Today's adverts show modern-day Egypt to be a land of endless sunsets, pristine beaches, coral reefs and smiling tourists riding immaculate camels past magnificent pyramids. This country, however—sitting cosily on the Red Sea—was not always the location for such an idyllic honeymoon. Three-and-a-half thousand years ago, immorality was the norm, idol worship the obsession and the country's largest natural resource was a thriving slave trade. The Midrash describes such atrocities as Pharoh bathing in the blood of Jewish babies, tiny infants being bricked into walls and slaves being ravished by wild beasts as examples of the apocalyptic scene that typified the culture. It was into this very nightmare that Yosef was flung.

At the tender age of seventeen, Yosef the beloved, pampered and protected favourite son of Yackov became Yosef the despised, enslaved and confronted castaway. Sold by his own flesh and blood into an endless hopeless nightmare, challenged and threatened both physically and spiritually, he not only survived but climbed the rungs of society to become the longest reigning Jewish monarch in history! What could possibly have been his secret to success?

The Torah relates that Yackov sent Yosef to ascertain his brothers' well-being and expected to find them in Shechem. By the time he arrived there they had already moved on, prompting him to wonder what happened. On this, the possuk says; "A man discovered him, and behold! – he was blundering in the field; the man asked him, saying, 'What do you seek?'" (Ber. 37:15). With the instruction of this "man", Yosef was directed to Dothan to where he had the fateful meeting that led to his sale as a slave.

Although the discussion with the helpful onlooker seems rather unremarkable, there are a couple of fascinating insights that show this event was not to be taken on face value. Firstly, since the Midrash enlightens us that the man he met was in fact the angel Gabriel, there was surely a deeper purpose for his appearance than simply to be a celestial road map. Secondly, what could the Torah possibly mean with the superfluous word " saying" within the possuk of "a man asked him, saying, "What do you seek?"

The Kotzker Rebbe explains that this was indeed far more than a casual rendezvous. Before Yosef was catapulted into a life of slavery devoid of spiritual support, Hashem sent him the key to survival through his emissary Gavriel—a code that would unlock the most difficult binds and create a timeless message for all of us. Yosef was advised that whilst navigating the challenges in life, decide your course of action by saying what you seek! Decisions should not be based on convenience, comfort or momentary pleasure, but rather on the true desire instilled into every human being to do the right thing. At every crossroad of moral challenge, one should say to oneself, "what is really the correct move that will give me long-lasting pleasure?"

Yosef was not the only one that took this message to heart and used these otherwise crushing challenges as a catalyst to greatness. Our great Chanukah heroes used this same thought process hundreds of years later to crush the mighty Greeks. With the future of Torah values being challenged, they entered a hopeless war with the "what must be morally done" weapon and defeated the entire Greek army. As we physically kindle the lights on Chanukah we must lovingly rekindle our spiritual flame of burning dedication to the legacy of our heroically devout ancestors.

Gut Shabbos and Happy Chanukah!

Rabbi Sipper is a close friend of Further divrei Torah from the Rov can be found on his yeshiva's website at

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