During the festival of Chanukah we insert into the Shemoneh Esrai a special
declaration of thanks to Hashem. The main emphasis of this prayer, the "al
hanisim", is the expression of gratitude for the Maccabees' miraculous
military victory over their Syrian-Greek foes.
Careful analysis of the text of the prayer reveals phrases which require
further elaboration. The text states "You in Your great mercy stood up for
them in their time of distress. You took up their grievance, judged their
claim and avenged their wrong. You delivered the strong into the hands of
the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the impure into the hands of
the pure, the wicked into the hands of the righteous, the wanton into the
hands of those who study Your Torah..." The miracle of delivering the strong
into the hands of the weak and the many into the hands of the few is
self-evident. What is the miracle regarding delivering the impure into the
hands of the pure, the wicked into the hands of the righteous and the wanton
into the hands of those who study Torah?
In Tehillim there is a verse that states "Tashes choshech vihi layla bo
tirmos kol chayso ya'ar" - "You make darkness and it is night in which every
forest beast stirs". The Talmud explains that "the forest beast" referred
to in the verse alludes to the forces of evil in this world. Hashem allows
forces of evil to maintain a stronghold in the world during a time of
darkness, i.e. a time devoid of spirituality. During such a time, the
scale of good and evil is tipped overwhelmingly in favor of evil.
In the description of Creation, the verse relates that the earth was "tohu
vavohu" - astonishingly empty, "vechoshech al pnei tehom" - with darkness
upon the surface of the deep. The Midrash comments that the Torah is
alluding to the four exiles to which Bnei Yisroel were subjected; "tohu"
refers to the exile in Bavel, "vohu" refers to the exile in Madai,
"choshech" refers to the exile in Yavan (Greece) and "tehom" refers to the
exile Edom. The Greeks, who illuminated the world with new sciences and
philosophies, are characterized as "choshech" - "darkness", for all of their
advancements were bereft of spirituality and were used in an attempt to
eradicate the last vestiges of spirituality from Bnei Yisroel.
It was at this time of darkness that the forces of evil and those who
represent them were at their strongest. Therefore, we express our gratitude
for the miracle that the pure and righteous were able overcome the
representatives of evil, the impure and wicked, who were imbued with the
overwhelming strength that should have made their defeat an impossibility.
It is only due to the grace of Hashem that those who should have been
vanquished were able to rise up and prevail.
"So the sons of Israel came to buy provisions among the
The Mishna in Megilla records the various sections of prayer which require a
"minyan" - quorum, for they are "devarim shebikedusha" - imbued with higher
levels of sanctity. The fact that these sections require a minyan is
derived from the verse "venikdashti besoch Bnei Yisroel" - "and I will be
sanctified in the midst of Bnei Yisroel". Utilizing the hermeneutic
principle, known as the "gezeira shava", a cross-indexing of similar terms
from different sources to shed light upon one another, the Talmud Bavli
derives that a minyan must be comprised of a minimum of ten people. The
aforementioned verse which discusses the sanctification of Hashem in the
midst of Bnei Yisroel uses the term "toch" - "midst". This word is also
found in connection to Korach's evil assembly, where Hashem instructs Moshe
and Aharon "hibadlu mitoch eidah horah hazos" - "separate yourselves from
amidst this evil assembly". Noting that the word "toch" is juxtaposed to the
word "eidah" - "assembly" or "congregation", the Talmud cites a third verse
which defines the number of people in an eidah. In Parshas Shelach, the
spies are referred to as an "eidah"; the verse states "ad masai
lo'eidahharah hazos" - "how long for this evil assembly". Since the verse
refers to only those spies who provoked Hashem, Calev and Yehoshua are
excluded, leaving the group as an assembly of ten. Having defined the term
"eidah" as "ten souls", "toch", which is juxtaposed to "eidah", also refers
to a minimum of ten. Therefore, the sanctification of Hashem in the "midst"
of Bnei Yisroel requires a minyan.
The Talmud Yerushalmi cites a source from this week's parsha to derive the
number of people required for a minyan. The verse relates that the ten
sons of Yisroel entered Mitzrayim "besoch haba'im" - "amongthe arrivals".
The term "besoch" can be cross-referenced to the verse referring to the
sanctification of Hashem. This appears to be a much simpler way of deriving
the same result concluded by the Talmud Bavli. Why does the Talmud Bavli
follow what appears to be a more convoluted derivation than that of the
Rashi cites a Midrash which says that Yaakov's sons all entered Mitzrayim
through separate gates. There is a difference of opinion as to why the
brothers took this course of action. The reason given by Rashi is that
Yaakov specifically instructed them to enter separately to protect them from
an "ayin hara" - "evil eye". Another opinion states that the brothers,
who were searching for Yoseif, decided that the most effective and expedient
manner in which to do so was by entering the city through different
A minyan is not merely ten men praying individually. In order to achieve a
minyan, there must be a collective meeting of the minds; the people involved
must be united for a common purpose and cause. If the brothers had separated
with the specific intent to not be seen together, this cannot be the source
for the requirements of a minyan, which requires the group to be united and
cohesive. However, if the brothers had separated in order to locate Yoseif
in the most efficient manner, this is the ideal source for the requirements
of a minyan, for they shared a common purpose and worked together cohesively
to attain a unified goal.
The Talmud Bavli understands that the brothers separated because they were
following the instructions of Yaakov. Therefore, the Bavli seeks another
source to prove the number required for a minyan. The Talmud Yerushalmi,
understanding that the brothers were united by the common goal of finding
Yoseif, defines the minimum number of people required for a minyan according
to this incident.