Parshas Vayeishev, of course, centers around mechiras Yosef, the sale of Yosef to the Egyptians. The original plan to kill Yosef was averted when Yehuda suggested that instead of killing him, they could simply sell Yosef as a slave. In the spirit of the dictum of Chazal, our Sages, that, “Hashem creates the solution to the problem before he creates the problem (Megillah 13b),” even before the Torah introduces Yehuda’s suggestion, it describes the caravan of Ishmaelites that were ultimately to become Yosef’s purchasers/saviours (37:25):
They sat to eat food; they raised their eyes and saw: Behold – a caravan of Ishmaelites was coming from Gilead, their camels bearing spices, balsam, and lotus, on their way to bring [the spices] down to Egypt.
Rashi (ibid.) questions the need for the Torah to apprise us of what the Ishmaelites were carrying:
Why did the Torah publicize their load?… Normally, Arabs [in those times] transported foul smelling cargo, such as naphthalene and tar. But in order to spare Yosef from their offensive odor, Hashem arranged that this caravan be an exception [and carry fragrant spices].
It kind of makes you wonder: If, on a scale of life-harrowing experiences from one to one hundred, being sold into slavery by your own brothers to a tar-bearing caravan ranks say a 95, then what does being sold into slavery by your brothers to a spice-bearing caravan rank? – Perhaps a 94.99? After such a distressing and life-changing occurrence, was the cargo of his abductors really cause for celebration?
Everyone knows the story of Chanukah: The occupying Greek forces overtook the Beis HaMikdash (Holy Temple) and defiled all its vessels. A three-year war ensued, and ultimately a small, untrained Jewish army comprised mainly of Torah scholars emerged victorious. A small jar of pure, undefiled, olive oil was found which should have only been capable of burning for one day. To produce new oil would take a full eight days. The Jews lit the Menorah for one night, and a miracle occurred and the one-day oil lasted for a full eight days. In gratitude for this miracle, our Sages decreed that every year we should light Chanukah candles for eight days.
The part of the Chanukah story that usually eludes us, however, is this: How many days until that point had the Beis HaMikdash stood barren, and the Holy Menorah bereft of her lights? On a grand scale, is the difference between three years of destitution, or three years and seven days of destitution, so great that it is a cause for celebration and Yom Tov?
A woman calls her husband to chat while he’s at work. “I’m sorry,” he says, “but I’m up to my neck in work here. Maybe we can talk later.”
“But I’ve got something important to tell you. Actually, I’ve got good news and bad news – which would you like first?”
“Okay, but I’ve really got no time now – just give me the good news.”
“Well – the air bag works.”
Perhaps the above questions, puzzling as they may at first seem, are in fact erroneously rooted in the perfectionist, excessively-indulgent attitude of self-centeredness that permeates modern society. When everything works out just the way we expected, when things go just as planned, then there is cause for thanks and celebration. But if, Heaven forbid, there was a hitch in our daily routine; the doctor kept us waiting, someone broke our favorite coffee mug, or – and this is certainly the most distressing of all – someone messed up our carpool arrangements, then, as they say in Yiddish, we have every reason to be ois mentsch! How dare someone (or G-d for that matter) have the audacity to completely ruin our otherwise picture-perfect day! Let’s face it: The conveniences of the “civilized world” have produced a generation of shamelessly spoiled brats.
How different and refreshing, then, is the attitude of the Torah and Chazal. Not only is a bad-sheitel day not due cause for mourning and lamentation – to the contrary: A small measure of grace, hidden within a mountain of hardship and adversity, is still reason for joy and gratefulness. The Torah, in its description of Yosef’s abductors, and Chazal, in their formation of the mitzvah of Neiros Chanukah, are impressing upon us the need to seek the good within bad, and not to focus on the negative. Instead of declaring a national day of sadness over the bitter war and destruction, we focus on the small measure of goodness granted us by G-d: The candles were able to burn for seven more days!
As we gaze intently at our Chanukah candles this Sunday night, perhaps it is an appropriate time to ponder over the small (or large) sparks of light and joy within our lives, and remember that small miracles are cause for celebration too.
Have a good Shabbos, and a freilichen Chanukah.
This week’s publication was sponsored by
Chaim Zvi Lebovitz