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Exile and Return (part 2)

Mikeitz (Genesis 41:1-44:17 )


The Sages enumerate four separate "exiles" that the Jewish people have endured since first settling the Land of Israel over 3,000 years ago. Each of these exiles is qualitatively different, in the sense that our oppressors sought to uproot different aspects of Jewish life and practice. The four exiles are:

  1. Nafshi (Emotional) – Babylonian tyrant Nebuchadnezzar wanted the Jewish people to emotionally submit themselves to him and his idolatry. They refused, so Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the First Temple and sent the Jews packing to Babylon.

  2. Gufani (Bodily) – While living under Persian domination, the Jews experienced an exile which threatened to annihilate them through the genocidal machinations of Haman, the villain of the Purim story.

  3. Sichli (Intellectual) – Under the rulership of the Greeks, the Jews were subject to harsh decrees prohibiting their connection to God and Torah. The tide of Greek philosophy and culture – chronicled in the Chanukah story – threatened to extinguish Jewish practice and thought.

  4. HaKol (Combination) – The current exile began 2,000 years ago with the Roman destruction of the Second Temple and the disbursement of the Jews to four corners of the globe. During this time, Jews have been subjected to a horrific combination of all other exiles – perpetual persecution, expulsion, mass murder, and more.

Wink of an Eye

While this is terribly depressing, this week's parsha – read each year during Chanukah – contains a message which will inspire and enlighten.

The parsha begins with Joseph sitting in a dungeon prison in Egypt. Joseph is cold, hungry, unbathed and unshaven. Meanwhile, upstairs in the palace, King Pharaoh is having esoteric dreams that no one is able to interpret. The Butler speaks up and recommends Joseph as a possible solution. The Torah (paraphrased from Genesis 41:14-46) describes what happens next:

"Pharaoh sent for Joseph, and they rushed him out of the dungeon. He shaved, changed his clothes, and was brought to Pharaoh. Joseph proceeded to interpret the dreams properly. Pharaoh was impressed… put a gold chain around his neck, and accorded him the title of Prime Minister."

An amazing turn of events: from prison to palace in two minutes flat.

Even more, Joseph's experience is an arbiter of things to come. As the Midrash says: "Maase Avot Siman L'Banim" – events of the ancestors foreshadow events of their descendents.

A few hundred years later, the Jews eat matzah on their way out of Egypt. Why? Because they left in such a hurry and didn't have time for the bread to rise. The redemption – a 180-degree turnaround from slavery to freedom – happened in moments. As the verse says, "God saves as quick as the wink of an eye."

The Chafetz Chaim explains that this is also how the future redemption will occur. In fact, the Talmud says that if someone takes a vow "not to drink wine on the day the Messiah arrives," they are always forbidden to drink wine – because the Messiah could come any day! As Maimonides records in his "13 Principles of Faith:" "I believe with complete faith in the coming of the Messiah, and even though he may delay, nevertheless every day I anticipate that he will come."

Reversal of Fortune

What is the key to reversing our exile and bringing about redemption?

In the times of the Maccabees, when the Greeks attacked Jerusalem, they didn't try to destroy the Temple or burn it down. Rather, they defiled it by offering pig sacrifices and placing a statue of Zeus in the Temple.

The Greeks didn't want to totally destroy Jewish life. Rather, they sought "li-challel" – literally, to make it empty. They wanted to tear the heart and soul out of Judaism, to sap its divine core and reduce it to symbolism.

This explains why the Greeks carefully scoured the Temple searching for pure flasks of oil (bearing the seal of the High Priest). They knew that defiling the oil would silence the Menorah – representing the light of Torah which contains the depth and meaning of Jewish life. The Greeks knew this was the way to best "conquer" the Jewish nation.

The way to reverse such an attack is to put the meaning back in Judaism.

Our forefather Jacob knew this lesson well. In Genesis 46:28, before bringing his entire family down to Egypt for what would become a brutal period of slavery, Jacob sent Judah ahead to make preparations in the Goshen region. The Talmud explains that Judah's preparations were to build a yeshiva, a house of Torah study. Through learning Torah and uncovering the depth of meaning, we pour light into the world and drive away the darkness of exile.

Light and Dark

Chanukah, it so happens, is an auspicious time to pour light into the world. Jewish law states that ideally, the menorah should be placed outside your front door, in order to publicize the miracle. This has deeper significance: Since the mezuzah is placed on the right side of the doorway, we add the menorah to the left side, so the home is now "surrounded by mitzvot." What great proclamation of Jewish pride!

Chanukah takes place in the winter, the season when natural light is in short supply. Likewise, the events of Chanukah tell of the Jewish people reconnecting at a time of spiritual darkness. Each night, as we slowly increase the number of candles in the menorah, we symbolically increase our commitment to bring the light of Torah into our lives.

As noted, the four Jewish exiles are represented by the words "Nafshi (Emotional), Gufani (Bodily), Sichli (Intellectual), and HaKol (Combination). The beginning letters of each of these four Hebrew words are Nun, Gimmel, Shin and Hey – precisely the same four letters on the Chanukah dreidel. (On the dreidel, the letters stand for Nase Gadol Haya Sham – "a great miracle happened there.")

Amazingly, these are also the same four letters of the word "Goshna," the place where Judah built the yeshiva in Egypt. Reversal of our exile is achieved through the light of Torah.

There is a fascinating twist to this idea: Dreidels in Israel have one letter different – Nun, Gimmel, Shin, Pey, spelling "Nase Gadol Haya Po" – a great miracle happened here. So instead of the four letters forming the word "Goshna," an Israeli dreidel spells "Gofna" – meaning "wine."

Amazingly, when Jacob blesses his sons before he dies, the blessing he gives to Judah – from which the Messiah descends – is a blessing of wine (Genesis 49:11). And the Talmud (Brachot 57a) says that a dream of wine foretells the coming of the Messiah!

Amazingly, some descriptions in "Sefer HaChashmonayim" indicate that the Maccabees hid in a place called the "Hills of Gofna."

Conquering Exile

At times, the world can seem depressing. Confusion, anger, jealousy and greed dominate the news, and often our social and commercial dealings as well. Climate change, corruption in government, terrorism, disease. Things look bleak.

We need the hope of redemption.

In 1943 in the Bergen Belsen concentration camp, devout Jews secretly gathered to light the Chanukah candles. After chanting the blessing, "Who made miracles for our ancestors, in those days at this season," the Bluzhever Rebbe broke into sobs, for he had already lost his wife and 10 children.

The Rebbe said: "We may wonder as we stand here in the Nazi pit of death, where are the miracles for us today? Yet of one thing I am certain: Just as God pulled the Maccabees from darkness, and just as He has preserved the Jewish people throughout the ages, the Jewish people will survive this, too."

Rabbi Azriel Tauber, a businessman and Torah scholar in New York, says he was able to survive the Holocaust because every day, his father would encourage him and say: "Don't despair, my son, for redemption can come at any moment."

Our task is to keep focused on the Torah, the voice of sanity in today's tumultuous world. And in the merit of the Chanukah candles, may we see the end of our exile, once and for all.

Next week: Part 3 of "Exile and Return"


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