> Weekly Torah Portion > Shabbat Shalom > Shabbat Shalom Weekly

Vayeshev 5780

Vayeshev (Genesis 37-40 )

by Rabbi Yitzchak Zweig

GOOD MORNING!  Hanukah begins this upcoming Sunday night, December 22nd. My friend Hannah, frustrated by the "political correctness" that so defines America in 2019, told me the following story about her grandmother Goldie.

Goldie went to the post office to buy stamps for her Hanukah cards. She said to the cashier, "May I please have 50 Hanukah stamps?" The cashier then asked, "What denomination?"

Goldie replied, "Oy vey, has it come to this? Okay, give me 6 Orthodox, 12 Conservative, and 32 Reform."


In 167 BCE, the Syrian-Greek emperor, Antiochus, set out to destroy Judaism and incorporate the Land of Israel and its inhabitants into his empire. His soldiers descended upon Jerusalem, massacring thousands of people and desecrating the city's holy Second Temple by erecting an altar to Zeus and sacrificing pigs within its sacred walls.

However, the evil Antiochus knew that a mere physical attack on the Jews would not accomplish his goal. Instead, he decided to focus on destroying the structure of Judaism. First, he prohibited studying and teaching the Torah. He likewise issued a ban prohibiting the practice of three mitzvot: 1) Shabbat 2) Sanctifying of the New Month (establishing the first day of the month by testimony of witnesses who saw the new moon) 3) Brit Mila (entering the Covenant of Abraham through Torah-ordained circumcision).

Why these three mitzvot? Shabbat signifies that God is the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe and that His Torah is the blueprint of creation, imbuing the world with meaning and values. Sanctifying the New Month determines the monthly calendar and the exact day of the Jewish holidays. Without a functioning calendar, there would be communal chaos. Brit mila (circumcision) is a sign of our special covenant with the Almighty. These three mitzvot form a foundation for the structure of Judaism. Without them, our cultural integrity would quickly deteriorate and dissolve, and we would slowly submit to the Greek culture.

A family of Jewish priests - Matityahu and his 5 sons, known as the Maccabees - would not have it. They started a revolt and three years later succeeded in evicting the oppressors. The victory was a true miracle - on the scale of present day Israel being able to defeat the combined forces of all of today's super-powers (this might also explain why the emblem of the State of Israel is a menorah). Once the Jewish people regained control of the Temple in Jerusalem, they wanted to rededicate it immediately.

In order to do so, they needed ritually pure olive oil to re-light the menorah in the Temple, which was a part of the Temple's nightly service. Only a single cruse of oil was found, just enough to burn for one day though they needed oil for eight days - the time it would take for new ritually pure olive oil to be produced. A miracle occurred and the oil burned for eight days. Thus, the Temple was rededicated; in fact, Hanukah means "to dedicate" in Hebrew!

To commemorate the miracle, we light Hanukah candles (or better yet, lamps with olive oil) for eight days. One light 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 (only two blessings each subsequent night) and then lights the candles, starting with the furthermost candle to the left. All of the menorah's candles should be the same height and placed in a straight line. Ashkenazi tradition has each person in the household lighting his/her own menorah. Sefardi tradition is that just one menorah needs to be 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 a passersby in the street can see them in order to publicize the miracle of Hanukah. In Israel, people light outside their homes in special glass boxes built for a menorah or little glasses with olive oil and wicks.

The tradition to eat latkes - fried potato pancakes - is to commemorate the miracle of the 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, and shin. The first letters represent the phrase "nes gadol haya sham - a great miracle happened there." In Israel, the last letter is a pay for the word "poh - here."

In times of persecution, when learning Torah was forbidden, Jews would study anyway (we are, after all, "The people of the Book"). When the soldiers would investigate why there was a gathering of people, the assembled 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 adds to coins to the pot!

Here's a question to think about: 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?

Stay tuned! We will, God willing, elaborate on this concept next week when we delve even further into the mysteries surrounding Hanukah.


Torah Portion of the Week

Vayeshev, Genesis 37:1 - 40:23

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).

* * *

Memorial Service

This Wednesday, December 18th, the 20th of Kislev, will mark the end of the thirty day mourning period for our beloved teacher and mentor - Rabbi Kalman Packouz of blessed memory.

Jewish tradition has three stages of mourning upon the loss of a close relative (i.e. parent, sibling, spouse, or child). First there is the shiva, the primary mourning period that lasts seven days. Then there is a secondary stage known as sheloshim (Hebrew for 30, due to the 30 day duration). Throughout this time a mourner may not listen to music, shave, or get a haircut. Upon the loss of a parent, there is a third stage of mourning that lasts a full year during which one should not attend parties etc.

There is a custom to hold a community memorial service at the conclusion of the sheloshim mourning period when the passing of a person impacts the entire community. Rabbi Kalman Packouz, of blessed memory, was such a person. Everyone is encouraged to participate and pay their respects to this great man. Here are the details for his sheloshim memorial service:

Memorial Service for Rabbi Kalman Packouz, OBM
Tuesday December 17th at 8 pm
@ Aish Hatorah of Hollywood Florida
4010 North 46th Ave, Hollywood, FL


Candle Lighting Times

December 20
(or go to

Jerusalem 4:03
Guatemala 5:20 - Hong Kong 5:26 - Honolulu 5:36
J'Burg 6:41 - London 3:35 - Los Angeles 4:30
Melbourne 8:23 - Mexico City 5:45 - Miami 5:16
New York 4:13 - Singapore 6:45 - Toronto 4:25

Quote of the Week

Death ends a life, not a relationship.
--  Mitch Albom



1 2 3 2,914

🤯 ⇐ That's you after reading our weekly email.

Our weekly email is chock full of interesting and relevant insights into Jewish history, food, philosophy, current events, holidays and more.
Sign up now. Impress your friends with how much you know.
We will never share your email address and you can unsubscribe in a single click.
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram