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PARSHAS MIKETZ - IT ALL DEPENDS ON US
In this week’s parsha we read the dramatic story of Joseph who is now Viceroy of Egypt meeting his brethren after 22 years of separation.
The brothers do not recognize Joseph and when he accuses them of espionage they are overcome by trepidation. They immediately attribute their troubles to the heinous sin that they committed so long ago when they sold Joseph into slavery. In voices full of torment, they cry out, "Aval" - "Indeed",, we are guilty concerning our brother inasmuch as we saw his heartfelt anguish when he pleaded with us, and we paid no heed; that is why this trouble has befallen us" (Genesis, 42-21) The brothers could of course, have ascribed Joseph’s accusation to the whim of a mad Egyptian despot, but herein lies their greatness. Instead of shifting blame, they searched their souls and looked within themselves.
We can appreciate the depth of their self-scrutiny through an examination of the Hebrew word "aval" - "indeed" which has a double meaning. It can also be translated as "but" At first glance, these disparate words appear contradictory. The Torah however, is teaching us a profound lesson. Most people, when explaining themselves, prefer to use the word "aval" as "but" to justify their negative behavior. They readily concede that their conduct was incorrect, but then they go on to say "But, there were mitigating circumstances beyond their control," thus rationalizing their deed and giving themselves license to continue to follow the same ill begotten path.
The brothers - the tribal patriarchs of the Jewish people, taught us how to repent, how to shed our bad habits and improve our character traits. They use the word "aval" not as "but" (a loophole), but rather as "indeed," meaning, "Yes indeed" we have sinned, we are accountable - and thus they showed the path of repentance for all generations.
On Yom Kippur, when we confess, we repeat these very words - "Aval anachnu chatanu..." - "Indeed, We have sinned - no ifs ands or buts." Our sin came about because we used the word "aval" as a rationalization to justify our misbehavior. So when people say, "I know I did such and such, "but", they give themselves license to continue along the same corrupt path. The brothers however, reversed all that and confessed without excuses - "Indeed, we have sinned." To make such a confession is very painful and because of that, most people shy away from it. It`s so much more convenient to blame others and circumstances, but if we are to change, if we are to grow spiritually, we must find the courage for honest introspection, as agonizing as that may be.
Most of us are good and decent people. It is the excuses that we make with "but" that allow us to stray from the path. We have a choice...we can emulate the tribal patriarchs by saying "Indeed," - grow, change and realize our potential, or we can indulge ourselves with "but" and sink into our weaknesses. It all depends on us.
SHABBOS CHANUKAH - A TESTIMONY TO THE INVINCIBILITY OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE
Over two thousand years ago, Alexander the Great conquered much of the world and imposed Greek Culture wherever he reigned. The Holy Land of Israel was an exception. When he met Shimon HaTzaddik, the High Priest, he dismounted from his famous white horse and bowed down in front of him. Everyone was astounded. Why would Alexander the Great bow down before a Jew?
Alexander explained that before every battle he had a dream in which an angel appeared who assured him of success, and the face of that angel was that of Shimon HaTzaddik - the High Priest. Alexander assured Shimon HaTzaddik that all his wishes would be granted. And so it was that Alexander did not impose Greek Culture on Israel. In appreciation, in that year, all male Jewish newborns were called Alexander, and so it was that Alexander became a Jewish name.
All that changed however, with the death of Alexander. His kingdom was divided and Antiochus ruled over Syria (including Israel). Antiochus, determined to Hellenize our people, forced Greek culture on us. He denied us the right to practice our faith in the following ways: He forbade the observance of Shabbos, the celebration of Rosh Chodesh, and the practice of circumcision. But the eternal spirit of our people prevailed. At the risk of their lives, our people continued to practice circumcision, observe the Sabbath, and celebrate Rosh Chodesh, and they studied Torah, but pretended they were playing dreidle.
Mattiyahu, the elderly Kohen (High Priest) of the Hasmonean family and his five sons led a rebellion by rallying the people with the cry, “Whoever is for G-d, come unto me.” They ascended the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, cleansed the Holy Temple of the Pagan defilement of the Greeks and miraculously found one jar of pure olive oil with the seal of the High Priest which had not been contaminated by the Greeks. There was enough oil for a single day, but miraculously, it lasted for eight days (the time needed for new oil to be produced.).
The story of Chanukah is the story of the triumph of the Jewish spirit over the forces of darkness. In every Jewish heart, in every Jewish soul, there will always be a pure spark from Sinai that can kindle the Menorah which is a metaphor for the Torah – teaching us that the light of Torah will forever illuminate the heart of every Jew.
As for the prohibitions that the Syrian Greeks imposed upon us - Every Chanukah contains a Shabbos, and a Rosh Chodesh (which this year falls on Monday, December 18th and Tuesday, December 19th) and every Chanukah reminds us of circumcision which always takes place on the eighth day.
The word Chanukah means education - dedication. It is through dedicating ourselves to Torah education that the light of the Menorah will shine forth eternally.
Chanukah Sameach and Shabbat Shalom