All For One
Vayigash (Genesis 44:18-47:27 )
This year's calendar presents a noteworthy nexus whereby Shabbbos Vayigash is book-ended by the exhilaration of Chanukah (last Sunday) on the one end and the somberness of 10 Teves on the other (next Tuesday). What follows is an attempt to identify a common theme running through the three events in an effort to capitalize upon the momentum from Chanukah and thereby to infuse next Tuesday's fast day with a greater degree of personal meaningfulness.
Perhaps the most markedly Jewish "symbol" in existence is the Menorah (one could argue that honor belongs to the "Star of David" although that is a much more recent historical construct). More so than the Shofar. More so than Hamentashen. More so than Bagels and Lox, the Menorah is probably our Nation's most time-honored hallmark. It appears on Jewish currency. It stands outside the Knesset. It is, well, undoubtedly Jewish.
Interestingly, when Moshe was called upon to construct the Mishkan and its vessels, the Medrash Tanchuma records that one vessel in particular - the Menorah - remained beyond Moshe's grasp. When Moshe despaired of actually being able to construct it properly, Hashem miraculously fashioned the Menorah out of fire.
What was so uniquely complex about the Menorah? The answer is that the Menorah could not be fashioned out of composite parts grafted together, but rather must be "a Menorah of pure gold…all of it a single hammered piece of pure gold." (Ex. 25:31,36)
Unified. One. An organic whole. Not just a composite of sub-parts.
The Torah describes Ya'akov's auspicious descent to Egypt as follows: "All the people (Kol Nefesh) of Ya'akov's household who came to Egypt - seventy." Rashi points out that Esau's family is referred to as "six nefashos" (using the plural) in stark (and deliberate) contrast to the "seventy nefesh" (singular) that comprised the Am Yisrael.
True the Am Yisrael consisted of 12 Tribes - each possessing their own particular strengths, weaknesses, character traits and approaches to Avodas Hashem. Nevertheless, at our core, the Am Yisrael is one nation, united by our mission to serve as a light unto the world and its inhabitants. We are not merely a loosely affiliated amalgamation of separate and distinct parts. Perhaps that is why the singular, monolithic Menorah is such an apt reflection and symbol of our Nation's essence.
THE TENTH OF TEVES
And perhaps this dual lesson of the Menorah and the Parshah can provide food for thought as we approach the fast of the Tenth of Teves, one of the darker days on our calendar and one which beckons for thoughtfulness and introspection. The mystery of our Nation's seemingly interminable exile is not a mystery at all. The root cause of our Exile was - and remains - a disunity whereby the true essence of national unity and achdus among Yidden - both en masse and in particular - leaves much to be desired.
As the one-ness of the Menorah testifies, we Jews are united at our core. Seventy nefesh (souls) who emerged from the exile of Egypt with a national destiny that continues until this very day. May we once again merit to achieve the unity of our forefathers, the unity that millions of us pray for everyday, "all of us as one in the light of Your presence" (kulano k'echad b'ohr panecha) and close the door, once and for all, on exile and disconnectedness.