For the week ending 11 December 2021 / 7 Kislev 5782

Parashat Vayigash

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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With the discovery of the goblet in Binyamin's sack, the brothers are confused. Yehuda alone steps forward and eloquently but firmly petitions Yosef for Binyamin's release, offering himself instead. As a result of this act of total selflessness, Yosef finally has irrefutable proof that his brothers are different people from the ones who cast him into the pit, and so he now reveals to them that he is none other than their brother. The brothers shrink from him in shame, but Yosef consoles them, telling them that everything has been part of Hashem’s plan. He sends them back to their father Yaakov with a message to come and reside in the land of Goshen. At first, Yaakov cannot accept the news, but when he recognizes hidden signs in the message which positively identify the sender as his son Yosef, his spirit is revived.

Yaakov, together with all his family and possessions, sets out for Goshen. Hashem communicates with Yaakov in a vision at night. He tells him not to fear going down to Egypt and its negative spiritual consequences, because it is there that Hashem will establish the Children of Israel as a great nation although they will be dwelling in a land steeped in immorality and corruption.

The Torah lists Yaakov's offspring and hints to the birth of Yocheved, who will be the mother of Moshe Rabbeinu. Seventy souls in total descend into Egypt, where Yosef is reunited with his father after 22 years of separation. He embraces his father and weeps, overflowing with joy. Yosef secures the settlement of his family in Goshen. Yosef takes his father Yaakov and five of the least threatening of his brothers to be presented to Pharaoh, and Yaakov blesses Pharaoh. Yosef instructs that, in return for grain, all the people of Egypt must give everything to Pharaoh, including themselves as his slaves. Yosef then redistributes the population, except for the Egyptian priests, who are directly supported by a stipend from Pharaoh. The Children of Israel become settled, and their numbers multiply greatly.


The Promise

“I am the G-d of your father…Have no fear of descending into Egypt…I shall descend with you to Egypt and I shall surely bring you up.” (46:3-4)

It was the first night of Chanukah. The single light of the menorah gleamed with a strange radiance. Its light came neither from wax nor oil. This was a very special menorah. It was made from an old wooden clog. And the oil was boot polish. This was Chanukah in Bergen Belsen.

The Bluzhever Rav chanted the first two blessings in the customary festive tune. He was about to make the third blessing but then he stopped. He paused for what seemed like a long time. He looked around the room at all the faces in front of him. And then, with a voice filled with strength, he said: “Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d and G-d of our fathers, Who has kept us alive and preserved us and brought us to this time.” “Amein” was the whispered reply from the huddled throng. Later, one of the men came over to the Bluzhever Rav and he said, “Can I ask the Rabbi a question?” “What is your question?” said the Rav. “How can you possibly make a blessing thanking G-d for bringing us to this time? Should we thank Him for bringing us to Bergen-Belsen? For bringing us to a time like this?”

“You know,” said the Bluzhever Rav, “I had exactly the same thought as you. That’s why I stopped in the middle. I was about to ask the Rabbi of Zaner and some of my other colleagues if I could really make that blessing, and then I caught sight of all the faces looking so intently at that wooden clog, filled with black camp shoe polish. I thought: Here we are in the depths, in the blackest darkness that could exist in this world. And here are some Jews lighting Chanukah candles. In spite of all the evil that those murderers are doing, we are lighting candles. And I thought to myself: Ribono shel ha’olam! Master of the world! Who is like your people Israel? Look how they stand with death staring them in the face and lovingly they hang onto every word — ‘Who did miracles for our ancestors in those days, at this time’ And I thought: If this is not the place to thank Hashem for bringing us to this time, then I don’t know when is! I have a sacred duty to say that blessing now.”

Chanukah is the only celebration in the Jewish calendar that spans two months. A month of light and a month of darkness. And despite the great light that was revealed on Chanukah, that light darkened in Tevet. On the Fast of the Tenth of Tevet we mourn three great tragedies: the translation of the Torah into Greek, the death of Ezra, which marked the end of prophecy, and, finally, the surrounding of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, which led to the destruction of the first Beit Hamikdash. Tevet is a month of darkness.

The total number of candles that we light on Chanukah is 36 (excluding the shamesh). In the beginning of the Creation, a supernal light called the Ohr Haganuz shone. With it you could see from one end of the world to the other, meaning that you could see cause and effect. You could see why things happened. All was revealed. After 36 hours, Hashem hid it away so that it could not be used by those who are evil. That supernal light reappeared in the lamps of the Menorah in the Beit Hamikdash, and it can be found in the lights of our Chanukah menorahs to this very day. 36. If you count the number of days from the beginning of Chanukah until the end of Tevet, it also comes to 36. The light spreads into the darkness even though you cannot see it.

I always thought that the end of Chanukah was a bit of an anti-climax. True, on the last night we light all the candles in a blaze of glory, but the following morning all that’s left to do is to clean up the mess from the olive oil. And apart from our mentioning al hanisim in our prayers, there’s nothing we actually do on the last day except to put the Chanukah menorah away. It seems strange that the last day of Chaunkah is called “Zot Chanukah,” “This is Chanukah.” And yet this epitomizes the very essence and the message of Chanukah. Sometimes our lives are filled with darkness — the darkness of illness, the darkness of depression, of unhappiness. The lights seemed to have gone out in our lives, leaving us in a very dark world. Our comfort is to know that the lights have not gone out in our lives, but that they burn secretly, hidden from sight, and that very soon the whole world will be ablaze with a great light when Hashem’s promise to Yaakov Avinu will be fulfilled, and the entire world will recognize the G-d of Israel.

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