Ya’akov settled in the land of his father, in the land of Canaan. These
are the descendants of Ya’akov: Yosef was 17 years old. (Bereishis 37:1-2)
In Parashas Vayaitzai, Rashi explains that the birth of Yosef was Ya’akov
Avinu’s sign that it was time to leave for home. Apparently Ya’akov had been
waiting for someone to be born who could oppose Eisav, and as Rashi
explains, that was Yosef.
This idea is reinforced in this week’s parshah, also by Rashi. Rashi asks
why the story of Yosef follows the mentioning of Eisav’s tribes and leaders
in last week’s parshah, and explains:
A certain flax-seller brought camels laden with flax, and a blacksmith
asked, “Where will he put all that flax?” A clever person answered, “One
spark from your bellow will burn all of it up!” Thus, Ya’akov saw all the
chiefs [of Eisav] mentioned previously, and wondered, “Who can conquer all
of them?” What is written after? “These are the generations of Ya’akov:
Yosef,” and it is written, “The House of Ya’akov will be fire, the House of
Yosef will be a flame, and, the House of Eisav will be straw.” (Ovadiah
1:18): a spark will go out from Yosef and burn them all up! (Rashi,
This sounds quite nice and heroic, but it raises a few questions. First of
all, what was so special about Yosef that he became the opposer of Eisav,
and how did Ya’akov Avinu know this from his birth? Secondly, what does it
mean that Eisav is straw? Historically, Eisav has included many empires,
including the might Rome, and more recently, mighty America and Russia. For
straw, many of Eisav’s descendants have sure done a tremendous amount of
damage, and murdered an awful lot of Jews throughout the ages! And, thirdly,
what is so clever about a person whose suggestion just means a lot of damage
to an innocent camel driver?!
Perhaps there is a connection between the story of Yosef and Chanukah, which
is just around the corner, b”H. Because, the only mishnah to discuss
Chanukah happens to deal with a similar topic:
If a camel was loaded with flax and pressed through the door of a store
and caught fire from the storekeeper's candle, burning down the building,
the camel owner is culpable. However, if the shopkeeper left his candle
outside, the shopkeeper is culpable. Rebi Yehudah says, if it was a Chanukah
candle, he is not culpable. (Bava Kamma 62b)
It seems rather coincidental that the only mishnah to deal with Chanukah
should use as its example something so similar to what the Midrash uses to
explain Yosef’s ability to subdue Eisav, especially when we already know
that Yosef and Chanukah are so inextricably connected, and both have to do
with misperceived versions of reality.
First there was Yosef and his brothers. The brothers perceived Yosef as a
terrible threat to the future of the Jewish people, and went so far as to
kidnap him, sell him into slavery, and then lie to their father about his
whereabouts and what happened to him. They did more than eat their hats when
they later discovered that not only had they been wrong about Yosef all
along, needlessly aggravating their father, brother, and themselves, but
that Yosef was actually the hero of the family and future Jewish people.
In the time of Chanukah, it was the might Greek army versus a bunch of
renegade Jewish priests, the mightiest weapons of their time against bows
and arrows and other primitive forms of warfare. It should have been a quick
and decisive battle in favor of the Greeks. Instead, the small and
incredibly brave Jewish army pushed back the Greeks and regained control
over their holy Temple, and eventually, their land.
Upon entering the Temple, they immediately sought to rekindle the Menorah,
but found only one jar of pure oil bearing the Kohen Gadol’s seal. Though it
would take seven days to produce new pure oil, they had but one day’s worth
in their possession, and they immediately kindled it. What could they do but
use impure olive oil until the new oil was ready?
Or so they had thought, on the second day, and on the third, and on the
fourth day, etc. But, each day they returned to rekindle the Menorah with
impure oil the original amount of oil continued to burn, and it did so until
the eighth day, at which point the new, pure olive oil was ready for use.
Apparently, not everything is what it appears to be on the surface.
Indeed, this is what made the clever person so clever, for this was his
message. It was the Yosef-Chanukah message, and it said that big and
powerful in this world is not always big and powerful in God’s world. It was
precisely this that gave Dovid HaMelech the courage to stand up to Goliath
when the rest of the Jewish army would not, and what made him successful
with a simple sling shot, when his fellow soldiers had more sophisticated
In truth, Dovid HaMelech came with the most sophisticated weapon of all:
“You come to me with spear and javelin, and I come to you with the Name
of the Lord of Hosts, the God of the armies of Israel which you have
taunted. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I shall kill
you, and take off your head, and I will give the carcasses of the camp of
the Philistines this day, to the fowl of the air and to the beasts of the
earth, and the earth will know that Israel has a God! And all this gathering
will know that not with sword and javelin does the Lord save, for the battle
is the Lord’s, and He will deliver you into our hand.” (I Shmuel 17:45)
The Chashmonaim came armed against the Greek army the very same way, because
naturally-speaking, they had been out-manned and out-gunned. But, if Moshe
Rabbeinu could kill the Egyptian using the Name of God, why couldn’t they
defeat the entire Greek army using the Name of God? So, they went to battle
in the Name of God, and won.
That was the secret to Yosef’s success as well, as the Torah explains:
God was with Yosef, and he became a successful man, and he remained in
the house of his Egyptian master. His master perceived that God was with
him, and whatever he did God made him succeed. (Bereishis 39:2-3)
God was with him: The Name of God was a familiar word in his mouth.
(Rashi, Bereishis 39:3)
All of this came to my mind when I saw the horrible pictures of the World
Trade Center after it had completely collapsed. All I could do was stare,
incredulous that so much steel, concrete, and glass could be reduced to so
little in so short a period of time. I still find it hard to believe when
looking at the pictures from that modern day of infamy.
This was especially so since, as a young architecture student, I had been
taken on a tour of the Twin Towers and was told about the unique
construction of the buildings. Technical specifications aside, the buildings
were made to withstand just about everything, except, apparently, the hand
of God. The WTC was the Titanic of buildings, representing the prowess of
modern Eisav’s world, in the heart of one his most important cities.
But, on September 11, 2001, the Twin Towers burned like straw. Other
skyscrapers before and since have burned for much longer periods of time,
but they have remained pretty much intact after the fires were put out.
However, within 103 minutes since the impact of the first plane into North
Tower, the North, South, and Building 7 had collapsed, leaving nothing
behind to testify to the architectural grandeur that had once been WTC 1 and
The great unlikelihood of such massive and total destruction from two
commercial jets flying into the towers is what gave rise, and continues to
give rise, to conspiracy theories. However, regardless of how it actually
happened, from a Big Picture point of view, all that counts is that it did
happen, and in such a dramatic way, teaching many lessons, one of which is
how big destruction can result from disproportionate sources.
This is what made Yosef unique from all of his brothers. He died at the age
of 110, because that is the gematria of neis, which means miracle. Regarding
Yehoshua bin Nun, who also died at the age of 110, the Arizal explains that
this was to make it clear that his life had been miraculous from birth until
death (Pri Aitz Chaim, Purim). So had Yosef’s been as well.
In fact, the Talmud explains, Leah had already been pregnant with Yosef,
potentially her seventh son, when she prayed for a gender change for the
baby so that Yosef could be born to Rachel instead (Brochos 60a). Heaven
complied, and Yosef became Dinah instead, only to be born shortly after to
Rachel, as planned. Ya’akov probably knew this, and realized instantly that
a son born by miracle could live by miracle, the advantage necessary to
stand up to the power and greatness that was Eisav, and would be his
descendants throughout history, and turn it all into straw.
For, clearly, Eisav is not straw to us, but to God. When you fight him in
your own name, you better out-man and out-gun him. If you don’t, you will
lose the battle, and probably badly. History has testified to that painful
truth countless times already.
However, when you fight against Eisav in the Name of God, the true Name of
God as taught in the Torah, then a single spark can consume Eisav, and all
that he stands for, in a flash. When you do battle in the Name of God, a
single Yosef, or Dovid, can overcome the largest and most powerful of armies.
This is fast becoming an important and relevant message. As the Western
world imposes sanctions on Iran, which is about as realistic an impediment
to their nuclear bomb program as Chamberlain’s 1938 agreement with Hitler,
y”s, was to stopping World War II, Israel seems to be the only player with
any sense of what is really going on at this late and precarious stage of
history. And, rather than commend Israel for its willingness to put its
entire country on the line to stop the Persian megalomaniacs from destroying
most of the world, she is threatened by none other than her closest ally.
In the meantime, while the Palestinians continue on with their old ways of
praying for and engineering the destruction of the Israeli state, the
Americans get impatient with the Jews for not returning to the bargaining
table to just talk, at least. Been there, done that, and we’re tired of
showing up just for show.
If that is the way our so-called closest ally regards the Jewish state, then
what are our distant allies saying about us? Actually we already know that,
ever since the mic was left on during a G-20 press conference. We already
know what our sworn enemies plan for us.
And, as if that wasn’t bad enough, we have mutiny on our own version of the
Bounty. Between the hard core Jewish Leftists, and the misinformed or
misguided anti-Israel Jewish supporters, many of whom may be the Erev
Rav—Mixed Multitude—of our time, we are rotting from the inside as well.
When U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called Israel isolated, he didn’t
know the half it.
More than ever, it is us against them. In the beginning, it was only us
against a single, massive country. We lost four-fifths by the time we left,
but we survived through great miracles. Then it was us against an entire
content, and by the end of it, we lost 6,000,000, but we survived that too,
not without great miracles as well.
Now, it is us against pretty much the entire world, and when it is said and
done, we’ll survive that as well, with the greatest miracles of all. The
question, as always, is how many, God forbid, will we lose along the way.
Hopefully the losses will be minimal, as we have already lost Jews even by
And, in spite of our dependence on modern-day weapons to save us, and some
very intelligent people as well, at the end of the day, though they may
help, they will not be the deciding factors. The Chashmonaim went to war
with weapons as well, and used them too. But there weren’t enough men
carrying them to naturally overcome the Greek army, and likewise today, no
matter how many nuclear bombs we launch against our enemies, if, in fact, we
ever do, our enemies have far more than we do, more effective ways of
delivering them, and a very small target to hit.
No, if the Jewish people have a Kippah HaBarzel—steel covering—to protect
them against their enemies, it is not our missiles. It is the fact that we
are a supernatural nation being led by supernatural Torah leaders, the
extent to which will only become clear at the moment of truth. And, very
likely, some of those leaders may not be the ones we look to today to guide
us. They will be the Yosefs of our time, people who may have been rejected
by their own brothers while secretly being elevated by God.
And, they won’t come with weapons necessarily, but in the Name of God, and
when they do, the unthinkable will happen, and the unimaginable will occur,
but in a positive way. What will have seemed to have been a formidable enemy
until that time will fast appear to be only straw, as it is consumed
accordingly. Then we, the Jewish people, will have cause to celebrate our
latest miraculous victory, one that will make all the previous ones pale by
That moment may be sooner than we think, but in the meantime, Happy Chanukah.