Vayeshev 5774

November 17, 2013

7 min read


Vayeshev (Genesis 37-40 )

GOOD MORNING! Hanukah is coming soon, Wednesday night, November 27th. It's a wonderful family holiday. After we light the candles, we sing Maoz Tzur, eat jelly donuts, tell stories, have quizzes about Hanukah -- all in the light of the Hanukah candles. Memories are made up of a collection of precious moments. Hanukah can provide you with many wonderful memories! To enjoy the Hanukah story via a medley of 8 rock song parodies, view's "Hanukah Rock of Ages" video -- .


There are two ways which our enemies have historically sought to destroy us. The first is by physical annihilation; the most recent attempt being the Holocaust. The second is through cultural assimilation. Purim is the annual celebration of our physical survival. Hanukah is the annual celebration of our spiritual survival over the many who would have liked to destroy us through cultural assimilation.

In 140 BCE the Syrian-Greek emperor, Antiochus, set out to destroy Judaism by imposing a ban on three mitzvot: The Shabbat, The Sanctifying of the New Month (establishing the first day of the month by testimony of witnesses who saw the new moon) and Brit Mila (entering the Covenant of Abraham through Torah-ordained circumcision). The Shabbat signifies that God is the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe and that His Torah is the blueprint of creation, meaning and values. Sanctifying the New Month determines the day of the Jewish holidays. Without it there would be chaos. For example, if Succot is the 15th of Tishrei, the day it occurs depends upon which day is declared the first of Tishrei. Brit (or Bris) Mila is a sign of our special covenant with the Almighty. All three maintain our cultural integrity and were thus threats to the Greek culture.

Matityahu and his 5 sons, known as the Maccabees, started a revolt and three years later succeeded in evicting the oppressors. The victory was a miracle -- on the scale of Israel defeating the combined super-powers of today. Having regained control of the Temple in Jerusalem, they wanted to immediately rededicate it. They needed ritually pure olive oil to re-light the Menorah in the Temple. Only a single cruse of oil was found; enough to burn for just one day. However, they needed oil for eight days until new ritually pure olive oil could be produced. A miracle occurred and the oil burned for eight days.

Therefore, we light Hanukah candles (or better yet, lamps with olive oil) for eight days. One the first day, two the second and so forth. The first candle is placed to the far right of the menorah with each additional night's candle being placed to the immediate left. One says three blessings the first night (two blessings each subsequent night) and then lights the candles, starting with the furthermost candle to the left. The menorah should have all candles in a straight line and at the same height. Ashkenazi tradition has each person of the household lighting his own menorah. Sefardi tradition has just one menorah lit per family. The blessings can be found on the back of the Hanukah candle box or in a Siddur, prayer book. The candles may be lit inside the home. It is preferable to light where passersby in the street can see them -- to publicize the miracle of Hanukah. In Israel, people light outside in special glass boxes built for a menorah or little glasses with olive oil and wicks.

The tradition to eat latkes, potato pancakes, is in memory of the miracle of the oil (latkes are fried in oil). In Israel, the tradition is to eat sufganiot, deep-fried jelly donuts. The traditional game of Hanukah uses a dreidel, a four-sided top with the Hebrew letters Nun, Gimmel, Hey, Shin (the first letters of "Nes Gadol Haya Sham -- A Great Miracle Happened There." In Israel, the last letter is a Pay -- for "here.") In times of persecution when learning Torah was forbidden, Jews would learn anyway. When the soldiers would investigate, they would pull out the dreidel and pretend that they were gambling. The rules for playing dreidel:  Nun -- no one wins; Gimmel -- spinner takes the pot; Hey -- spinner get half the pot; Shin/Pay -- spinner matches the pot!

If enough oil was found to burn in the Temple menorah for one day and the oil lasted for eight days, then the miracle was really only for the seven additional days of lighting. Why then do we celebrate Hanukah for eight days and not seven? The Rema, Rav Moshe Isserlis, answers that in these 8 days we can celebrate a Bris, Rosh Chodesh (the new month which occurs during Hanukah) and a Shabbat -- thus countering the Greek ban!

(For more on Hanukah, including animated instructions on how to light the candles, go to:


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Torah Portion of the Week
VaYeshev, Genesis 37:1 - 40:23

This week's portion includes four stories: 1) The selling of Yosef 2) The indiscretion of Yehuda (Judah) with Tamar (Tamar) ... 3) The attempted seduction of Yosef by Potifar's wife, which ends with her framing Yosef and having him imprisoned 4)Yosef interprets the dreams of his fellow prisoners, the wine steward (who was reinstated and forgot to put in a good word for Yosef) and the baker (who was hanged).

* * *

Dvar Torah
based on Twerski on Chumash by Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, M.D.

The Torah states:

"And it happened after these things that the cupbearer of the king of Egypt and the baker transgressed against their master, the king of Egypt (Gen. 40:1).

Rashi brings the Midrash that the cupbearer was imprisoned because a fly was found in Pharaoh's goblet of wine; the baker was imprisoned because a small pebble was found in the king's bread.

The first paragraph of the Shulchan Aruch (the Code of Jewish Law) reads: " 'I have set God before me always' (Psalms 16:8) is a major principle of Torah -- because a person's behavior when he is alone in the privacy of his home is not like his behavior when he is in the imminent presence of a king. How much more so if one realizes that he is in the presence of the Great King, Almighty God, whose glory fills the universe: He would have the reverence, humility and fear of God."

Our tzaddikim (righteous ones) never lost sight of being in God's presence. Everything that transpired was contemplated as to how it applied to their service of God. The story is told of one such tzadik, the Alter (Elder) of Kelm who once found a small chip of wood in his bread. This immediately brought to mind the story of the king of Egypt's baker who was imprisoned for allowing a pebble to be in the king's bread. The Alter cogitated, "A defect in a person's bread is hardly grounds for so severe a punishment. No one will be punished for this chip of wood in the bread, especially since it was totally accidental. Why, then, was the king's baker punished so harshly?"

The Alter concluded, "It was because when one serves or relates to the king, the standard of perfection is much greater than when relating to other people. One must exercise much greater caution to prevent any defects. In serving the king, even a small defect is a major offense!"

"I am in the service of the King of kings," continued the Alter. "Is my behavior before Him without defect? Have I been cautious enough to avoid even accidental infractions?"



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