A Window of Opportunity
Parshas Vayeishev - Chanukah
A Window of Opportunity
There are moments in life which define us as people. The way we react to challenging situations that arise sculpts us into who we will become. These sudden circumstances typically push us to our outer limits. In order to emerge the victor, we must reach deep within ourselves and tap into that Divine spark planted within us. If we truly give it our all, we will overcome because God will send us the aid that we need to succeed.
One example of this is the temptation that presented itself to Yosef when he was in Egypt. As one of the most handsome men ever, Yosef caught the eye of his master's wife. Yosef had been betrayed by his brothers who sold him as a slave. The royal butcher, Potifar, purchased Yosef on the slave market. Potifar's wife, Zuleichah, was an attractive woman who was obsessed with Yosef. At every opportunity, she would try to seduce him. Time and again, Yosef refused her adamantly.
But then, one day, the enticement reached its peak. Yosef entered the house "la'asos melachto" (to do his work; Gn. 39:11). No other member of the household was home that day, besides Zuleichah. Using everything in her arsenal to snare Yosef to be with her, she created an overwhelming lust which almost broke Yosef.
Unexpectedly, an image of Ya'akov appeared to Yosef in the window (Sota, chap. 7, "Eilu Ne'emarin", pg. 36b). The sight of this hologram helped Yosef strengthen himself. He fled the premises, leaving his clothing behind in her hands.
Why did Ya'akov's image appear to Yosef specifically in the window? Why not have the hologram appear right there in the room next to where the two of them were standing?
The Leket Imrei Kodesh (Vayeishev, Reb Aharon of Belze, citing his father Reb Yissachar Dov of Belze) says that one answer will be understood by the two following Talmudic pieces. The first one says that a person should only pray in a room with windows, and pray facing the window (Berachos, chap. 5, "Ain Omdin", pg. 34b, Dan. 6:11; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 90:4). The other says that, when praying, one should face Israel, Jerusalem, the place of the Beis Hamikdash, and the Holy of Holies (Berachos, chap. 4, "Tefillas Hashachar", pg. 30b).
Without a doubt, Yosef prayed three times a day. He prayed his father's evening service, his grandfather's afternoon service, and his great grandfather's morning service (Berachos, chap. 4, "Tefillas Hashachar", pg. 26b, Rebbi Yosi B'rebbi Chaninah).
No doubt about it, when Yosef prayed, he did so opposite a window facing Israel, concentrating on Jerusalem, the Temple Mount, and the Holy of Holies.
Therefore, in the merit of all those prayers that Yosef davened at the window, he merited that his father's image appeared to him specifically by the window to strengthen him against Zulaichah's advances.
However, the Imrei Noam, (Rabbi Meir Horowitz, the Dzikover Rebbe, 1819-1877, grandson of the Ropshitzer Rebbe) offers another approach as to why Ya'akov's hologram appeared specifically in the window. He says that when Zulaichah's seduction reached its peak, and Ya'akov's image appeared in the window, it was the eighth day of Chanukkah, which we call "Zos Chanukkah."
Therefore, when it says that Yosef came home to do "melachto" (his work; see Sota, chap. 7, "Eilu Ne'emarin", pg. 36b, Rav and Shmuel), it means that he came home to do his "meleches hakodesh" (holy work) of lighting the Chanukkah candles. Yosef did this way before the Chanukkah story even happened. (This should not come as a surprise. After all, we find Avraham celebrating Passover with matzos way before the Passover story happened (Gn. 19:3, Rashi citing Bereishis Rabba; Sifsei Chachamim #1). If Avraham could celebrate a future holiday that he was aware of prophetically, so could Yosef.
There is even a hint which supports this idea that that fateful day was Zos Chanukkah. The verse says that Yosef came to do "melachto." The numerical value of "melachto" is 497. This number is the same exact numerical value of the words "Zos Chanukkah", indicating that Yosef's holy work was the lighting of the candles on Zos Chanukkah.
Where do you think Yosef lit the Chanukkah candles? In the window. Therefore, in the merit of lighting the Chanukkah candles in the window, Yosef merited a visitation of Ya'akov's image specifically in the window which helped him fortify himself against Zulaichah's seduction.
We find that Yosef is very much connected to Chanukkah. The Syrian-Greek king at the time of the Chanukkah story was Antiyochus. The name "Antiyochus" is numerically 156. This is the same numerical value as "melech Yavan" (king of Greece), and it is the same numerical value as "Yosef" (Megaleh Amukos, Vaeschanan).
This teaches us that Yosef and Antiyochus Melech Yavan were antithetical to each other. This is because the Yevanim (Greeks) represented the impurity of immorality, whereas Yosef represented holiness in this area. The Yevanim tried to abolish the practice of circumcision from the Jews (Megillas Antiyochus, 1:9). Circumcision is meant to direct those impulses and urges towards God. By attempting to do away with circumcision, the Yevanim made it clear that they intended to spiritually defile the Jews with immorality.
The Yevanim also decreed that any young Jewish virgin bride, prior to her wedding, had to spend the night with the Greek governor in her district (Rashi Shabbos, chap. 2, "Bameh Madlikin", pg. 23a, "hayu"). This was intended to ruin the purity of the Jewish people.
Yosef stood for the polar opposite of the Yevanim. He demonstrated this by withstanding Potifar's wife. The numerical equivalency between Yosef and Antiyochus Melech Yavan shows us that there was a spiritual battle raging on between the two.
In the end, the Chashmonaim (Hasmoneans) defeated the Yevanim. This doesn't only mean that they defeated the Yevanim on the battle field, but it also means that they destroyed the spiritual contamination that Yavan wanted to spread.
But where did just a handful of Jews get the strength to overcome the pressures of an entire culture of Greek civilization? How did they successfully drive out the negative components of modernity and western culture which infiltrated Eretz Yisrael at that time? How can one stop it? The answer is that they drew upon the energy of Yosef.
When Yosef lit his Chanukkah candles in the window facing the future site of the Beis Hamikdash (Temple), he was sending his essence and energy to that place. Yosef created a pocket of his holiness to remain on the Temple Mount so that, in the future, the Chashmonaim would be able to tap into that energy and drive Greek influence out of Eretz Yisrael (Shvilei Pinchas).
Since Yosef reached out to others in an attempt to assist them against immorality, Yosef deserved to be assisted as well by his father's hologram which helped Yosef stand up to the temptations that he had to face.
Let us delve a little bit more into Yosef's Chanukkah candles. Our tradition follows Hillel who says that each night we are supposed to add one candle (Shabbos, chap. 2, "Bameh Madlikin", pg.21b). The result of this practice is that the sum total of candles lit over the duration of Chanukkah is 36 (excluding the shamashim).
When Yosef lit his menorah on the eighth day of Chanukkah in the window, he completed the traditional lighting of 36 candles. In the merit of the 36 candles, Yosef deserved to witness his father's image appear in the window.
Perhaps we could suggest that the number 36 carries a special significance. The Talmud (Succah, chap. 4, "Lulav Va'arava", pg. 45b, Abaye, Isa. 30:18) says that in every generation, there are 36 righteous people in whose merits the world stands. Since nobody knows who those 36 righteous people are, they are called the Lamed Vov Tzadikkim Nistarim (the 36 hidden righteous people). Yosef was one of those hidden righteous ones. We can see this by tracing his genealogy.
When Rivka was expecting twins, every time she passed by a yeshiva, Ya'akov rushed to get out.
Every time she passed by a house of idolatry, Eisav rushed to get out (Bereishis Rabba, 63:7). Apparently, Eisav was already rushing out to participate in idolatry. This seems unfair because it looks like their fates were predetermined. It looks like Eisav had no other alternative but to follow the script. The problem is, "What happened to free choice?"
A deeper analysis of this Midrash reveals a different perspective. God's vision was that these two boys would grow up to be two different types of Tzadikkim. Ya'akov was meant to be a Tzaddik Niglah (revealed Tzaddik). Ya'akov looked VERY religious. But since it says that we attribute truth to Ya'akov (Mic. 7:20), it means that Ya'akov was religious through and through. What you see is what you get. If Ya'akov looked religious on the outside, then you can bet your bottom dollar that he actually was religious on the inside (Berachos, chap. 4, "Tefillas Hashachar", pg. 28a). There was nothing phony about Ya'akov.
The Ya'akov type Tzaddik appeals to the Olam Hatorah (the Torah world). Those who appreciate what Torah is will appreciate Ya'akov and flock around him to drink his words thirstily. Ya'akov thrives in a yeshiva environment.
This is why Ya'akov rushed to get out of Rivka's womb every time she passed by a Beit Midrash. That's where he does his best work.
However, how many people does Ya'akov speak to. In most generations, observant Jews numbered in the minority. Only b'nei Torah are attracted to Ya'akov. It's ironic. Although Torah students cannot get enough of Ya'akov, most Jews find him threatening. Can you imagine Ya'akov going into a bar to convince some Jews to join a Yeshiva? I could just see some secular Jews at a table in the far corner react by saying, "OMG! Look what the wind just blew in. Let's get out of here." These people's shields go up. They are not willing to hear what Ya'akov has to say.
This is why we also need another type of Tzaddik, the Eisav type. God's vision for Eisav was to be a Tzaddik Nistar (hidden Tzaddik). It says that Eisav was a man of the field (Gn. 23:27). And you know what? He looked like a man of the field. He looked like a hunter. Yet, in the beginning, when Eisav began his path in Avodas Hashem, he was as committed to God on the inside as Ya'akov was, even though he was surrounded by an environment that was antithetical to spirituality.
Eisav walks into a bar and nobody bats an eyelash. Eisav looks like he belongs in a bar. Eisav is suave. He knows the moves. He knows how to mingle. He pulls up a chair next to some Jews hanging out, and they love him. Eisav is good looking. He is successful. He is strong. In a secular environment, those are values to die for. They look up to him. But little do they know that they are sitting next to the Tzaddik Hador (righteous one of the generation).
Their shields are down. They want to learn from Eisav. He becomes their role model. Eisav begins to plant within them the seeds of God. They witness his integrity. They observe his refined character. They admire Eisav. They want to be more like him. Eventually, when they are ready, Eisav sends them to Ya'akov's yeshiva.
Obviously, it is more difficult to be Eisav than Ya'akov. It's one thing to remain strong within the walls of a yeshiva, surrounded by holy books, Torah learning, and prayer. It's another thing to be as connected to God while surrounded by all the distractions that the materialistic world has to offer.
This is why Yitzchak loved Eisav more than Ya'akov (Gn.25:28). Eisav was the bigger Tzaddik. However, unfortunately, Eisav began to enjoy the activities that he was surrounded by. Eventually, when Eisav walked into a bar, he was more into the bar than the mitzvah. Slowly, Eisav slipped further and further away from Hashem.
Yitzchak was still hopeful. Maybe if I give him the blessings, it'll bring him back. But, Rivka understood that Eisav was no longer in the game. So, she arranged that Ya'akov receive the blessings. Eventually, Yitzchak acquiesced. We have no choice. We will have to bank on Ya'akov "bedieved" (as a last resort). Ya'akov could not rebuke Eisav and tell him to repent, because Eisav could say to him, "Don't you tell me to fix myself until you walk a thousand miles in my moccasins (Avos, chap. 2, "Rebbi Omer", Mishnah 5, Hillel). Let's see you hang out on Times Square and remain completely committed to Torah."
So, Ya'akov went to Lavan. But, immediately after Rochel gave birth to Yosef, Ya'akov said that he wanted to return home (Gn. 30:25). Now he can meet Eisav because Ya'akov perceived that the essence of Yosef's soul was that of a hidden Tzaddik. Yosef will be able to rebuke Eisav, telling him to repent. If Eisav says, "Who are you to talk", Yosef could respond, "I'm everybody to talk", because Yosef would also be exposed to spiritually unhealthy elements, and yet stay strongly committed to God.
Yosef is called a "child" (Gn. 37:2) because he engaged in childish activities such as fixing his hair (Bereishis Rabba, 84:7). The Midrash depicts Yosef like some kind of modern day teenager, greasing his hair back, constantly looking in the mirror concerned about his outer appearances. He dressed like he belonged on the cover of Today's Man. Is this the behavior of a Tzaddik? What's he doing?
This was all a facade. On the outside, he appeared like an average kid from next door. But deep down he was actually the world's greatest Tzaddik.
This is why the brothers hated Yosef (gn. 37:4). They thought that he was another Eisav. They reasoned that Avraham had a Yishmael and Yitzchak had an Eisav. Must be that Ya'akov had a Yosef. We have enough problems with Yishmael and Eisav, let's get rid of Yosef while we can.
But they were mistaken. They didn't see what Ya'akov saw, that Yosef was a hidden Tzaddik. When the brothers decided not to kill Yosef, it was a tremendous leniency on their part. Even though they thought that Yosef was a Rasha (wicked person), they said that after all, he is a brother. One should not kill one's own brother (Gn. 37:26). So, let's just get him out of here and sell him to a distant country (Gn. 37:27).
When Yosef became the viceroy, an entire verse describes how he got dressed in the morning. This seems like unnecessary information, but in truth the Torah is dropping a bomb. The verse says that Yosef wore Egyptian clothing and Egyptian jewelry (Gn.41:42). This comes to teach us that Yosef dressed like an Egyptian, he walked like an Egyptian, he talked like an Egyptian, he smelled like an Egyptian, but still remained Yosef Hatzaddik.
In a non-threatening way, Yosef raised the entire Egyptian empire to a spiritually higher status by having them all undergo circumcision. This was not meant to convert them, but to minimize their lustful drives. Yosef was everything that Eisav could have been. Yosef was everything that Eisav should have been.
Now we can get back to Yosef lighting Chanukkah candles on the eighth day, completing the 36 candles. The 36 Chanukkah candles correspond to the 36 hidden Tzaddikim, whose souls shine brightly. When Yosef was lighting the final candles, he was reminding himself that his mission was to be a hidden Tzaddik and stay true to God. Yosef was trying to strengthen himself to resist the temptations of Potifar's wife. Since Yosef was working on himself so much, he merited to receive a visit from his father's image to help him fortify himself against overwhelming odds.
Speaking of the eighth day of Chanukkah, let's talk about the three mitzvos that the Greeks wanted to uproot. They were Chodesh, Shabbos, and Milah (Rosh Chodesh, the Sabbath, and circumcision; See Megillas Antiyochus, 1:9. According to Rav Sa'adya Gaon, this book was written by the children of Matisyahu the Hasmonean. According to the Behag, it was written by the elders of Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel. This book also has other names, such as "Megillah Yevanis, Megillas Chanukkah, and Megillas Beis Chashmonai. The book is a historical recording of the events which transpired during the Chanukkah story).
The Imrei Noam points to a hint which supports this. In the Chanukkah liturgy it says, "Biyimei Matisyahu ben Yochanan" (in the days of Matisyahu the son of Yochanan). The numerical value of these four words are 1,099 which is the same numerical value as, "Chodesh, Shabbos, Milah", indicating that in the days of Matisyahu ben Yochanan, the Yevanim tried to abolish Chodesh, Shabbos, and Milah.
But, they did not succeed, because we won and held on to these three mitzvos. Every Chanukkah celebration hints to our maintaining the observance of these three mitzvos. On every Chanukkah, without exception, there is a Shabbos, a Rosh Chodesh, and the holiday lasts for eight days, representing the mitzvah of Milah which is performed on the eighth day after the birth of a Jewish baby boy (Bnei Yiossaschar, Kislev-Teves, 4:84, Chida in Rosh Dovid).
This answers the famous Beis Yosef question (Orach Chaim, hilchos Chanukkah, 670:1) as to why we celebrate Chanukkah for eight days. He says that the flask of oil which they found had enough oil to last for the first day, but it miraculously lasted for eight. Therefore, the first day was not miraculous, only seven days were. As such, we should only celebrate Chanukkah for seven days. Why do we celebrate it for eight?
The Chidah answers by saying that you're right, the first day may not have been miraculous, but they decided to celebrate it for eight days anyway in order to have a remembrance of the mitzvah of Milah that we held on to.
This is one reason why we call the eighth day of Chanukkah "Zos Chanukkah". It is because the word "Zos" refers to circumcision (See Shemos rabba, 38:8; Lv. 16:3; Gn. 17:10). Therefore, saying "Zos Chanukkah" is like saying "Milah Chanukkah", reminding ourselves of the mitzvah of circumcision that we held on to tenaciously (Shvilei Pinchas).
The message of circumcision is to remove excess impulses in areas of immorality. This is represented by the removal of the foreskin (Rambam, Moreh Nevuchim, 3:49). Circumcision is also meant to increase holiness by revealing the sign of God's covenant engraved on our bodies (Ramban, Gn. 17:9). As Yosef lit the candles on the eighth day of Chanukkah, he was tapping in to the mitzvah of milah which is done on the eighth day in order to diminish overindulgence for erotic drives and in order to increase holiness within, in order to withstand Zulaicha's advances (Shvilei Pinchas).
By lighting in the widow that he prayed in daily which faced Eretz Yisrael and the place of the Beis Hamikdash, Yosef was sending Milah's energy to the Hasmoneans of the future to help them connect to it and stand up to Greek temptations (Shvilei Pinchas). Yosef was doing it on the individual level, and he hope and prayed for the Hasmoneans to do it on the national level.
Since Yosef reached out to help others, Ya'akov reached out to help him, and a hologram of Ya'akov appeared in the window.
This is why Yosef threw a Chanukkah party in Egypt. When Yosef saw Binyamin, he invited his brothers to wine and dine with him. Yosef told the one in charge of his household to "Tevach Vihachen" (slaughter meat and prepare it; Gn. 43:16). If you take the last letter of the word "Tevach" (slaughter), which is a letter "ches", and move it over to the next word "Vihachen "(prepare), and rearrange the order of the letters, it spells the word "Chanukkah" (Shiltei Giborim on Hagahos Mordechai, Shabbos, chap. 2).
It is not arbitrary that the word Chanukkah appears in a parsha that always falls out on Chanukkah. Since the word Chanukkah appears in a context about eating a meal, we can deduce that Yosef was having a seudas mitzvah, a seudas Chanukkah with his family. Why? Because Chanukkah is a time of Hallel and Hoda'a (praise and thanks). Yosef wanted to thank Hashem for Chanukkah because it gave Yosef the inner strength to overcome insurmountable challenges. Here he was, on top of the world, having passed his most difficult test. Chanukkah empowered him, and so he wished to celebrate it (Shvilei Pinchas).
Since Ya'akov assisted Yosef with his test, both Ya'akov and Yosef are compared to fire (See Rashi Gn. 30:25, citing Baba Basra, chap. 8, "Yesh Nochalin", pg. 123b, Oba. 1:18). The fire that they are compared to are the Chanukkah lights. Ya'akov transmitted to Yosef all that he learned in the academies of Shem and Ever (Bereishis Rabba, 84:8, Rebbi Nechemia). In the yeshiva of Shem and Ever, they taught Ya'akov about the power of Chanukkah candles. Ya'akov taught Yosef all that he learned in those academies. Ya'akov taught Yosef about the secret of Chanukkah, the menorah, the olive oil, and its light. The secret of those lights is that it has the power to stand up against the temptations that Eisav and Yavan entice us with. Both Eisav (Rome) and Yavan shared commonalities, by focusing on materialism (Imrei Noam).
This is why Ya'akov put himself in mortal danger by going back alone at night to get the small flasks (Gn.32:25). The small flasks contained the olive oil for Chanukkah candles that was needed to withstand the evil forces of Eisav that he was going to meet the next day (Megaleh Amukos).
Practically speaking, after lighting the Chanukkah candles this year, let's gaze at its light for one extra minute and say the following prayer, "Master of the Universe, please help me absorb the holy light of these 36 candles that we light over these eight days in order to destroy any evil impulses of immorality that might exist within me, in order to fill myself with holiness, so that I can withstand any challenges in this area."
So, may we b'nei Ya'akov and Yosef all be blessed to become the Hasmoneans of today and absorb the holy light of the 36 Chanukkah candles - burning in our eyes like fire - which will open the window of Kedushas Habris to us, which will remove the evil forces of Eisav and Yavan, resulting in the return of our Beis Hamikdash with its menorah of shemen zayis.