Parashat Vayeshev

Chanukah /intermarriage would destroy us spiritually

By Rabbi By Rabbi Eli Mansour

The connection between our Parasha which speaks of Yosef and his test, and the holiday of Hanukah.

The main objective of the Greeks in the times of Hanukah was to get the Jews to merge with them. They did not want to kill us, they only wanted us to be like them, and intermarry with them which would destroy us spiritually. They were trying to break the imaginary fence created by Yosef Hasadik, and thereby reawaken the sin of the brothers.

The first thing the Greeks did after they breached the walls of the holy temple was to touch, and defile all of the oil that was found. Why would they want to defile all of the oil? What is so special about oil that they rushed to make it impure?? Oil represents separation; it is the only liquid that does not in any way coexist with another liquid. When we pour oil and water in the same vessel, the oil always rises to the top and separates from the water. The Greeks tried to defile and nullify this barrier that the oil represents.

The Greeks made a strange decree; they commanded that the Jews inscribe on a horn of an ox “we have no portion in the G-d of Israel”. Why would they want this written on the horn of an ox?! The ox represents Yosef, as it says (in Parashat Vezot Haberacha in reference to Yosef); “ “ (the firstling of an ox, beauty is לו‭ ‬הדר שורו בכור his). They wanted the Jews to write this on the horn of an ox- that stands for Yosef – to try and break the barriers that Yosef set when he passed his test.

They were almost successful. The Jews began to act like the Greeks. They began to attend their events, and participate in their sports. The Greeks would appear naked in their activities, and the Jews would copy. They wanted to blend in so badly that they even performed procedures to cover their Brit Kodesh. However in the end, a small group of feeble Jews known as the Maccabee (מכבים) fought back, and saved the Jews from total spiritual total destruction. מכבי stands for (The name Maccabee it is an acrostic for Mi Kamocha Ba-Elim Hashem! (Who is like You among the mighty, O G‑d!) –

They were not mighty men as depicted in the children’s books, they were physically weak as it says “גבורים‭ ‬ביד‭ ‬חלשים “(mighty in the hands of the weak).

How did the מכבים have the strength to prevent the attempt of the Greeks to assimilate us? It was through the power of Yosef Hasadik. The powerful impact of separation that Yosef had when he passed his test broke through the attempts of the Greeks to stop it. The numerical value of אנטיכוס the king of the Greeks is 156. This is also the numerical value of the words מלך‭ ‬יון) king of the Greeks) 156. The numerical value of יוסף is also 156. This shows that it was Yosef who nullified the attempts of אנטיכוס‭ ‬מלך‭ ‬יון, and enabled the Jews to withstand the test of assimilating with the Greeks! We allude to this in the על‭ ‬הניסים prayer in the Amidah.

We say “ ופרצו‭ ‬חומות‭ ‬מגדלי “ -“they breached walls of our tower”. These walls are the imaginary walls of holiness that separated us and them.

In the end, the power of Yosef stood for us as we say: “עשית‭ ‬תשועה‭ ‬גדולה‭ ‬ופרקן‭ ‬כהיום‭ ‬הזה you made a great salvation and deliverance as it is to this day”. We mention these words כהיום‭ ‬הזה again, the exact words used by the test of Yosef with Potiphar’s wife “ “ ! ויהי כהיום‭ ‬הזה

Yosef was thrown in jail (by the husband of Potiphar), on account of his passing his test, and the Torah call this jail a בור.We see that as a result of passing the test he was thrown in a בור ,this is like the בור that Yosef was originally thrown into by his brothers which contained snakes and scorpions. Miraculously Yosef was not harmed by the poisonous snakes and scorpions. Why did Hashem make this miracle (of saving Yosef from snakes and scorpions), that no one but Yosef knew about?! The explanation is, that sometimes the prophets do an action to symbolize a prophecy. With the action, they make the prophecy “literal”. Here too, Yosef being saved from the snakes and scorpions symbolized his being saved from the snakes and scorpions of Egypt! It was a literal act that pertained to the future. These snakes and scorpions were the Satan in the form of the tests that Yosef faced in Egypt, especially the test of the wife of Potiphar.

This explains the connection between two Gemarot in the Gemarah Shabbat. The Gemarah says that in the pit of Yosef were snakes and scorpions. Immediately afterwards the Gemarah says that we must light the Hanukah Menorah below 20 אמות . What connects these two ideas? One explanation is that the brothers were not able to see the snakes and scorpions in the pit (this is obvious, for if they were able to see them, and then see Yosef being saved from them, they would realize that he was a Sadik and never would have sold him!). The pit of Yosef was 20 אמות deep, we see from here that the eye can only see clearly up until 20 אמות, therefore we must light the Menorah below 20 so that it may be seen by all. Another understanding between the connection of the two Gemarot, is what has been explained regarding the connection between Yosef and Hanukah. The selling of Yosef – which led to his test – enabled us to ultimately merit the miracle of Hanukah, and light the Menorah! Yosef passed his test through העינים שמירת) guarding his eyes). The women would try and make Yosef look up at them, but Yosef would not raise his eyes. We therefore light the Menorah in a visible place (under 20 אמות (where all can see. In the merit of Yosef’s purity of eyes, we merit a Mitzvah that can be seen by all eyes!

Where did Yosef get the strength to control himself with the wife of Potiphar, and thereby merit imbuing the Jews with holiness to separate themselves from the Goyim, thus saving them at the time of Hanukah?? It was from Yaakov Avinu, as mentioned Yaakov taught Yosef and fortified him for his exile. When the moment came that Yosef needed to control himself, Yaakov appeared to him and saved him. The Gemarah in Shabbat (Daf 36) says that at that moment of Yosef’s test, Yaakov appeared to him בחלון”-in the window”. Yosef perceived his father’s image in the window, and this saved him. Why the window?? The word חלון stands for Hanukah. The middle letters are לו which is numerically 36. We light a total of 36 candles throughout the holiday of Hanukah (excluding the Shamash). The outer letters are ח-נ which stands for נר‭ ‬חנוכה – Hanukah candles.

This is why we light the Menorah by a window! We remember that it was because Yaakov appeared to Yosef in the window, that we merited this miracle of Hanukah! We light oil with a little bit of water on the bottom to show this separation and commemorate being saved from the Greeks, who tried to nullify the holiness and separation represented by oil!

We read this Parasha around the time of Hanukah because it is the Parasha that speaks of Yaakov and Yosef and the story of his test, which gave us our salvation.

Ezra Hasofer gave a powerful speech to the people of his generation, imploring them to divorce their non Jewish wives. The anniversary of this speech is this week’s Parasha. Ezra waited for this time in order to “tap into” the holiness of separation created by Yosef. Through this speech he was successful in purifying the nation from their intermarriage.

When we light the Menorah we should concentrate on this holiness. We should remember that we are special and different from the other nations. Our dress, behavior, and general conduct must be different from the Goyim. We are like the oil that must not and cannot mix with others. “If the Jews do not make Kiddush, the Goyim will make Havdalah”. If we do not separate and be מקדש) sanctify) ourselves, and instead try and be like the Goyim, they well make הבדלה) separation) and separate us from them, with force ו’’ח ! We must remember who we are, and how great our nation is. This is what the holiday of Hanukah represents.

It is not by chance that this is the most “commercialized” holiday, and the Goyim are very familiar with our Menorah lighting. They try and merge their holiday with ours, but this is the exact opposite of what this holiday means to us! It is only us that are holy to Hashem and only us that will always be!

facts of life: take this serious

Chanukah – Getting Our Hearts Back in It / Greeks tried to make the Jews forget the Torah by prohibiting Torah study

The commentator Bach, in the beginning of the laws of Chanukah, explains why the Greeks were given the opportunity to rule over Klal Yisroel, nullifying the daily sacrifice (Tamid offering), and rendering the oil for the Menorah tamei – unfit for use. He says the Jewish people were lax in their (avodat HaShem) – in their performance and appreciation of Mitzvot. As a result, they lost their simcha and their enthusiasm, especially in the continual, everyday commandments, such as the Korban Tamid and the daily lighting of the Menorah (Ner Tamid). Their observance became rote (unthinkingly), their hearts weren’t in it.

Therefore, HaShem responded by removing these particular privileges through the vehicle of the Greek subjugation – measure for measure. CHAZAL (the Rabbis) tell us that the Greeks tried to make the Jews forget the Torah by prohibiting Torah study. They made a seemingly bizarre decree that the Jews should write on the horn of an ox that they have no portion in HaShem – that they possess no unique and precious relationship with the Creator of the Universe – that they were just like everyone else. Rabbis also pointed out that in museums showing ancient Greek culture the Greeks used cow’s horns to feed their babies. So they inscribed this phrase on the horn to influence Jewish babies at the earliest age.The Maharal teaches that the Greeks were reminding the Jews of the sin of worshipping the golden calf. But why was it necessary to bring up an episode that happened many centuries earlier?

When Moshe descended the mountain and saw the transgression of the golden calf, he threw down and broke the Luchot (the two tablets he received from HaShem). This incident instituted the capacity for Torah to be forgotten amongst the Jewish People for future generations. Moshe, after having received atonement for the nation, had to spend another 40 days on top of Har Sinai “relearning” the Torah that was lost and forgotten as a result of this sin.

So, what were the Greeks trying to prove? The Sifrei explains that writing this deflating pronouncement on the horn of an ox was a stark reminder of the distancing of the relationship the Jewish People created between themselves and HaShem just 40 days after receiving the Torah on Har Sinai. This breakdown manifested itself again during the time of Chanukah. The Greeks were attempting to drive a wedge in the connection between Klal Yisroel and the al-Mighty.

The Sifrei comments that there is another commonality between these two tragic episodes -the Jewish People separated themselves from HaShem and spirituality by indulging themselves in physical gratification. We say in the second paragraph of Kriat Shema, “And you will eat and be satisfied. Beware, lest your heart be seduced and you turn astray and serve other gods and bow down to them.” If a person engrosses himself in the excesses of this world, says the Sifrei, it takes him away from Torah. “Jeshurun (the Jewish People) became fat and kicked,” (Devarim 32, 15).

Because of indulgent eating and drinking, the Sifrei comments, their hearts were displaced. If we as a nation distance ourselves from HaShem and His Torah, we will incorporate (G-d forbid) false ideologies and improper perspectives as to what is important in life and what values we should prioritize, what pleasures we should pursue. This, concludes the Sifrei, leads to idol worship.

We stuff up our hearts with gashmiyut ( “indulgence in earthly pleasures”) , preventing it from being able to be filled with ruchniyut(spirituality) “Open my heart to your Torah, then my soul will pursue Your commandments,” we say at the end of every Shemoneh Esrei. The Vilna Gaon explains that yearning after indulgences of food clogs our arteries – both physically and spiritually. Therefore, he says, we have to ask HaShem to open up our hearts from pursuing our taivos so we can be receptive to HaShem’s Torah and blessings.

The Jews did Tshuva at the time of the Chashmonayim by regaining their excitement and chashivut (importance) of Mitzvot. Then, the al-Mighty allowed the service of the Menorah and the avodah of the daily offerings to resume in the Bait HaMikdash. The Rabbis instituted the holiday of Chanukah as an expression of “praise and thanks – which is [sincere] service of the heart,”

‭ ‬להלל‭ ‬והודאה‭,‬שהי‭ ‬עבודה‭ ‬שבלב‭.‬

The only required physical action the Rabbis commanded us to take on Chanukah is to kindle a light for eight consecutive nights. The focus of the chag is to praise, to thank and to develop a sincere appreciation in our hearts for the incredible opportunities HaShem has given us through Torah and Mitzvot – transforming rote and mundane routine into excitement and enthusiasm.

When a person’s heart becomes used to extravagant physical pleasures, specifically indulgent eating, it has no feeling for ruchniyut, for Torah or avodat HaShem, warns the prophet Isaiah. There are few things we do more frequently than eat – yet this daily activity has the capacity to either provide us the essential nourishment for a healthy life, or G-d forbid the opportunity to run away with our own desires, causing great physical and spiritual harm.

This was the tikun of Chanukah (the necessary spiritual improvement). That’s why our commemoration is concentrated primarily on service of the heart – for it was the heart that turned back toward HaShem, allowing us to “remember” our learning and regain our connection and conviction with Torah and mitzvot. Let’s keep this in mind as the excess of jelly donuts and deep-fried latkes permeate our homes and shuls. Let’s ask ourselves if this is truly the way to access the awesome opportunity we have in our hands – to strengthen our connection with HaKadosh Baruchu and illuminate our journey of avodat HaShem through the bright lights of the holiday of Chanukah.

 By Rabbi Eli Glaser   Based on a shiur by Rav Yitzchak Sorotzkin, Rosh Yeshivas Telz and Mesivta of Lakewood

simcha corner

Police officer pulled this guy over for speeding and told him that his eyes were bloodshot, and asked him if he’d been drinking. The guy said “Your eyes are glazed, have you been eating donuts?”


Yaakov settles in the land of Canaan. His favorite son, Yosef, brings him critical reports about his brothers. Yaakov makes Yosef a fine tunic of multi-colored woolen strips.

Yosef aggravates his brothers’ hatred by recounting prophetic dreams of sheaves of wheat bowing to his sheaf, and of the sun, moon and stars bowing to him, signifying that all his family will appoint him king. The brothers indict Yosef and resolve to execute him. When Yosef comes to Shechem, the brothers give in and decide, at Reuven’s instigation, to throw him into a pit instead. Reuven’s intent was to save Yosef. Yehuda persuades the brothers to take Yosef out of the pit and sell him to a caravan of passing Ishmaelites.

Reuven returns to find the pit empty and rends his clothes. The brothers soak Yosef’s tunic in goat’s blood and show it to Yaakov, who assumes that Yosef has been devoured by a wild beast. Yaakov is devastated. Meanwhile, in Egypt, Yosef has been sold to Potiphar, Pharaoh’s Chamberlain of the Butchers.

In the Parsha’s sub-plot, Yehuda’s son Er dies as punishment for preventing his wife Tamar from becoming pregnant. Onan, Yehuda’s second son, then weds Tamar by levirate marriage. He too is punished in similar circumstances. When Yehuda’s wife dies, Tamar resolves to have children through Yehuda, as this union will found the Davidic line culminating in the Mashiach.

Meanwhile, Yosef rises to power in the house of his Egyptian master. His exceptional beauty attracts the unwanted advances of his master’s wife. Enraged by his rejection, she accuses Yosef of attempting to seduce her, and he is imprisoned. In prison, Yosef successfully predicts the outcome of the dream of Pharaoh’s wine steward, who is reinstated, and the dream of Pharaoh’s baker, who is hanged. In spite of his promise, the wine steward forgets to help Yosef, and Yosef stays in prison for extra two years.