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United We Stand

Yoel Spotts

When describing the healthy stalks in Pharoh's "dream of wheat", the Torah says, "And behold, there were seven fat, good ears of grain growing on a single stalk (Gen. 41:5)." It is interesting to note that concerning the weak stalks, the Torah does not mention that the ears grew on a single stalk. It does not seem likely that this difference should be inconsequential, as we know that every detail mentioned by the Torah is important and should not be overlooked. Thus, the question must be asked: Why does the Torah describe the good ears as growing on one stalk while omitting this detail concerning the unhealthy stalks?

The Otzar Chaim, a renowned biblical commentator, proposed an ingenious solution to this discrepancy. He explains that we can, in fact, learn an important lesson from this difference in descriptions: That which is good and purposeful tends to merge and unite. However, that which is evil or bad cannot tolerate harmony and accord. For this reason, the good and healthy ears grew on one stalk. Because of the pure and good disposition of the ears, it was only natural that the ears should unite to grow on one single stalk. On the other hand, the weak and unhealthy ears, naturally seeking disharmony, "chose" to grow on separate stalks, because in truth, any union of evil is only for the advancement of each individual's own selfish needs and desires.

Interestingly enough, when one surveys the past few thousand years of Jewish history, one notices this message to be especially true. The Jewish people have never represented more than a tiny fraction of the world's population. Nonetheless, as Mark Twain once noted, the Jewish people have remained, have lived on, and have continued to be heard of in the world. How can this be possible?

Logic would dictate that the Jewish people with all their trials and tribulations throughout the years should be long gone. More specifically, we find throughout Jewish history cases of a small number of Jews battling enemies much larger and stronger. Yet, somehow, the Jewish group emerges victorious. Most recently, we have seen examples of this in the wars fought by the nation of Israel against the surrounding Arab countries, including the War for Independence and the Six-Day War.

However, the classic example of a small Jewish faction defeating a larger enemy can be found in the story of Chanukah. It is here where a small number of Jewish soldiers rose up in rebellion against the powerful Greek army, and succeeded in driving the Greeks out of Judea. This miraculous feat, probably more than any other event, serves as a microcosm of Jewish history on the whole. What, then, is the secret to our success?

It would thus appear that the answer lies in the very idea mentioned above. When a number of individuals set out for the purpose of doing good, they will naturally unite to form a cohesive group. So too, it is with the story of Chanukah, that the mission of restoring order and peace to the Holy Temple and the land of Judea caused the formation of a united group. And as the old adage teaches, five sticks held together are more powerful than ten separate sticks. So too, the Maccabees, banded together for the purpose of good, were able to defeat the Greek army which was made up simply of individuals, each one only seeking to further his own desires. So too, it is with the Jewish nation as a whole. When we set off on a holy mission, we instinctively form an unbreakable and invincible force that drives us to overcome our adversaries. This is the secret to our success.

Now, I do not intend to diminish from the miraculous nature of the victory of the Maccabees. There is no question that the defeat of the Greeks could not have taken place without divine intervention. I am only proposing the medium through which the miracle took place. Therefore, among the other lessons of Chanukah, I feel that we can also derive this important idea from the Holiday of Lights. And as we light the Menorah and see all the candles lit, and notice that although each candle on its own represents only a small glow, all the candles together form a spectacular display of fire and light, we can remember Chanukah's message of the survival of the Jewish people.

Yoel Spotts, a native Atlantan, is a member of the Ner Israel Rabbinical College Kollel in Baltimore. This article originally appeared on Torah From Dixie,

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