Miketz 5766 – Gilayon #427

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Parshat Miketz – Chanuka







(Bereishit 41:10-12)



Vision and Alternative Exegesis

Youth – a fool

Hebrew – who does not even know our language

Servant – and it is written in the laws

of Egypt that a slave may not rule nor wear the clothing of an official.

(Rashi ad loc)


A Hebrew youth… a servant – Each

detail adds more astonishment: he was an unschooled boy; a Hebrew – so he did

not use the power of magic; a servant – who is not allowed to enter the houses

of wisdom. In that case, it is Divine perception, for it is known that the

family of the Hebrews is above the nature of other human beings, and things

more exalted than the common way of the world are not beyond them, and so the

matter has no end or boundary.

(Ha'amek Davar, ad loc)



A Miracle

has Taken Place for Us; We have Understood the Price of Power

Not by

might, nor by power, but by My spirit – said the Lord of Hosts.(Zechariah 4:6)

Shlomo Fox

"I do not know" – writes

Rashi in his commentary on the Torah. He does not

explain every word and verse, but nonetheless he sometimes takes the trouble to

write the comment that perhaps best testifies to his greatness: "I do not

know." These words imply recognition of the fact that everything has

significance, even if we are not privy to it; sometimes a mystery remains


The vial of oil which lit the

menorah in the Temple bears a secret within it, a secret which we did not want

to reveal for many years. We wanted to view it as a miracle that did not take

place for us; we saw it as an expression of a Diaspora mind-set, a move to

erase the memory of Maccabian valor. We found support

for this in the fact that the Al Ha-Nisim

prayer only mentions the courage of the Maccabians

and their war against the Hellenists. However, beyond the question of the

miracle and the courage and their relative importance, I see the hidden mystery

of the vial of oil as being a message concerning the price of the use of force.

Let me explain.


Ze'ev's song, Anu

Nosim Lapidim ["We

Carry Torches"], set to music by Motti Ze'ira, remains part of the repertoire of Hanukah songs

that we sing to this day:


carry torches in gloomy nights,


paths glow beneath our feet,


he whose heart thirsts for the light will raise his eyes and heart to us –


the light – and come.


miracle occurred for us, we found no vial of oil.


walked to the valley, we ascended the mountain,


discovered the hidden springs of light.


miracle occurred for us; we found no vial of oil.


hewed stone until we bled – and there was light.

The song's original title was

"Miracle of the Brave Heart," and it is that miracle which is the

chief concern of the first verse, which for some reason has been deleted from

the sung version:


light these candles


the miracles and wonders

Of these days and this season.


and wonders


by human hands –


miracle of the brave heart,


wonder of the human spirit,

Which overcame the armies of great nations,


the poor mighty, strengthened the few,

And granted them victory.

In the spirit of his time, Ze'ev teaches that we are not dependent upon the mercies of

Heaven, that the credit for both the Maccabian

victory and our present-day victories belongs to "brave hearts"

rather than to "masters of miracle." As is told regarding the

conquest of Safed in the War of Independence: the

conquest succeeded thanks to two factors – miracle and action. The action was

the recitation of Psalms by the members of the Old Yishuv,

while the miracle was the appearance of the Palmach



What is a nes


In the song, Se'u tziyona nes va'degel ["Carry

Banner and Flag Towards Zion"] the meaning of nes is a symbol, like the flag. In his book, Sefer Mahzor HaZ'manim (Am Oved: 5644, pg. 111) Prof. Schweid

writes that a nes is a natural event that the

believer takes as testimony to Divine intervention for the realization of a

just goal.

What then is the "Nes of Hannukah"? When

the Talmudic Sages sidetrack the Maccabian victory

and tell the story of the vial of oil "through which a nes

was accomplished and they used it to light [the Menorah] for eight days" (Shabbat 21b), did they really only intend to

hide the physical victory because of their "Diaspora" mentality? Perhaps

their intention was to hint to us that a deeper significance lies beyond the

story of valor, that the vial of oil symbolized the potential hidden within us, which is revealed by acts of faith, in

situations in which we thought we only had the strength to light for one day,

yet, to our surprise, the oil burned for eight days?

The Talmudic Sages looked

back on the Hasmonean period in its entirety, and

were well aware of the price exacted by the Hasmonean

victory. They were well aware of the destruction brought about by the Herodian kingdom and of the catastrophic consequences of

the Bar Kokhba revolt. They were well aware of the

corruption and defilement that came with sovereignty, of the internal

destruction that grew into civil war. The Sages wished to emphasize the

superiority of spirit as the message of the Hasmonean

period, and they mentioned the Menorah and its light as symbols of the people's


Miracles were not unusual in

the Second Temple period. According to the accounts offered by the Sages themselves,

life in the Temple was regularly accompanied by miracles, two of which involved

the Menorah: the western lamp of the Menorah was never extinguished, and the

six flames of the Menorah always tilted towards the center flame, three from

each side, so that each set of three tilted in the opposite direction. The

Sages did not mention the story of the vial of oil in order to add yet another

miracle to the list; neither did they wish to transform the victory into a miracle,

purified of human involvement. Their

goal was to change the message expressed by the holiday.

This approach may be found in Eli Ben-Gal's

explanation of Beit Shamai's

ruling that eight candles should be lit on the first day, removing one candle each

day of the holiday (see his Keshe'okhlim

im Ha-Satan Am-Oved:1989, pg. 323). He

claims that this reflects the history of the Hasmonean

period, which started out brightly but whose light diminished as time went on. Therefore,

we light the candles in this fashion in order to remind ourselves that what

happened then could recur in our own day. The lighting of candles comes to

teach us that the message is spirit rather than power, and what could better

symbolize the people's spirit better than the Menorah, with its illuminating

light? And so, they replaced the physical victory with the miracle of the vial

of oil.


renewed message of Hanukah jibes well with the mishnah from the fourth chapter of Pirkei Avot:


is valiant? He who conquers his own inclination, for it is said: One who is

patient is better than a valiant man, and he who controls his own spirit is

better than one who captures a city (Proverbs


The Sages' approach does not

result from Diaspora thinking. It is founded upon the sober realization that

power and its exercise can bring destruction.

Modern Zionism tried to turn

this idea on its head and return power and sovereignty to the center stage. That

is why the Maccabian victory captured its place in

the Hanukah story. Along with it came the glorification of the Zealots of Massada and of the Bar Kokhba

revolt, which came to be associated with Lag Ba'Omer.

Incidentally, it is worth mentioning that according to the children's song

which is sung to this day ("Bar Kokhba"

lyrics: Levin Kipnis, music: Mordekhai

Ze'ira), Bar Kokhba did not

end his career with death and the failure of his revolt, but rather escaped his

captors riding on the back of a lion.

Researchers of modern Zionism

tend to view the Kishinev Pogroms as the turning

point in the Jewish attitude towards power. A few years before the pogroms, in 5558, Bialik wrote

his poem, Im Yesh

et Nafshekha la'Da'at ("If You Want to Know"). In it, he

describes the neck outstretched for slaughter, i.e., a martyr's death for the

sanctification of the Divine Name, as the Jewish mode of reaction:


your want to know the spring from which your killed brothers drew such strength

and powers of the soul in evils days, so they could go forth joyfully towards

death, to stretch their necks to every polished knife, to every extended axe;

to climb the bonfire, to jump into the flames, and with [the word] ehad [one] to die a martyr's death…

However, Bialik

took up a different line in the wake of the pogroms. His poems, Al HaShehitah ("On Slaughter") and Ir Ha'Harigah ("The

City of Killing"), which were written in the shadow of the pogroms,

express his change of view regarding power: no more passivity and prayer, but

rather reproof towards God and criticism of the victims who stretch their necks

to be slaughtered:

On the Slaughter (Iyyar,



plead for mercy upon me! If there is a god within you, and a path to that god

within you – which I have not found – then you pray for me!

I –

my heart is dead, and there is no more prayer on my lips, and now impotence – no

more hope – until when, until where, until when?


O neck – arise to slaughter! Cut off my head like a dog's, your hand bears an

axe, and all the earth is my gallows – and we – we are the few!


blood is permitted – hit the skull and spurt blood of murder, blood of infants

and elderly on your cloak – and it shall never, never be erased.


if there is justice – let it appear at once! But if after my destruction from

under the sky justice appears – let its throne be disgraced for eternity! Let

the heavens rot with everlasting evil! And you, malicious ones, go in your violence,

and live in your blood and be cleansed. Cursed be he

who says: "Revenge!" Such a revenge, revenge of a small child's blood

– even Satan has yet to create – and let the blood pierce unto the dark abyss,

let it eat in darkness und undermine all the earth's rotten foundations.

After a year's time, Bialik expands upon the theme, and writes the poem B'Ir Ha'Harigah ["In

the City of Killing"], which contains stringent criticism of the Jewish

world that reacts to the destruction with blessings of Al HaNisim and questions regarding ritual purity. Bialik expresses deep sorrow over the profound degradation

of the Maccabians' descendents:


now and go to the city of killings. Arrive at the courtyards and se with your

own eyes and feel with your own hands the clotted blood and dried brains of the

dead, upon the fences, on the trees and stones, and on the plastered walls.


those [women] who survived their defilement and woke from their blood – their

whole lives had become abominable, and the light of their world defiled,

eternal abominations, defilement of body and soul, outside and in – their

husbands jumped up from their holes and ran to the House of God, and bless Al

Ha'Nisim the Name of God their Savior Who lifts

them up; and the Kohanim among them go out to ask

their rabbis: "Rabbi! What of my wife? Is she permitted to me or not?"

And all returns to its custom and all comes back to

its usual course.


go and I shall take you to all of the hiding places:

The outhouses, pigpens, and other filthy places. And you

shall see with your own eyes where they hid, your brothers, sons of your

people, descendents of the Maccabians,

great-grandchildren of the lions of [eulogized in the prayer] Av Ha'Rahamim, the seed of the "holy ones." Twenty

in one hole, thirty [here] thirty [there]. They increased My

glory in the world and sanctified My name in public…

With the passing years – and,

especially, the creation of the state, the language inaugurated here by Bialik gave rise to accusations made against the victims of

the Holocaust and criticism of them for having gone "like sheep to the

slaughter." The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and similar examples of Jewish

heroism were juxtaposed to the fate of the death-camp inmates, and the Memorial

Day became "The Day of the Shoah and Heroism,"

where "heroism" referred to resistance by force.

In recent years, especially

following the Yom Kippur War of 1973, a deep and growing change has taken place

in Israeli public discourse and the notion of "peace" which until

that time was thought of as an unachievable ideal, became a topic of discussion

and reconsideration. Sadat's visit and the peace

agreement with Egypt began a chain of moves that led to the peace agreement

with Jordan, talks with the Palestinians that reached their apogee with the

Oslo agreements, on to the retreat from Lebanon and the handing over of

authority over Jericho and Gaza, and to the retreat from Gaza in the summer of

2005. This discourse points to a change in political and security thinking that

testifies to the first beginnings of recognition that the state's strength is

not solely a function of military might, but also of our ability to talk with

the Arab world and build bridges to it, in order to change living conditions in

Israel and the face of the Middle East.

This discourse has also

brought about a re-examination of the Holocaust and the recognition that

heroism is not solely a matter for the leaders and fighters of the revolt;

those who survived the death camps also deserve to be treated as heroes. This

is the ideological basis for the renewal of the Yad Va'Shem museum which does not only point out the heroism of

the warriors of the uprising, but also speaks of the heroism of every human


It should be noted that

already in 1954 Natan Alterman

wrote his poem, Yom HaZikaron Ve'ha'mordim

["Memorial Day and the Rebels"] (Ha'Tur

Ha'Shevi'I, pg.22), in which he relates to the "heroes

among the community leaders and lobbyists" in an effort to do away with

the negative view of the Judenratt. Alterman writes:


fighters and rebels said: "The people also bestowed of its heroism and

honor upon the Jewish fathers who said, ‘The resistance will bring a holocaust

upon us,' and also to that boy or girl who went, lost somewhere, leaving only a

small white sock behind, resting as a memorial on a stone in the archives.'"

And so he demanded that they

also be viewed as heroes.

The discourse of secular

Zionism has changed. However, religious Zionist discourse seems to still use

the language of Bialik's "On the Slaughter,"

it has the orientation of Zionist discourse before it changed. Why?

It seems that it may be said

that religious Zionism was a loyal partner in the history of the burgeoning

state and in its wars, but was not a partner in its management and leadership. The

people of Gush Emunim led a revolution in the

religious Zionist mindset. In the wake of the Six Day War and immediately

following the Yom Kippur War, they became imbued with militant language that

required military solutions, to annihilate, kill and destroy became the

main cry in the enemy's direction.

The change in political

discourse which led to "peace" moves came up against hostile

resistance from the religious Zionist discourse. It seems that while secular

Zionism understood the limitations of power and especially the human price to

be paid when that view is held, deciding as a result to try another path,

religious Zionism had yet to internalize this move.


Back to the question: "what is Hannuka" for our times?

Taking the lessons of the Hasmonean period into account, the Talmudic conception

offers to change the discourse and view courage not as the victory of power,

but rather as a victory of the spirit. The holiday's symbol is not a weapon,

but rather the spirit embodied in the Menorah and the vial of oil. The Sages

developed a different discourse, according to which the hero is one who

controls his inclinations. It seems that the Sages' conception is also

appropriate for our days: Not by

might, nor by power, but by My spirit, says

today's Zionism.

The Geonim

follow the Sages and also answer the question – "What is Hanukah?"

The Geonim

answer that Hanukkah is celebrated eight days so that oil may be brought from Tekoa, i.e., oil produced without hired labor. And so it is

written in the Geonic responsa

(Musafiyah (Lick) #104):


do we celebrate the eight days of Hanukkah? Because of the miracle that

occurred, when the Greeks defiled, etc.

And what is the point of eight nights, and that it did not

last more or less [time]? That the oils come from Asher's territory, as it is

written: May he dip his foot in oil (Devarim 33). There was a place called Tekoa, as they said: "Tekoa

is the best for oil" (Menahot

85b). The oils would come from it, and from there to Jerusalem was an

eight day journey, coming or going, and so it is said in Menahot.

So they had to wait for them to bring the oil from there, and that is why they

had a miracle for eight days.

The Talmud explains what is

special about the oil from Tekoa:


Rabbis taught: May he dip his foot in oil (Devarim 33) – that is Asher's portion, from which

oil is drawn as if [water] from a spring. They said: Once the people of Ludkiya needed oil. They appointed an emissary, and told

him: "Go and bring us a hundred myriads worth of oil." He went to Jerusalem

and they told him – "Go to Tzor." He went

to Tzor, they told him – "Go to Gush Halav." He went to Gush Halav,

they told him – "Go to a certain man in a certain field." He found him

tilling beneath his olive trees. He asked him – "Do you have the hundred

myriad's worth of oil that I need?" He told him – "Wait until I

finish my work." After he finished his work, he left his tools behind him

and began clearing stones along the road. He asked him – "Do you have a

hundred myriad's worth of oil?! I think the Judeans played a joke on me." When

they reached his town, he had his maidservant bring out a pitcher of hot water

and wash his hands and feet. [Next,] she brought out a bowl of oil and dipped

his hands and feet in it, to fulfill the verse, may he dip his foot in oil.

After they ate and drank, he measured out a hundred myriads worth of oil. He

said to him: "Do you not need more?" He answered: "Yes, but I do

not have [enough] money." He said to him: "If you want to take it,

take it, and I will go with you and collect its price." He measured out

eighteen myriad worth of oil. They said: "There was not a horse nor mule

nor camel nor ass in the Land of Israel that they did not hire for that man."

When they reached his town, the people of the town came out to praise him, and

he said: "Do not praise me, but rather he who has accompanied me; he

measured out a hundred myriad's worth of oil, and gave me [another] eighteen

myriads on credit, to fulfil that which is said: One man pretends to be rich and has

nothing, another professes to be poor and has great wealth (Proverbs 13:7)."

Regular oil can be found in

the hills of Jerusalem, but oil for the Temple must be specially grown, only

through it can the lighting be expressed. As Rabbi Mickey Rosen of the Yakar congregation in Jerusalem says: Only one who is "hot"

["madlik"] – can light [madlik].

To paraphrase Hannah Senesh's poem: "Happy is the match who ignites… the

flame of peace."

Shlomo Fuchs teaches in Hebrew Union College, at Beit Shemuel, and at Kolot. He is the educational manager of the IDF project at Beit Morasha.



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