Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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1 Teves 5761 - December 27, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
"When I Sit in Darkness, Hashem is My Light"

by Maran HaRav Chaim Shmuelevitz zt'l,
Rosh Yeshivas Mir

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 247 142).

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 comfort?

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." (Bereishis 46:4).

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 again."

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 misery.

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 head.

* 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 oil].

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 praise Him.

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 provision.

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.

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