A Thought for the Week
VayeshevYaakov thought he was finished. He had enough. His struggles with his brother Esav, his fight for the Brachos, his wearisome effort of building a family, working for Lavan had taken a lifetime. Yaakov wanted to settle down, relax a bit, live in Eretz Yisroel and devote himself to Torah study. He had served his time. "Bikaish Yaakov Leyshev BeShalva". But it was not meant to be. Destiny had it different.
I imagine that at age of 108 Yaakov felt that the tribulations of life were behind him. His life battle had been Esav. The thorn in his side had been Esav. There were many aspects to the challenge and he worked through it all valiantly. What Yaakov didnt realize was that it wasnt over yet. Retirement in Israel was not yet an option. There was another challenge yet to come, perhaps deeper and more difficult than the first. Esav represented an outside challenge, now Yaakov had to contend with a challenge from the inside. Yaakov built his family, provided them with safety from Esav and gave them a home, but now his own children started to fight.
Throughout history the Jewish people have always had two kinds of challenges. The challenge of anti-Semitism, inquisitions, holocausts and more. These are the Esav challenges. But then there was always the Yosef challenge. Sibling rivalry. After we were safe and comfortable could we get along? Yaakov couldnt imagine this latter problem but it was real. Kofatz olov rogzo shel Yosef. It hit him like a ton of bricks. He straightened out the outside problem but now he had to worry about the inside.
The central problem facing the Jews today is the "war between the brothers". There is no safe haven from it. Its rampant in the State of Israel. Its gnashing between the various Jewish groups in the USA. Its prevalent in our own Orthodox community. A Conservative Rabbi bemoaned to me last week that the problem with Orthodox Jews is that they only talk to themselves. I told him they do not! I wish we would talk to ourselves. This past week, in Monsey, there was a beautiful dinner sponsored by Ir Achas to help create unity in our community. There was actually a boycott.
Chanukah is a story about division amongst Jews. The issue wasnt as much about Greeks as it was about Jews acting like Greeks. Arguments about how to deal with the New World order were abound. How should Halacha be applied? What should be our relationship with the Greeks? What language should we speak? Should we teach mathematics and philosophy to our children? Judaism had to be reexamined and redefined in the light of Greek culture. It was this disunity that brought about the defilement of the Beis HaMikdash. The real miracle of Chanukah was that we got it back together. After centuries of dissension, with strong leadership and ahavas Yisroel we won the war. We went back into the Beis HaMikdash and we lit the Menorah. We stayed in Jerusalem for another two hundred years until we fought again amongst ourselves and Jerusalem was destroyed.
On Chanukah the world saw the light that we can shed if we can only work together.
Rabbi Yaacov Haber
Rabbi Haber is the OU's National Director of Jewish Education and the spiritual leader of the OU's Pardes Program
Comments and questions are very welcome
"A tree of life for those who embrace it"