This week we begin the dramatic story of the fall and rise again of Joseph, Yaakov’s seemingly favourite son. We also celebrate and relive the Chanuka experience.

There are many serious fundamental issues that need to be understood in the story of Joseph. One less obvious, yet still troubling, question is raised in the narrative describing Joseph being sold to some Ishmaelite salesman who dug him out of the pit and began his journey to Egypt. The verse explains that these travelling salesman were with camels laden with all sorts of spices and herbs to sell[2]. Given the context, all this information seems a bit unnecessary – here we are caught up in a potential murder plot which dramatically results in Joseph going to Egypt, which in turn sets the whole tide of Jewish history in motion, and the Torah interrupts to tell us what the Ishmaelite’s camels were loaded with? It’s not that hard to see why this bit of the story never made it into the musical!

The commentaries teach us about the relevance of these details in that they show us how much G-d looks after righteous people. Normally Ishmaelite camels would apparently carry foul-smelling chemicals but G-d ensured that these camels, who would transport Joseph, would be bearing sweet-smelling perfumes[3]. Ahhh…. So Joseph has been viscously thrown into a snake and scorpion filled pit[4] by his remorseless brothers. Now he has just been dug out and sold as a slave and is facing the prospect of never seeing his father again …. But at least the journey to a life of misery will smell nice! How exactly then does this moment indicate the reward and close care G-d gives to those closest to Him?

Before we answer this question, another seemingly unrelated question. Chanuka is an eight day festival of Rabbinic origin. The primary reason given as to why it was deemed worthy of becoming a Yom Tov, festival, was the fact that when the Temple was recovered from the invading Greeks only enough oil suitable to light the Temple menorah for one day was found, yet it miraculously lasted for eight[5]. We therefore light our own menorah for 8 days.

This was clearly a major miracle. But was this really the most important miracle of the Chanuka story? Essentially this was just one detail in a far bigger picture. Chanuka is the story of how a small Jewish army, the Hasmoneams, heroically and miraculously defeated the far more powerful and numerous Greeks. The Greeks had invaded Israel and subjected it to numerous laws and decrees which primarily sought to force all Jews to assimilate to the point of totally abandoning everything that makes Judaism Jewish. The Greeks sought to reduce Torah to a topic of intellectual study devoid of any truth value.

In other words, the victory of Chanuka was the rescue of the Jewish people as a people with a distinct set of morals and beliefs and relationship to Torah and to G-d. Many Jews were lost to Hellenism - the victory of the Hasmoneans came just in time to prevent total annihilation. Given this fact, why is the miracle of the oil so central to the story of Chanuka?

Essentially the answer to our two questions is one.

We relate to G-d first and foremost as our father. Just as a truly loving father has mercy on his child whom he loves unconditionally, so to we have the same relationship with G-d. Throughout prayer we refer to G-d as our father and ask him to respond to us as well-meaning but sometimes erring children.

What is a true expression of parental love? If a teenage child was wrongfully arrested and detained in jail, pretty much any parent would make every effort to scramble together the bail money to free their child. They would do so even if the difficulty they had raising the bail money sent them into major debt. This would be true regardless of the relationship between parent and child. This act therefore does not necessarily indicate anything about the strength of bond that exists between them. At the same time, another far smaller and ‘unnecessary’ expression of parental love such as a parent always looking out for their child’s favourite food/magazine etc when shopping says far more about the bond that exists between them.

The same is true of that which G-d gives us. Our salvation at Chanuka was a truly miraculous one, and we do appreciate and celebrate it. Yet, there is something even more special in a sense about the bonus of the miracle of the oil. It was this ‘unnecessary extra’ that we could have survived without, which truly indicates the intimacy and closeness of our bond as a people with G-d.

Likewise Joseph was facing the most testing moments of his life. Left with nothing it surely seemed that no-one cared about him and he was destined for a life of misery. At exactly that moment, by providing him with the ‘unnecessary’ touch of sweet smelling fragrances G-d gave Joseph the necessary reminder that he was not alone. He was very much being watched over and looked after by a loving father who would ensure his well-being.

It is the intimacy of relationship with G-d, expressed through the miracle of the oil, which forms the basis of our appreciation and celebration of Chanuka, and which gave Joseph the strength of character to face the challenges ahead.

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[1] This article is primarily based on a piece by R’ Chaim Shmulevitz in Sichos Mussar, p. 67-70 [2] 37.25 [3] See Rashi [4] See rashi 37.24 [5] See gemara Shabbos 21b All feedbback welcome: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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