When our Sages overlaid the cycle of weekly Torah readings onto our calendar, it was done such that each portion would be appropriate to the season in which it is read. As we celebrate the first of this year’s two Shabbasos of Chanuka, we consider the relationship between our celebration and the parsha’s discussion of the dynamic between Yosef (Joseph) and his brothers.
There is a peculiar contrast between the Talmud’s relation of the miracle of Chanuka and that which we emphasize in the “Al HaNissim” addition to the Amidah (prayer of 19 blessings, central to our thrice daily services) and Bircas HaMazon (Grace after Meals). When the Talmud (Tractate Shabbos 21b) relates the essence of Chanuka, it skips the entire story of the war against the Greeks and presents the miracle of the lone flask of oil found intact in the Bais HaMikdash (Holy Temple in Jerusalem) which contained one day’s oil but burned for eight, until new oil could be manufactured. In our prayers, however, we thank G-d for delivering the mighty into the hands of the few and focus on the miraculous military victory, but do not mention the miracle of the Menora. So which was the true miracle of Chanuka? And if they are both of equal importance, then why are not both mentioned in the Talmud and our prayers?
Rabbi Chaim Friedlander (Mashgiach/Spiritual Mentor of Ponovezh Yeshiva in B’nai Brak, close disciple of Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler) explains that there are two types of miracles that G-d performs. Some defy the laws of nature while others work within the laws of nature. Both are of Divine orchestration, but more people readily recognize G-d’s hand in those that defy nature. Both are utilized to fulfill the Divine will, regardless of human efforts to the contrary. The primary miracle of Chanuka was our salvation from our enemies and the restoration of uninhibited service of G-d. This is the miracle for which we offer thanks in our prayers because of its more profound impact on our lives. But if this was the only miracle, there may be skeptics who would deny G-d’s involvement and the truly miraculous nature of the war. They would attribute the military success to superior strategies, training or execution. The miracle of the oil, however, was undeniable. Nothing in nature could explain one day’s oil lasting for eight. This miracle was clearly Divine and reveals G-d’s role in the military victory, as well. Therefore, the Talmud assigns the reason for the Chanuka celebration to the miracle of the lights. Were it not for that miracle illuminating the Divine role in the entire sequence, G-d’s influence on the outcome of the war could be denied. The real message of Chanuka is the recognition that G-d is involved in all facets of our lives and His will is carried out, no matter the actions of man.
The connection to the parsha is now obvious. Yosef’s brothers sold him into slavery (Beraishis/Genesis 37:28) to ensure that his dreams of his leadership and their subservience would not be fulfilled. But it was this very sale that put into play the sequence of events that lead to the dreams’ realization. The Greeks did not threaten the physical existence of the Jewish people; they strove for our spiritual annihilation. The crushing of this effort spawned an eight day celebration that has enhanced our religious consciousness for centuries. We, too, have the Divine gift of freedom to make choices that have the potential to impact our lives and the lives of others. But our choices are only “potential”. G-d has His master plan, and He absorbs our choices – just as He did the choices of Yosef’s brothers and the Greeks – as He performs miracles daily, shaping the events that see His ultimate plan to fruition.
Have a Good Shabbos and a Happy Chanuka!
Copyright © 2002 by Rabbi Pinchas Avruch and Project Genesis, Inc.
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