Parshat Vayeshev-Chanukah    Vol.11 No.12

Date of issue: 23 Kislev 5762  -- December 8, 2001 

This week’s issue has been sponsored by
Penny and David Rabinowitz,
in honor of their daughter Jordana’s Bat Mitzvah.

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This week's featured writers:

Sam Wiseman
Yair Manas
Ilan Tokayer
Josh Dubin
Simcha Haber
Rabbi Howard Jachter
-The Proper Time to Kindle Chanukah Lights



Hashem’s Hashgacha
by Sam Wiseman

In Parshat Vayeshev there is a recurring theme that begs discussion. This recurring theme is the interjection of a Bat-Kol (heavenly voice) in the middle of a story. The first time the Bat-Kol appears in Parshat Vayeshev is when the brothers conspire to kill Yosef. The brothers say, “Let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits and say a wild animal killed him. Then we will see what his dreams will be.” (37:20) Rashi on the Pasuk explains that the part “Then we will see what his dreams will be” was interjection by a Bat-Kol and not said by the brothers. Implying, you [the brothers] will see whose plans come true, yours or those of Hashem.

The second instance a Bat-Kol appears in Parshat Vayeshev is with regard to the story of Yehuda and Tamar. Yehuda has just discovered that Tamar is pregnant and declares that she must be burnt. Before he succeeds however, Tamar says that the impregnator is the owner of the items that she holds. Yehuda recognizes those things as his own and says (38:26) “She is more righteous than I for I have not given her to my son Shelah.” The Gemara in Makot (33b) states that Yehuda only said “she is more righteous” and a Bat-Kol interjected the rest. Yehuda simply acknowledged that those things were his, but he still believed it possible that another man had slept with Tamar at the same time he did. Therefore, a Bat-Kol came and said, ”Mimeni Yatzu Kevushim,” from me will come people who will conquer. (i.e. the kings from Yehuda, who were a result of his union with Tamar.)

What then, is the message that this recurring theme of Bat-Kol is coming to teach us? There is a Tosafot in Sanhedrin (11) that states that the reason a Bat-Kol is called a Bat-Kol is because it is not a direct voice from heaven, but rather an echo of a direct voice from heaven. It is for this reason it is called “Bat,” the daughter of a real Kol. Rabbi Akiva Eiger posits that one may listen to a Bat-Kol only when he is certain that the voice he heard could have potentially come from a person and not heaven. Whatever the Halachic ramifications, it is clear that there is something ambiguous about the use of a Bat-Kol. It implies that Hashem is there, but in a more hidden sense.

Rav Soloveitchik zt”l mentions a similar idea in connecting the Haftara to the Sedra in ParshatVayeshev. The first Pasuk in the Haftara (Amot 2:6) reads, “So said Hashem, for three sins of Israel I will not punish them, but for the fourth I will, because they sold a righteous man for shoes.” The Midrash explains that the connection between the Haftara and the Parsha lies in this Pasuk, and the connection is that the brothers sold Yosef for shoes. Rav Soloveitchik suggested that a connection lies in the beginning of the Pasuk as well. In Sanhedrin (7a) Shmuel says that this Pasuk comes to teach us that a person who sins two or three times and is not punished should not doubt his impending punishment. The Rav suggested that the first part of this Pasuk is in fact the very message of our Sedra: This message is especially applicable to the story of the brothers. After they sold Yosef they were not punished and they assumed all was well. When, in Parshat Vayigash (45:3), they discovered that Yosef was in fact alive, they were stunned and frightened not because they were afraid for their lives but rather because they realized that Hashem’s Hashgacha was controlling the situation the whole time, even while they thought they had succeeded in killing Yosef. I believe that this idea can also be applied to the events surrounding Yehuda, the other story with the Bat-Kol. Just as Yehuda assumed that his actions with Tamar would remain uncovered and without consequence, it became apparent that Hashem’s Hashgacha was in fact present throughout the whole situation and the Bat-Kol, the ambiguous symbol of Hashem’s Hashgacha, was there to show us that.

Thick and Thin
by Ilan Tokayer

There is a Chassidic story, recorded in Parparot Latorah, about Rabbi Mendele of Remonov. Rabbi Mendele had a son who was very poor. Each week, Rabbi Mendele would give his son three rubles. After this had gone on for quite some time the son asked Rabbi Mendele, “Why do you give me only three rubles every week? I would live so much more comfortably if you would give me six!” Rabbi Mendele explained, “My son, I give you only three rubles every week because I want you to have to depend on Hashem for your Parnasa. If I were to give you six, I am afraid that you would not feel so dependent on Hashem for your well being.”

The Daat Zekenim as well as Tosafot interpret the Pasuk to mean, “And Hashem was with Yosef when he was a prosperous man and also when he was in the house of his master, the Mitzri.” There are some people who serve Hashem only when things are going well for them. As soon as things start to go bad and worshipping Hashem is no longer easy for them, they forget Hashem. There are other people who turn to Hashem when times are bad and they are in need. As soon as they no longer need Hashem, they forget Him. It is only a true Tzaddik who is able to establish closeness with Hashem at all times, both when it is easy and when it is more difficult.

From this Pasuk, we learn that Yosef had Emunah in Hashem throughout his life, when he was sold to the Yishmaelim, when he was a slave to Potifar, when he was a prisoner, and even when he was Mishneh Lamelech to Paroh. We see that Yosef had Emunah in Hashem at all times, when he was the lowest of the low and also when he was essentially the most powerful man in the world. (We see the same idea cited in the Midrash Rabbah, Shemot 1:2, that when Yosef was in Mitzrayim, he had the same faith that he was when he had when he was in his father Yaakov's house.)

The Chafetz Chaim asked why in Birchat Hachodesh do we ask Hashem for “Yirat Shamayim Veyirat Chet” and then for “Osher Vechavod” and then again for “Yirat Shamayim.” He answered that at first we ask for Yirat Shamayim, then we ask for Osher Vechavod. The second time we ask for Yirat Shamayim is asking for Yirat Shamayim once we already have Osher Vechavod. We are asking Hashem for the ability to have Yirat Shamayim both when things are good for us, and when things are not as good.

As Jews, it is our job to act like Yosef Hatzaddik. Yosef went through both good and bad, yet throughout the ordeals, he took his Emunah in Hashem with him. During hard times, such as like the current situation of the Jewish people, we must have Emunah more than ever. Sometimes it is easy to lose belief when things are bad, but it is our job to use those bad times to strengthen our Bitachon in Hashem. Hopefully, we can learn from Yosef, and take Hashem with us everywhere we go and we can too become an “Ish Matzliach” in all of our endeavors.


Smell and Taste
by Josh Dubin

In this week’s Parsha, Parshat Vayeshev, the Torah tells us of the sale of Yosef. Chazal tell us that when the brothers saw Yosef approaching, they organized a Bait Din and decided that Yosef was a Rodef, one who endangered lives, and they therefore determined that Yosef should be killed.

The Pesukim (37:21-22) continue, “And Reuven heard and he saved him from their hands and he said, ‘Let us not smite him mortally… throw him into this pit… but do not send forth your hand against him,’ in order that he [Reuven] might save him and return him to his father.” Reuven’s plan fell through when he returned to the pit and Yosef was not there, as he was sold soon before.

There is a Midrash that comments on the Pasuk in Shir Hashirim (7:14), “The Dudaim yield fragrance, and at our doorsteps are all precious fruits, both new and old, I have stored away for you, my Beloved.” The Midrash states that the expression “The Dudaim yield fragrance” refers to Reuven, who tried to save Yosef from the pit, and the expression “at our doorsteps are all precious fruits” refers to Nerot Chanukah. In other words, Reuven’s act is equated with a pleasant smelling flower and the Nerot Chanukah are equated with delicious fruits.

The commentaries attempt to explain this Midrash. I found a beautiful interpretation of this Midrash by Rav Schwab zt”l. What is the difference, he asks, between pleasant smelling flowers and delicious tasting fruit? The answer is that a flower may have a beautiful smelling aroma, but it does not leave one with anything lasting or permanent. One smells it, enjoys it, and then it is gone. Eating fruit, on the other hand, provides a much more substantial and lasting pleasure. One eats it, tastes it, derives nourishment and sustenance with it, and it eliminates one’s hunger.

This is the message that the Midrash seeks to convey, that what Reuven did is like the sweet smelling flower. He had noble intentions and he wanted to do the right thing, but unfortunately he stopped short. What was required was to stand up and take firm action and to directly tell his brothers, “We absolutely cannot do this!” But he did not have the moral power necessary to stand up firmly for what is right. Therefore, his act remains only like a flower that provides a fleeting pleasant smell with no lasting benefit.

However, when people are able to be Moser Nefesh, risk their lives, those acts bear lasting fruit. That is what happened at Chanukah time, a small band of people had the strong moral fortitude, strength, and Mesirat Nefesh necessary to stand up against overwhelming odds. The result of that Mesirat Nefesh was, like fruits on our doorsteps, something everlasting: a rebirth and a renewal of the service in the Temple that saved the Jewish people.

Rav Tzadok offers a beautiful insight into the Macabee’s Mesirat Nefesh. He instructs us to examine the names of the heroes of the Chanukah story: Yochanan and Matityahu. Yochanan means Kah Chanan, Hashem gave a present. Matityahu means Matat Kah, A gift of Hashem. Only the people who realize that all their strengths, their talents, and their material possessions are merely gifts of Hashem can rise to the occasion and be Moser Nefesh. Such people realize that all they have are merely Matat Kah that must be used for His service. Such recognition generates the Mesirat Nefesh necessary for producing lasting fruit as opposed to fleeting smells.

Adapted from a Dvar Torah given by Rabbi Yissocher Frand, from

The Way to Light

by Simcha Haber

Bait Hillel and Bait Shamai disagree about how you light the Menorah on Chanukah. Bait Hillel says the first night you light one candle and each night you add one more. Bait Shamai says the first night you light all eight candles and each night you light one less. (Gemara Shabbat 21b).

In order to understand this dispute we need to look at another argument between Bait Hillel and Bait Shamai that is recorded in Gemara Berachot (51b). They argue whether on Friday night you first recite the Beracha on the wine or the Beracha sanctifying Shabbat. Bait Hillel states that first you bless the wine then sanctify the Shabbat. However, Bait Shamai rules that you first sanctify the Shabbat then say the Beracha over the wine. Bait Shamai argues that since Shabbat is the reason for the drinking of the wine then the Beracha on Shabbat should come first. Bait Hillel argues that since you need wine in order to make Kiddush and drinking wine is done more often then sanctifying the Shabbat the Beracha on wine enjoys precedence (Gemara Berachot 51b).

Rav Amiel from looking at this argument says we can see that Bait Shamai says that praising Hashem comes before indulging in pleasure. Bait Hillel says that in order to praise Hashem correctly, one’s own pleasure has to come first.

From this we can understand the dispute regarding the lighting of the Chanukah lights. Bait Shamai believes that we follow the precedent of the sacrifices of bulls on Sukkot. On the first day we offer thirteen bulls, and then each day we offer one less until we end with seven on the last day. If we start with eight lights, we begin at the highest possible level of Kedusha we can reach. According to Bait Hillel, we must start with one because the holiness was restored to the Bait Hamikdash over a period of time. Similarly, each time we light another candle we raise a level in Kedusha. As Chanukah progresses, we are able to better ourselves and come closer to Hashem. Now that we understand the dispute we can discover why Bait Hillel’s opinion is accepted as Halacha.

The Gemara (Eruvin 13b) relates that for three years the two schools argued and one day a heavenly voice said that they are both correct but to keep Bnai Yisrael united the Halacha will follow Bait Hillel. The reason we follow Bait Hillel is that Bait Hillel always argued with modesty and quoted the other school first. We see this from a story that happened in Mishna Sukkah (28a). The two schools were arguing and in the Mishna it says, “A person who has his head and most of his body inside the Sukkah (that is Bait Shamai’s opinion) is not good, and Bait Hillel says that it is Kosher. Bait Hillel said to Bait Shamai, that it is not so.” Then there is a story told about the elders of each school that went to Reb Yochanan Ben Hachoranis and the elder of Bait Hillel said that it was okay and the elder of Bait Shamai said that if that was the way Reb Yochanan sat in the Sukkah his whole life he had never fulfilled the Mitzvah of Sukkah. That is where we see the humbleness, of bait Hillel.

From this Mishna we can understand the answer of the Gemara. Here Bait Hillel was trying to be humble while Bait Shamai tried to make itself great. We still have a problem because as the Ritva asked, “Bait Hillel did not write the Mishna, it was Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi. How can we prove from this Mishna that Bait Hillel always quoted Bait Shamai first, if Bait Hillel was not the one who wrote the Mishna?” He answers that Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi was a direct descendant of the head of Bait Hillel and continued in his ways.

Special thanks to my brother Yitzchak for helping me with this article.

Halacha of the Week

Rav Yaakov Kaminetzsky (cited in Emet Leyaakov p.254) rules that a Dreidel is not Muktzeh on Shabbat.  I am not aware of any Posek expressing an opinion to the contrary.

Staff at time of publication:
Editors-in-Chief: Josh Dubin, David Gertler
Managing Editors: Yair Manas, Uriel Schechter
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Publication Editor: Ilan Tokayer
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Staff: Noam Block, Ami Friedman, Shuky Gross, Simcha Haber, Oren Levy, Ari Michael, Effie Richmond, Dani Shaffren, Sam Wiseman
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