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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Miketz/Chanukah 5772 "Wake Up and Smell the Oil"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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In 1948 the Israeli forces consisted of 17,600 rifles, 2,700 steno guns, 1,000 machine guns, and 45,000 soldiers. The Air Force originally consisted of a few Piper Cubs loaded with grenades[1]. 650,000 Jews, many Holocaust survivors, were surrounded by nations populated by fifty million Arabs with fully mobilized armies, replete with tanks and heavy artillery.

Azzah Pasha, the then Secretary General of the Arab League, proclaimed over the radio: “This will be a war of extermination, and a momentous massacre.”

According to the natural rules of war, Israel had no chance for survival.

By 1967, there were three million Jews living in Israel surrounded by 100 million Arabs. The Jewish Day Schools in the United States held campaigns to gather bed sheets to be airlifted to Israel in anticipation of the horrific magnitude of casualties that were inevitable. Israel would have to fight on at least two fronts: in the North against Syria and in the south against Egypt. When Jordan refused to back down, Israel had to fight them on the east as well.

To protect its survival, Israel launched a pre-emptive strike. Within the first six hours of the war, almost the entire Egyptian Air Force was wiped out. Israel conquered huge tracts of the Sinai, took over the Golan Heights, and reclaimed Yerushalayim, with relatively remarkably minimal casualties.

An article written in Time Magazine after the war told the following story: “The West Point Senior cadets were given a project. They were to devise the most effective strategy for taking the Golan Heights. They were given maps of the Syrian strong points and the Israeli forces assigned to the battle. Because it was a senior thesis, they were given access to the most sophisticated computers available at the time. They had three months to devise their strategy. Within a short time they returned to the professor saying it was not possible. Based on the sheer heights of the cliffs and the strength of the Syrian fortifications, it was not possible to plan the taking of the Golan Heights, because it just couldn’t be done.”

In 1991, Sadam Hussein fired 39 Scud Missiles against Israel. Cooped up in air-tight, sealed off rooms, wearing gas masks and listening fearfully to the radio for the ‘all-clear’ signal, the entire country was gripped with fear. Miraculously, there was merely one tragic death directly caused by all of those missiles, despite the millions of Shekels worth of damage to buildings and property. Yet, when one Scud hit an American Army battalion camped in Saudi Arabia, 19 soldiers were tragically killed immediately.

When the brothers came down to Egypt to try to procure food from the viceroy of Egypt they were shocked by the harsh treatment they were subjected to.

“ויכר יוסף את אחיו והם לא הכירוהו - Yosef recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him.[2]” The Ba’al Haturim explains that the brothers didn’t recognize him because ‘it didn’t enter their mind’ that Yosef could achieve such prestigious greatness.

Yosef was able to recognize his brothers immediately because he was looking for them. They however, couldn’t recognize him despite the fact that he must have looked different than all of the ministers and dignitaries in the palace, because they couldn’t fathom that it was Yosef. They could not, and perhaps did not want to, believe that the viceroy of Egypt was Yosef.

When one does not want to see something, even if it’s staring him in the face, he won’t recognize it.

We tend to think that if G-d would reveal himself to us and we would see clear revelations and manifestations of His Greatness, then we would be holier people. But history has taught us that this is not the case.

The Egyptians who were subjected to incredible supernatural retribution prior to and during the exodus witnessed blatant revelations of G-d’s Omnipotence. Yet that did not impede them from following Pharaoh in his pursuit of the Jewish Nation immediately after the exodus, on a journey that landed them in the bowels of the sea. Despite all they had been privy to they continued to obdurately deny the existence of G-d.

After the miracle of Purim, the Megillah relates there was an atmosphere of fear and admiration for the Jews that gripped the world. As a result there was a large wave of converts to Judaism. After the miracles of Chanukah occurred however, we are not told of any such mass repentance among the hellenized Jews[3]. Despite the miraculous victories in battle and the miracle of the candles, the majority of those who left the fringe of Judaism, did not return.

The truth is that we see miracles constantly throughout our own lives[4]. The truth can be glaring in front of someone’s face and yet he can give, what he feels, is a rational and logical explanation to prove otherwise.

Rabbi Elchonan Wasserman zt’l noted that, as a field, science tenaciously negates the existence of G-d[5]. The reason is if there is a G-d then there is a code of laws and ethics that must be followed. If the world is governed by laws of nature then one is free to act as he pleases without the constraints of conscience or guilt.

The Hellenists, lured by Greek culture, methodology, and lifestyle, did not want to return to a Torah lifestyle. They did not wish to see the truth and, therefore, the miracles did not have any effect on them.

The greatness of the human mind is that unless one allows himself to open his heart and mind, he can stare truth in the face and still deny it! Rabbi Wasserman questions how the Torah can command every Jew to unequivocally believe in G-d. How can we be commanded to believe in something/someone that one simply doesn’t believe in?

He answers that truthfully the Torah is not commanding us to ‘believe’, per se. Rather, the commandment is that we allow ourselves to view things objectively, to be open-minded to realize the truth. If one looks at the world, its beauty, complexity, diversity, and everything that occurs with that mindset, it is not possible to not recognize the G-dliness and ‘Divine Touch’ that affects everything and everyone.

This week Christopher Hitchens, one of the most noted atheists, died at the age of 62. Hitchens was legendary for his acerbic wit and strong opinions. He published a book which openly attacked religion and faith, and debated many religious scholars, espousing his vehement opposition to religion[6]. Now that he has died it has sparked countless articles pondering what happens to an atheist when he dies. I surely don’t know the answer, but I would imagine it’s a traumatic ordeal.

A human has the capacity to convince himself anything he wants through polemics and rational debate, but all arguments notwithstanding, the truth remains the truth.

The Mishnah[7] relates that at the festive Simchas Bais Hashoayvah[8] that was celebrated each night of the intermediary days of Succos, the Kohanim would erect a massive candelabra which emanated sufficient light to illuminate every courtyard in the vicinity.

The radiant light of Succos is symbolic of the plethora of Divine Blessing and spiritual greatness that is palpable during the holiday. Succos, and all of the major holidays, recall the manifest miracles that G-d performed for His beloved nation.

In contrast, the lights of Chanukah are far smaller and do not radiate great amounts of light. In fact, they appear as sparks twinkling in the window. But those little lights encourage the hearts of Jews throughout the generations and throughout the Diaspora. The small lights of Chanukah are hardly noticeable unless one is looking for them.

Chanukah is the celebration of our ability to serve G-d as He demands in the Torah. We bear that yoke like a badge of honor and rejoice in the opportunity afforded to us.

Our small Chanukah lights may seem insignificant, but they have withstood the test of time, and continue to glow in the darkness.

When we recite the worlds, “הנרות הללו אנו מדליקין - These candles we are lighting…” we celebrate not only what the lighting of the candles represents, but also the fact that WE are lighting. The fact that we – Klal Yisroel – continue to light those candles the world over and throughout the generations during Chanukah, despite all we have endured and suffered, is the greatest miracle of all[9].

“Yosef recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him”

“These candles that we are lighting”

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[1] They were later replaced with machine guns

[2] 42:8

[3] If there is any source that there was such a wave of repentance I am unfamiliar with it.

[4] Rav Shach zt’l would say that he doesn’t understand why people need to work on having more faith in G-d, “Just look at the Divine Providence that went into your union with your wife.”

[5] Although it can be argued that scientists are expected to teach about science and not theology, it would behoove those who possess an added understanding of the awesome workings of the world to be unable to marvel at the fact that there must be a Supreme Being behind all this. In fact, we find such sentiments expressed by the minority of scientists who are believers.

[6] No surprise that Hitchens was a Jew

[7] Sucah

[8] ceremonial drawing of the water and libation

[9] [9] This beautiful closing thought was related by Rabbi Yisroel Saperstein at the New Hempstead community 3 part shiur this past Sunday. The video/audio can be viewed at

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