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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Parshas Vayeshev 5774 "Shout it in the Streets"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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In an article entitled, He Belongs to Glasgow, Rabbi Y.Y. Rubinstein relates the following personal anecdote:

“Several years ago, I was the joint guest speaker at a fundraising dinner for a Jewish Charity. My fellow speaker was the ex speaker of Great Britain’s House of Commons, Viscount Tonnypandy, George Thomas.

“Viscount Tonnypandy told the tale of the first Jew he ever met. It was in his hometown of Tonnypandy in Wales at the beginning of the century. A Jew called Issacs approached little Geordie Thomas and asked him if he would be willing to come in and light the coal fire on Friday night and Shabbos morning. If he would do this every week, he would receive a twopennce! Little Geordie eagerly agreed and returned home proudly holding his fortune in his hand. He came into his mother’s kitchen where he found her washing dishes. She observed him out of the corner of her eye and carried on at her task. When she finished she turned to him and asked, "Where did you get that boy?" "The Jew Mr Issacs gave it to me Mam! If I go into his house on his Sabbath and light his fire Friday night and Saturday morning, I get a Twopennce!" His Mother looked at him sternly, "Take it back boy!" Little Geordie was stunned, "But Mam, he said I could have it!"

“Again his mother told him to take it back. The future Peer of the realm looked up at his mother and his lip started to quiver and tears filled his eyes, "But why Mam?"

“His mother looked at him and explained, "You don’t take money from a man, to help him serve his G-d!"

“Geordie Thomas trotted back to his benefactor still clutching his Twopennce and told him that he could not accept the money and why. The Jew would hear nothing of it and marched him straight back to his mother. Then Mr Issacs and Mrs Thomas started a debate, which ended in a compromise. Geordie could keep his Twopennce on that occasion but from now on would light the Shabbos fires for free.

“Then Viscount Tonnypandy turned to his Jewish audience and declared: "You Jews; you’ve forgotten who you are! When we in this country were still running around in animal skins, you had already built your golden temple in Jerusalem. While we were still living in caves, you had already written the book, which would go on to inspire the whole world. Never be ashamed of being Jewish. You’ve forgotten who you are!" ”

The verse states[1], “The dudaim have yielded fragrance, and upon our doorsteps are all delicacies; both new and old have I stored away for you, my Beloved”. The Medrash elucidates the verse in the following manner: “’The dudaim have yielded fragrance’ refers to Reuven, as it is written, “Reuven heard, and he rescued him [Yosef] from their hand[2][3]; ‘And upon our doorsteps are all delicacies’ refers to the Chanukah lights.”

What is the connection between the two seemingly unrelated themes of Reuven saving Yosef and the Chanukah candles?

Chasam Sofer[4] explains that the mitzvah of lighting Chanukah candles must accomplish “persumei nisa- publicizing the miracle”. When one lights the Chanukah candles he must do so in a place and in a manner that ensures that they will be visible to every passerby.

Although all other mitzvos observed during the various holidays throughout the year celebrate miraculous salvations, we have no obligation to promulgate those miracles to the outside world. We recite the haggadah on Seder night in the privacy of our homes and read the megillah on Purim in shul. What is the distinction of the Chanukah candles that they warrant an external ostentatious commemoration of the miracle?

There is a fundamental difference between the miracle of the Menorah and the other miracles that transpired during our other times of salvation. All other redemptions were necessary for the very survival of Klal Yisroel. Although they were clear demonstrations of G-d’s infallible love for His nation, an outsider could dismiss them as being mere acts of mercy to protect them from being completely obliterated. Had G-d not saved us from Pharaoh, Haman, and the Babylonian exile the Jewish People would have perished.

The miracle of the Menorah however, was undeniably an act performed solely out of G-d’s supreme love for Klal Yisroel. At that point, the Maccabees had already miraculously vanquished the far superior Syrian-Greek forces with great valiancy and faith. The Bais Hamikdash had already been recaptured and[5] the Avodah (Holy Service) was ready to be resumed. The fact that at that point G-d performed an additional magnanimous miracle in the sanctuary of the Bais Hamikdash, which could only be seen by those who were in the vicinity of the Menorah, was a clear indication of G-d’s great love for them. Therefore, because the miracle was performed so exclusively and in such a private forum, it is incumbent upon us to publicize it in a grandiose manner. In doing so we demonstrate our acknowledgement of the love He feels for us, even in the darkness of exile.

When the sons of Yaakov decided that Yosef should be killed[6] the verse states, “Reuven said to them, ‘Do not spill his blood; cast him into one of these pits in the desert, but a hand we should not raise against him’, in order to save him from their hands in order to return him to his father”[7]. From his mere suggestion that they cast him in a pit one can conceivably conclude that Reuven’s intention was to kill Yosef. Therefore, the pasuk makes it a point of relating that Reuven’s intentions were noble and that casting him in the pit was a means to save Yosef.

In a similar vein, when Reuven saw that his mother became barren after giving birth to four sons, he went to gather dudaim, a special type of wildflower which somehow helped a woman become more fertile so that she had a greater chance of becoming pregnant. The Torah makes it a point to relate that Reuven went out “during the time of the wheat-harvest”[8]. Rashi quotes the Gemara[9] which explains that Reuven picked dudaim and not wheat so that he would not encounter any problem with theft.

As a tribute to Reuven for being careful to avoid stealing, he is deemed the “ba’al hadudaim- master of the dudaim”. Just as the Torah makes a point of clarifying that the actions of Reuven were just and honorable in regards to the dudaim, so does the Torah make it a point to relate that his motives in regard to Yosef were noble as well. This is the meaning of the first phrase of the Medrash. “’The dudaim have yielded fragrance’ refers to Reuven, as it is written “Reuven heard, and he rescued him [Yosef] from their hand”[10]. From Reuven’s encounters we learn that positive actions, or even mere positive intentions, should be publicized.[11] If in regards to Reuven the Torah makes it a point to reveal his noble motives, surely then the great miracle of the Menorah deserves no less publicizing. Thus, the Medrash continues, “‘And upon our doorsteps are all delicacies’ refers to the Chanukah lights,” i.e. the Chanukah lights too must be lit in a public place in order to publicize the (relatively) hidden miracle that occurred.

The conclusion of the special Al Hanisim prayer recited on Chanukah reflects this idea. “For Yourself You made a great and holy Name in Your world, and for your people Yisroel you worked a great victory and salvation as this very day.” At the conclusion of the Maccabean wars G-d’s Name had been sanctified and Klal Yisroel had been privy to the undeniable manifestation of His Divine Intervention. It was then that the miracle of the Menorah transpired, as the prayer continues, “Thereafter, Your children came to the Holy of Holies of Your House, cleansed Your Temple, purified the site of Your Holiness and kindled lights in the Courtyard of Your Sanctuary.” Part of the mitzvah of kindling the Menorah is to demonstrate our pride of being the recipients of G-d’s love and seeking to reciprocate that love through our performance of His Torah and Mitzvos. We do so by publicizing the miracle of the Menorah for all to see. It is a testament of our pride that we merit a unique relationship and closeness with G-d, as it were.

The lights of Chanukah symbolize that we must never forget who we are. We must be proud of our heritage and that we alone carry the banner of Torah and thereby merit being the elite nation of G-d; a nation who bears the distinction of being the proverbial ‘rose among thorns’. In other words, the mitzvah of kindling the Menorah is inextricably bound to our national pride which has not dimmed or wavered in the face of pogroms, inquisitions, auto-da-fes, holocausts, blood-libels, massacres, and virulent anti-Semitism. In fact, the opposite is true; “As much as they would afflict them, so they would multiply and so they would spread out”[12]. The more our enemies try to squelch and destroy our national pride the more they bring it to the fore!

The following poignant story serves as an apt conclusion:

It was the first night of Chanukah, December 1943, in the infamous Nazi Concentration Camp, Bergen-Belsen. From their meager food portions the men had collected some bits of fat while the women pulled threats from their tattered uniforms and twisted them into makeshift wicks. They fashioned a Menorah out of a raw potato. Everything was brought to Barrack 10 where the holy Bluzhever Rebbe, Rabbi Yisroel Spira zt’l, was given the honor of lighting the single Chanukah candle. After nightfall, one thousand inmates clandestinely gathered around the Rebbe. The Rebbe quickly lit the candle and recited the three blessings. The crowd tearfully stared at the flame for a few brief moments, each lost in his own world of thoughts. Then they quickly dispersed, returning to the miserable reality that was Bergen-Belsen.

One man, a non-believing Jew, approached the Rebbe. “Rabbi Spira,” he began, “I have a very strong complaint against you. I understand why you recited the first blessing, thanking G-d for the mitzvah of kindling the candles. I also understand why you recited the second blessing which thanks G-d for performing miracles for our ancestors in those days at this time. But I do not understand how you were able to recite the third blessing of “shehechiyanu”, which thanks G-d for sustaining us and keeping us alive to reach this time. Look around you! There is only hopelessness, death, and barbarism! How can you rationally thank G-d for preserving us so that we can endure this misery?”

The Rebbe, who had already lost his wife, his only daughter, son-in-law, and only grandchild, gently explained, “The truth is that I share your sentiments. After I recited the first two blessings, I hesitated. I didn’t know how I could wholeheartedly recite the shehechiyanu blessing. But then I looked around. I looked at the faces of one thousand Jews who were risking their lives to witness and participate in the performance of this mitzvah. I saw a thousand souls whose inner faith resonated in a macabre existence. It was for that faith that I thanked G-d for preserving me and keeping me alive; for the merit of being able to witness such incredible tenacity and yearning for G-d, even in the most unspeakable conditions.”

“The dudaim have yielded fragrance”

“You Jews; you’ve forgotten who you are!”

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[1] Song of Songs 7:14

[2] i.e. the hands of the brothers who wanted to kill Yosef

[3] Bereishis 37:21

[4] Derashos, 64

[5] as soon as they re-consecrated everything that had been defiled

[6] they ruled that he was halachically liable to receive the death penalty

[7] 37:22

[8] 30:14

[9] Sanhedrin 99b

[10] Bereishis 37:21

[11] [Based on this point, the Rashba (Teshuvos 582) concludes, that it is a mitzvah to write the names of donors on the things they donate to a public institution.]

[12] Shemos 1:12

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