Parshat VaYeshev and Chanukah 5773

Yaakov’s hope of acheiving happiness in this world
These are the chronicles of Yaakov. Yosef was seventeen years old. As a lad, he would tend the flocks with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives. And Yosef brought to his father bad reports about them. (Beresheit 37:2)

The pasuk introduces the beginnings of the conflict between Yosef and his brothers. Eventually, this strife ends with the bothers selling Yosef into servitude in Egypt. In his commentary on our passage, Rashi quotes the comments of our Sages. The Sages explain that Yaakov wished to live in peace. However, he was confronted with the troubles surrounding Yosef. The righteous seek peace in this world. Hashem responds, “Is it not enough that the righteous receive the reward that awaits them in the World-to-Come? They should not expect peace in this world!”[1]

Basically, the Sages are explaining that Yaakov expected to secure a peaceful life in this world. He did not succeed. He returned to the land of his forefathers and there he encountered the greatest tragedy of his life. He lost his beloved son, Yosef. However, Yaakov had no right to expect a peaceful life. The reward for the righteous is not received in this world. The reward is enjoyed in the World-to-Come.

These comments, quoted by Rashi, are very difficult to understand. Let us consider a few of the problems. First, Yaakov did not live a peaceful life to this point. He was born into a conflict with his older brother Esav. He fled to Lavan’s home. There, he was treated unfairly. He returned home. Again, he was threatened by Esav. After surviving this confrontation, his daughter Dinah, was taken by Shechem and abused. These events should have taught Yaakov that our lives in this world are precarious! Why did he now expect to find peace?

There is an additional problem. Hashem responds to Yaakov. He asserts that the righteous cannot expect peace in this world. Why is this the case? Why must the righteous wait for the World-to-Come in order to receive their reward? Why do they not receive their reward also in this world?

Let us begin with this second question. Why could Yaakov not find peace and happiness in this world? Yosef’s delivery into bondage served a purpose. Yosef himself recognized this objective. He realized that this tragedy was the first step in his ascension to power in Egypt. His authority enabled him to save Bnai Yisrael from famine.[2]

Our Sages explain that Yosef’s bondage in Egypt served another purpose. Hashem had told Avraham that his descendants would be strangers in an alien land.[3] Yosef’s banishment was the beginning of the exile of Bnai Yisrael. In short, the selling of Yosef into bondage was a part of a larger plan. This overall plan was essential to Bnai Yisrael’s future. Hashem’s love for His nation dictated that this plan be executed. Yaakov’s suffering was an unfortunate outcome of this plan.

We can now answer our second question. Why is the reward for the righteous reserved for the World-to-Come? The events of this world are guided by a Divine plan. This plan is designed to produce the greatest good. However, at times a byproduct of the plan is the suffering of the righteous. Yaakov’s experience is a perfect example of this scenario. In order to preserve the Jewish nation and fulfill Avraham’s prophecy, Yosef was exiled to Egypt. These were important elements of Hashem’s design. An unfortunate byproduct of Yosef’s exile was Yaakov’s suffering. As a result of this consideration, the righteous cannot be certain of receiving their reward in this world. However, they are assured of recompense in the World-to-Come.

We can now answer our first question. Why did Yaakov believe that his suffering would now end? It seems that Yaakov had some understanding of his previous suffering. His conflict with Esav served an important purpose. He secured Esav’s birthright and the blessing of his father, Yitzchak. Our Sages explain that the abduction of Dinah was a punishment for Yaakov. He had refused to consider her marriage to Esav. As a result, she was taken by Shechem.[4] It is possible that Yaakov also saw his experiences with Lavan as a personal challenge and impetus for growth. However, Yaakov now sought a life of peace. He did not see any reason for continued suffering. He had resolved his conflict with Esav. He had achieved a remarkable level of personal perfection. He felt his struggles and tests were over. Hashem responded that the righteous cannot be assured of peace in this life. Only the reward of the World-to-Come is certain.

Therefore, the Sages of that generation decreed that the eight days that begin with the twenty-fifth of Kislev should be days of rejoicing and that the Hallel should be recited. And on these days, on each of the eight nights, we light candles at the doors of the houses in order to demonstrate and reveal the miracle … (Maimonides, Mishne Torah, Hilchot Chanukah 3:2)

Maimonides explains that the Sages established the celebration of Chanukah and the obligation to light the Chanukah menorah. He explains the reason for the lighting of the menorah. The Chanukah menorah demonstrates and reveals the miracle of Chanukah.

What is the miracle represented by the Chanukah menorah? The Chanukah lights commemorate the miracle of the oil. A small cruse of oil sufficed to fuel the Menorah of the Bait HaMikdash for eight days.

Maimonides writes that we light the Chanukah menorah in order to demonstrate and reveal this miracle. A careful analysis of this statement reveals that Maimonides outlines two objectives to be fulfilled through the Chanukah lights. First, the Chanukah lights demonstrate the miracle that took place in the Temple. Second, the Chanukah lights reveal this miracle.

We can understand the first objective. The Chanukah menorah is a reasonable representation of the Menorah of the Temple. Lighting the Chanukah menorah provides a depiction of the miracle of the Temple Menorah. However, the second objective is not as easily understood. What are we attempting to reveal? Furthermore, how does revealing the miracle differ from demonstrating the wonder?

Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik Zt”l offers a simple but insightful explanation of Maimonides’ comments. He explains that the institution of the Chanukah lights serves two purposes. It demonstrates the miracle of the Temple. This objective assumes that the observer is aware of the miracle. Seeing the Chanukah lights reminds the knowledgeable observer of the miracle.

However, the miracle of the Temple Menorah was not widely observed. The Bait HaMikdash is sacred. Access to the Temple is limited. Only a small portion of Bnai Yisrael was permitted to enter the Temple and observe the wonder. The majority of the nation could not observe the miracle. When the Sages established the institution of the Chanukah lights, they wished to reveal the miracle to the entire nation. One of their objectives was to publicize the wonder that took place in the Temple to those who were not permitted to observe the miracle.

Now we can understand Maimonides’ comments. The Sages established the obligation to light the Chanukah lights with two objectives. Each objective was directed to a specific group. Some people knew of the miracles. For these individuals, the Chanukah menorah served as a reminder. Others did not know of the miracle. For these people, the Chanukah lights revealed that a miracle had occurred in the Bait HaMikdash.[5]

1. Rabbaynu Shlomo ben Yitzchak (Rashi), Commentary on Sefer Beresheit 37:2.
2. Sefer Beresheit 45:5-7.
3. Sefer Beresheit 15:13.
4. Midrash Rabba, Sefer Beresheit 76:9.
5. Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, “Notes on Chanukah,” Mesora, Adar 5754, p 73.