Concerning the descent of Yosef to Egypt, it is written, "And
lo, a caravan of Ishmaelites was coming from Gilad, and their
camels bore gum, balm and laudanum, going to carry it down to
Egypt." Chazal ask: But it is not customary for Arabs to trade
with wares other than animal skins and pitch. Yet, come and see
what Hashem prepared for that tzaddik at the time --
sacks filled with spices whose fragrance the wind wafts to
overcome the odor of the Arabs (Yalkut Shimoni Bereishis
This is puzzling. At this time Yosef is being take to Egypt in
chains; this is his downfall from the dizzying height of being
the cherished, favorite child of Yaakov's old age. Yosef is the
son chosen to receive the bulk of Torah, knowledge which Yaakov
acquired at Yeshivas Shem ve'Ever - and here he is plummeting
to the dismal abyss of being sold as a slave and taken to
Egypt, the morass of iniquity, a place from which no slave has
ever escaped. What are his chances of ever extricating himself
from this state? At this nadir in his fortunes, when every
prospect is gloomy and desperate, would it make any difference
to Yosef whether he inhales the odor of kerosene and tar as
opposed to the smell of fragrant spices? Can the smell of
spices at such a bitter hour offer any surcease, any balm, any
If we delve a bit deeper in this matter, we will see that the
fragrance of these spices has an altogether different nature.
At the very hour of gloom and darkness, Yosef might have
reached the point of utter despair. Has Hashem totally forsaken
him? Shall he fall, never to make a comeback?
But Heaven seeks to convey a subtle message: You are still
under heavenly surveillance and guidance. Hashem purposely
contrives this good odor to tell him, as it were, that there is
a limit and measure to his suffering. It is perfectly meted.
Hashem's justice is His works. It is as if Hashem were taking
him by the hand and leading him, descending with him, just as
Hashem [later] said to Yaakov: "I will descend with you to
Egypt and I will surely take you up from there."
A crack of hope was opened for Yosef to take heart, to think
that he had fallen as far as he could and would have a chance
to rise up again. This was a ray of light in the midst of his
darkness. As Yonah Hanovi said: "I said: I am cast out of Your
sight, yet I will look again towards Your holy Temple." Rashi
explains: "When I saw that I had survived all this time, I knew
that I would be given a chance to gaze upon Your holy Temple
We hereby learn that the purpose of this miracle was not to
spare Yosef the foul odor, but rather to give him the warm,
secure feeling that he was under heavenly surveillance, for the
good. He was being watched and cared for even in his difficult
plight to the point that a miracle had been contrived to assure
that his sense of smell would not be assaulted to compound his
We find several miracles that took place for seemingly picayune
reasons. With Dovid and Golyas, for example: "And he smote the
Philistine in his forehead, and the stone was imbedded in his
forehead, and he fell head forward on the ground"
(Shmuel I 17). Reason would dictate that he fall
backwards, since he had been smitten on the forehead. But
Hashem wished to spare Dovid the extra trouble of going forward
to sever his head a full twelve cubits and two fingersbreadth,
since Golyas' height was six cubits and one fingersbreadth (see
Rashi in the name of Chazal).
This is very strange. Do Chazal not scorn a person for whom a
miracle has been performed and the laws of nature bent
(Shabbos 52b and Taanis 24a)?Bypassing natural
laws is no casual thing, and here nature was changed in order
to save Dovid the extra walking of twelve cubits and two
fingersbreadth! Had not Dovid already walked a considerable
distance to get to the battleground, after which he returned by
foot to Jerusalem? He was a youth in prime. Why was it
necessary to spare him these additional few steps?
The Ohr HaChaim Hakodosh explains why Avrohom Ovinu was
commanded, "Raise your eyes and see from the place where you
are: northward and southward, and eastward and westward." "Here
He made a great miracle to enable him to see to the north,
south, east and west, all without even turning him about."
Would it have been so difficult for Avrohom to turn himself
around in order to view the entire Promised Land? Was this
great miracle so imperative? It is, however, explained
elsewhere that a partial view cannot compare to a panoramic,
comprehensive view, though from the Ohr HaChaim, it seems that
the miracle occurred to spare Avrohom the need to turn his
* According to our
manner of interpretation and insight, we can now also
understand the nature of these miracles. But to clarify it even
further, first a parable: A family possessed a very precious
diamond which had been transmitted through their generations.
At one point, this gem was lost. The family was sorely grieved
and took extensive measures to find it. Finally, one of the
children located it, whereupon the father kissed him fervently
on the forehead. The entire family was overjoyed, including the
child who had found it, but he had the additional pleasure of
his father's kiss.
The miracle of Golyas' slaying by young David was very
significant; it also served to greatly sanctify Hashem's name
in the world. David joined his people in celebrating the
victory over the blasphemer; it was cause for national
celebration. But David was rewarded by a private "kiss," a
bonus, which was the fact that Golyas fell face forward,
instead of backward, to spare him the extra twelve cubits walk
. . . This is not very significant in itself, but it is a sign
of divine favor, a gesture that comes in addition to the major
miracle of victory for all of Israel. In fact, the very
insignificance of the latter miracle, the fact that it was not
necessary in the least, only highlights the extra loving touch,
the special kiss, as it were, which he received.
We can thus also view the miracle that was done for Avrohom
whereby he was enabled to view all of the Land in one grand
vision without even having to turn his neck. The promise of the
Land and of his seed at the same time, that " . . . this entire
land which you see will I give to you and to your seed forever
more. And I will make your seed like the dust of the earth . .
. Rise up and walk through the land in the length of it and the
breadth of it, for to you will I give it." This was a promise
for the future of the Jewish people and the giving of Eretz
Yisroel to them. This was the fulfillment of the purpose of all
of Creation. He surely felt exalted and ecstatic.
But the loving kiss which was given solely to Avrohom by way of
a miracle was the bonus that he did not have to swivel his head
to view the promised land. This added gesture had no relevance
to future history, to the Jewish nation as a whole or to the
end purpose of the world. It was purely a sign of love and
affection, an added personal touch meant for Avrohom alone,
with no cosmic implications.
In the light of this new comprehension, we must now study the
meaning of the Chanukah miracle. Chazal asked: What is
Chanukah? and Rashi restates the question: Over which miracle
was it ordained? It is written that the Greeks entered the
heichal and defiled all of the cruses of oil. But the
Chashmonaim fought them and were victorious.
When they entered the Beis Hamikdosh, they could find no
vessels of oil yet uncontaminated -- save for one small cruse
with the seal intact. And this jar miraculously lasted for
eight days. In the following year [the Sages] established and
ordained these as days of festivities, with the recital of
Hallel and thanksgiving (Shabbos 21b). We infer from
this beraissa that the Hallel and thanksgiving were
based upon the miracle of the oil.
We must study this in depth. At this very period, the Jewish
people were in danger of spiritual annihilation, just as we
mention in the prayers: "When the wicked kingdom of Greece rose
up against Your people to make them forget Your Torah and to
make them transgress the laws of Your will." Great miracles
were performed for them. "You delivered the mighty in the hand
of the weak, and the many in the hand of the few etc. And You
made for Yourself a great and holy deliverance and release as
of that day."
Reason would dictate that we celebrate this miraculous
salvation, for what was the value of the miracle of the little
cruse of oil which merely enabled them to observe the
commandment of lighting the menorah for an additional
seven days, compared to the miracle of rescue from their
enemies, which would enable them to continue keeping the entire
Torah for all future generations?
One may argue that the miracle of the oil was an overt one,
while that of the war was hidden. But according to our
admission, there is no advantage of an open miracle over a
hidden one for, "The One Who decreed that oil burn, can also
tell the vinegar to burn."
Now, however, we are equipped to understand the matter of the
miracle of the oil. To be sure, in actual measurement of
benefits, there is no question that the winning of the wars was
more advantageous and significant to Jewish survival than the
miracle of the oil. The actual benefit of the latter event was
merely to hasten the lighting of the menorah by a week
[the time it took to produce and deliver newly pressed olive
But this latter miracle was an expression of Hashem's great
love for Klal Yisroel, which was worthy of having the
laws of nature waived to enable it to perform this mitzvah.
This was the special "kiss" which they merited, and it is for
this added grace, this show of love, that we thank Hashem and
We see a similar phenomenon in the relationship of a father to
his son. It does not express itself merely in the provision of
the necessary vital needs to sustain him, but rather in those
extra, less essential things, the luxuries and comforts which
he gives him. A wayward son, with whom his father is
dissatisfied, will only receive the elementary needs, while a
cherished son, with whom a father is greatly pleased, will
receive much more than he requires. The apple of a father's eye
will get everything under the sun.
If we study this, we will admit that supplying the essentials
is far more important than providing luxuries, but if a son
wishes to gauge his status in his parents' eyes, he will
examine the extras, the bonuses he receives, above and beyond
his normal requirements. Indeed, the more insignificant are
those added benefits, the greater love is expressed in their
So it is with regard to Hashem's love of Klal Yisroel.
The miracle of the military victory of His delivering the
mighty into the hands of the weak was a necessary rescue, an
essential act for their very survival. This was in keeping with
Hashem's covenant to the Ovos that their seed would
continue to exist to the end of time and that Torah would never
be altogether forgotten from their midst.
But this, of itself, was not sufficiently a sign of His love
towards Jewry. It was the small cruse of oil that burned for
eight days -- which was not absolutely necessary in those
circumstances, but was provided only to enable Hashem's
children to fulfill a mitzvah -- that comes to teach us how
great was His love for them. This is the special grace, the
loving favor, therein exhibited.