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THOUGHTS ON PARASHAT VAYEISHEV BY RABBI WILKINSON

On Sunday night, IYH, we will start lighting the Chanukah menorah. As we know Chanukah, the last Yom Tov established by Hazal, is a holiday of lights at the darkest time of year. The lights represent the hope that should take us through this long and dark exile.

This message also appears in the parasha as Tamar, arguably the heroine of the parasha, represents the idea of retaining hope in the face of a seemingly hopeless ordeal.

Rav Yosef Soloveitchik ztl points out that that the Mashiach descends from a past of questionable relationships: Lot and his daughters, Yehuda and Tamar, and others. Both Tamar and Lot’s daughters were in a state of hopelessness: they saw only darkness and could easily have given up. They resisted such thoughts, however, and instead persevered, intent on building a future.

This is the root of the kingship of the House of David: no matter how dark the present is, we must always hope for a brighter future. If not for the belief in the future, exemplified by Lot’s daughters, the idea of the kingdom of the House of David could not have been realised.

We see this concept with Tamar as well. Tamar showed the strength of waiting and hoping, of having faith even when she became the subject of mockery. We all have the potential to be a ‘Tamar’.  The ko’ach, the strength, to realize beyond hope and logic that something will evolve out of the darkness stems from Tamar.

What gave the Hashmonaim confidence despite being vastly outnumbered and surrounded by darkness? Their strength and belief came from Tamar and from Lot’s daughters. This belief in a bright future despite the present darkness was in their blood from their ancestors.

Throughout our years in the darkness of the exile, we must retain the hope that Tamar had and that empowered the Hasmonaim. This is the root of the kingdom of David and must always remain strong in our hearts.

This, however, isn’t the only connection to Chanukah in the parasha.

Rabbi Shalom Rosner points out that Yosef had two different types of dreams in the parasha: one was related to the heavens, the other to the earth. These two dreams complement each other. It’s impossible to gather your bundles if you’re not looking up at the stars. Similarly, it’s impossible to be in the stars if you don’t have your feet planted firmly among your bundles. We need both areas of leadership, ruhani (spiritual) and gashmi (physical).

There’s a makhloket, a discussion, in the Gemara about whether the conditions of the mitzva of the menorah must be fulfilled at the time of the lighting or when the menorah is placed into position. The conclusion is: at the time of lighting.

Rav Shlomo Zevin ztl posits that the message of both applies to Chanukah. One element we celebrate on Chanukah is the lighting up of the souls that took place at the time of Chanukah. The Greeks made decrees to restrict our observance of mitzvot, but we defeated them and were again able to fulfil our mitzvot. We were able to kindle our inner flames and enlighten ourselves spiritually.

There was also hanaha, a placement. We were able to become strong and set up a Jewish government for the next centuries. There was a physical war and victory, when we became firmly planted, and that’s symbolized by hanaha. The two miracles that we celebrate symbolize these two elements. Lighting symbolizes the spiritual victory, and hanaha the physical one.

Those are also Yosef’s two dreams. Yosef represents Klal Yisrael. We must make sure we are perfected in both areas of lighting and hanaha, spiritual and physical. We must raise our physical lives and connect them to our spiritual lives. Our sheaves need to have an eye toward the stars. We need both elements as we seek to fulfil the mitzvot to the best of our ability.

Shabbat shalom

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