The subject matter of this week’s Parsha and the Yom Tov of Chanukah coincide.
Vayeishev is the parsha of Golus; Chanukah is the Yom Tov of Golus.
The parsha begins in darkness: “Yosef dreamt a dream which he told to his brothers and they hated him ….” It ends in Golus.
This is the darkest season. Chanukah is the only Yom Tov during which the moon is waning. Then it disappears and the darkness is complete. These are the longest nights. The trees are bare. Winter is like death, and Chanukah is the Yom Tov of winter.
I heard a fascinating vort from Rabbi Eliyahu Schneider, the beloved posaik of Yeshiva Sh’or Yoshuv. We know that Yaakov Avinu was worried he had lost merit in contrast with Esav because he was absent from his parents’ home for so many years. But Yaakov’s parents commanded him to leave! They sent him to the House of Lavan! Why should he be considered deficient in kibud av v’aim when he was following his parents’ instructions?
According to Rabbeinu Bachya, the problem was not that Yaakov was physically separated from his parents, but rather that he became subservient to Lavan. Yaakov agreed to serve Lavan for fourteen years for Rachel and Leah, and six more years for the sheep! If his parents had asked him to return, he would have been unable to comply because he had indentured himself.
This is a sign for future generations, “ma’ase avos siman l’banim.” The essential danger of Golus is not physical but spiritual. When we subordinate ourselves to the host culture, when we adopt their worldview and their values, then we really do become slaves. The most insidious degree of slavery is when one doesn’t realize he is a slave.
Because Torah is rooted in eternity, it is eternal. All other cultures are temporal and temporary. If a Jew attaches himself to a culture other than his own, he will disappear along with that culture when it ceases to exist.
It is appropriate here to recall the famous words of the non-Jew, Mark Twain:“If the statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one percent of the human race. It suggests a nebulous dim puff of stardust lost in the blaze of the Milky Way. Properly the Jew ought hardly to be heard of; but he is heard of, has always been heard of. He is as prominent on the planet as any other people. He has made a marvelous fight in this world, in all the ages; and he has done it with hands tied behind him… The Egyptian, the Babylonian and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dreamstuff and passed away; the Greek and the Roman followed, and made a vast noise, and they are gone; other peoples have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished. The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?” (Harper’s Magazine, 1879)
Indeed, what is our secret? Our secret is dvaykus with Hashem, which only happens when we are united. At Har Sinai, we received the Torah because we were “K’ish echad b’lev echad… like one man with one heart.” (Rashi on Shemos 19:2)
We went into Golus Mitzraim because of internal strife. The brothers “hated” Yosef, and became distant from each other. This is darkness. There are many explanations of what happened in this parsha, but the essence is that the brothers fought.
My friends, we really must take this to heart. Two Jews can pass each other on the street. One wants to say “Shalom aleichem,” but the other is looking away. Why is he looking away? Because he doesn’t want to say “Shalom aleichem.” This is darkness; this is Golus.
Why do we hurt ourselves for no reason? What are we afraid of?
My parents, of blessed memory, were not from observant families, but both were raised in a culture of derech eretz. They would never have considered performing an act which would hurt another person. Their every action implied consideration and refinement. They wouldn’t leave a mess for another person to clean up. They covered their mouth when they yawned. They were honest to the penny. My father “loved” to pay taxes! Why? Because he was grateful that he lived in a benevolent culture and felt it was his obligation to support the stable government under which he lived.
Because of my parents, I became observant. “Derech eretz kadma l’Torah.” Their values led me naturally to search for the Ribono shel Olam, Who administers the entire universe with perfect fairness and benevolence.
The sons of Yaakov Avinu were on a madreiga of righteousness beyond our understanding, yet clearly they made mistakes. Whatever the explanation, hatred among them was to cause repercussions to this very day, with tragic and terrible consequences. All our tzouris is rooted in sinas chinom, and the brothers’ strife led straight into Golus Mitzraim. Our only path to redemption is to return, as our ancestors returned at Har Sinai, to the achdus which enabled us to receive the Torah. I believe it is not an exaggeration to say that one smile to another Yid can tip the scale. We have to repair the terrible breach of sinas chinom!
My friends, we are entering Chanukah. It is possible to illuminate the darkness. We can become one again, but we have to understand that our very lives depend upon it. Golus began in darkness, but we can bring light to the world by reuniting as One Nation. Only then can we return in teshuva to Avinu Sh’bashomayim and bring Moshiach ben Dovid.
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Roy Neuberger, author and public speaker, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© Copyright 2016 by Roy S. Neuberger