that Parshas Vayeishev was arranged to coincide with Chanuka. Rather, the miracle of Chanuka coincided with Parshas Vayeishev.

However, it is very possible to say and probable that Ezra arranged the Parshios through the Holy Spirit – a form of prophecy. So, that idea gives substance to the question. What is the connection between Parshas Vayeishev and Chanuka?

In this week’s Parsha, we read that Ya’akov loved Yosef more than the other brothers and made him a special coat of many colors. The brothers hated Yosef. Then Yosef had a couple of dreams that foretold the brothers bowing to him. Finally, they decided to kill him. However, Reuven convinced them otherwise – just throw him into the pit. After Reuven went back home to care for Ya’akov, Yehuda suggested selling Yosef. Yosef was sold several times before finally ending up in Egypt.

The Torah informs us later – in Parshas Acharei Mos – that Egypt symbolized immorality and idolatry. Yosef was brought into that society as a teenager without any family support. Yet, he fought the prevailing culture of immorality and idolatry – not giving into it one iota. Eventually, he won and came out on top. 

Chanuka presents to us that same idea. Greek culture – Hellenism – was popular amongst the masses with all of its idolatry and immorality. The Chashmonaim were a minority. Yet, Matisyahu and his sons also fought the prevailing culture that had poisoned the Land of Israel and the Jewish people – not giving into it one iota. Eventually, they also won and came out on top. That is one way to connect Parshas Vayeishev to Chanuka.

Perhaps there is also another connection between the Parsha and Chanuka. Regular everyday events in our lives are miracles. But, because they are common, we don’t view them as miracles. However, the story of Yosef - beginning in this week’s Parsha - and the story of Chanuka teach us to view everything as miraculous.

How did Yosef survive? The New York Times would remove G-d from the story and write that Yosef was wise, lucky, in the right place at the right time, brilliant and talented. But, the Times is wrong. We know that Yosef’s survival – from the pit with scorpions and snakes through Potifar’s house through the dungeon to the Pharaoh’s palace - even though Yosef was talented and brilliant – it was all miraculous.

Why do we have eight days of Chanuka? Because there was enough oil to burn one day and it burned for eight days. But, if we do the math, that is only seven days of miracle since it would have burned for one day anyway! So, why do have eight days?

We must understand that the fact that the oil burned at all is also a miracle. Why does oil burn? Only because G-d says it should. Why did the oil burn for eight days? Only because G-d said it should. Everything is miraculous – it only happens by a decree of G-d. We walk . . . we talk . . . we breathe . . . our bodies function . . . all miracles of G-d.

The Talmud relates a story about Rabbi Chanina Ben Dosa – one of the great holy men of the Talmud. He and his wife were extremely poor. One time they had no oil in their house. All they had was vinegar. His wife worried how were they going to have light or heat in their house? Rabbi Chanina Ben Dosa responded, “The One who said that oil should burn can also say that vinegar will burn.” And so it was. 

Chanuka teaches us to appreciate all that G-d gives us. It is all miraculous – whether it is the Six Day War, the rescue from Entebbe or walking down the street. We must see the miracle in every event and we must be thankful to G-d for them all. Some events look miraculous, while others look mundane. However, each event is a miracle. As we say in each and every Shmone Esrai, “And for Your miracles that are with us every day.”