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Vayeshev 5764

Vayeshev (Genesis 37-40 )

by Kalman Packouz

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GOOD MORNING!  Happy Hanukah! The first candle is lit before sunset (and before Shabbat candles) this coming Friday, December 19th. I thought you might enjoy a perspective article written by my friend and colleague Rabbi Nachum Braverman, Aish HaTorah Los Angeles, to enhance your appreciation of Hanukah.


It is ironic that Hanukah is so widely observed in America, because it's not clear that Jews today would side with the Maccabees. The Jews didn't battle the Greeks for political independence and Hanukah can't be recast as an early-day version of Israel against the Arabs. Hanukah commemorates a religious war.

The Greeks were benevolent rulers, bringing civilization and progress wherever they conquered. They were ecumenical and tolerant, creating a pantheon of gods into which they accepted the deities of all their subjects. Their only demand was acculturation into the melting pot of Greek civilization and religion.

The Jewish community was divided in response to this appeal. Some believed assimilation was a positive and modernizing influence and they welcomed the release from Jewish parochialism. Led by Judah Maccabee was a small group opposed to the Greek ideal, and prepared to fight and die to preserve the exclusive worship of Judaism. (The name "Maccabee" is an acronym for the Torah verse "Who is like You amongst the gods, Almighty?")

This was no war for abstract principles of religious tolerance. It was a battle against ecumenicism fought by people to whom Torah was their life and breath. Would we have stood with the Maccabees or would we too have thought assimilation was the path of the future? Would we fight for Judaism today, prepared to die to learn Torah and to keep Shabbat?

Today we face a crisis of identity as serious as the one confronted 2,500 years ago. Will we survive this century as a religious community or merely as a flavor in the American melting pot? Hanukah calls to us to combat assimilation and to fight for our heritage.

I love stories with action, adventure, suspense ... and a happy ending. And I love when I have a story to tell that illustrates a point. I think one should never ask a rabbi a question unless he is prepared to hear a story - perhaps even a long-winded story - as part of the answer.

I heard the following story years ago when I lived in Israel and to the best of my knowledge it is true. Before the USSR let the Jews leave for Israel, Jews used to hire a guide to smuggle them out of Russia. One Hanukah a group of Jews were playing "cat and mouse" with a Soviet army patrol as they approached the border. When the guide thought they had lost the patrol, he announced an half-hour break before continuing the trek. One of the escapees, hearing the "magic" number of "one-half hour" - the minimum time a Hanukah candle must be lit to fulfill the Mitzvah - pulls out his Menorah, sets up the candles, says the blessing and starts to light the candles. The other escapees immediately pounce upon him and the Menorah to put out the candles - when the Soviet patrol moves in and completely encircles them.

The head of the army patrol speaks: "We were just about to open fire and wipe you out when I saw that man lighting the Hanukah candles. I was overcome with emotion; I remember my zaideh (grandfather) lighting Hanukah candles .... I have decided to let you go in peace."

There is a verse in the Book of Psalms, (chapter 116, verse 6): "The Almighty protects fools." Should he have lit the candle? NO! The Talmud tells us (Ta'anis 20b), "One should not put himself in a place of danger saying, 'Let a miracle happen.' " So, while the story is one of action, adventure, suspense ... the real lesson is not to rely upon a miracle to save you from danger.

Torah Portion of the Week

This week's portion includes four stories:

  1. The selling of Yosef (Joseph) as a slave by his brothers - which eventually positioned Yosef to be second in command in Egypt and enabled him to save the known world from famine.

  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 Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

When the brothers saw Joseph approaching them in Dotan, they plotted to kill him. The Torah states:

"And Reuven heard and he saved him from their hands. And he said, 'Let us not hit a mortal blow.' And Reuven said to them, 'Do not shed blood.' "

What can we learn from Reuven that will develop our skills of convincing others of our point of view?

Rabainu Bachya comments that Reuven wanted to save his brother, Joseph. If he were to have said, "Let us not hit him," he would have shown his brothers that his motivation was compassion for Joseph and they would not have listened to him. Therefore, Reuven added the word nefesh, a mortal blow. Reuven was saying, "I don't want you to commit murder regardless of who the person is." Similarly, in verse 22 he said to them, "Do not shed blood." He did not say "his blood." This implied, "I, too, hate him and it is not his blood that I am concerned about. Rather, I am concerned that you should not become murderers."

From this observation of Rabainu Bachya we see a very important principle when it comes to influencing someone. The focus of your arguments should be on points that the listener will accept even though your own focus might center on a different aspect of the situation. Reven's goal was to prevent the shedding of blood. He wanted to save Joseph. If he would have told them to have mercy on Joseph, they would have disregarded his pleas. He wisely showed them that their behavior was not in their own best interests since they would lower themselves by their actions.

When you want to prevent someone from saying or doing things that will hurt someone else, show the person how he is hurting himself by his words or actions.

CANDLE LIGHTING - December 19:
(or go to

Jerusalem  4:03
Guatemala 5:18  Hong Kong 5:25  Honolulu 5:34
J'Burg 6:40  London 3:34  Los Angeles 4:27
Melbourne 7:18  Miami 5:16  Moscow 3:41

New York 4:13  Singapore  6:46


The secret of life is
to know who you are
and where you are going.

In Loving Memory of
Daniel Breen
by his friends at Universal


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