Torah Weekly

For the week ending 17 December 2011 / 20 Kislev 5772

Parshat Vayeshev

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair - www.seasonsofthemoon.com
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

Overview

Yaakov settles in the land of Canaan. His favorite son, Yosef, brings him critical reports about his brothers. Yaakov makes Yosef a fine tunic of multi-colored woolen strips. Yosef exacerbates his brothers’ hatred by recounting prophetic dreams of sheaves of wheat bowing to his sheaf, and of the sun, moon and stars bowing to him, signifying that all his family will appoint him king. The brothers indict Yosef and resolve to execute him. When Yosef comes to Shechem, the brothers relent and decide, at Reuven’s instigation, to throw him into a pit instead. Reuven’s intent was to save Yosef. Yehuda persuades the brothers to take Yosef out of the pit and sell him to a caravan of passing Ishmaelites. Reuven returns to find the pit empty and rends his clothes. The brothers soak Yosef’s tunic in goat’s blood and show it to Yaakov, who assumes that Yosef has been devoured by a wild beast. Yaakov is inconsolable. Meanwhile, in Egypt, Yosef has been sold to Potiphar, Pharaoh’s Chamberlain of the Butchers. In the Parsha’s sub-plot, Yehuda’s son Er dies as punishment for preventing his wife Tamar from becoming pregnant. Onan, Yehuda’s second son, then weds Tamar by levirate marriage. He too is punished in similar circumstances. When Yehuda’s wife dies, Tamar resolves to have children through Yehuda, as this union will found the Davidic line culminating in the Mashiach. Meanwhile, Yosef rises to power in the house of his Egyptian master. His extreme beauty attracts the unwanted advances of his master’s wife. Enraged by his rejection, she accuses Yosef of attempting to seduce her, and he is imprisoned. In prison, Yosef successfully predicts the outcome of the dream of Pharaoh’s wine steward, who is reinstated, and the dream of Pharaoh’s baker, who is hanged. In spite of his promise, the wine steward forgets to help Yosef, and Yosef languishes in prison.

Insights

Master Of War

(Yosef said to the Chamberlain of the Cupbearers) “If only you would think of me... and mention me to Pharaoh, then you would get me out of this building.” (40:14)

Something very strange happens on the twenty-fifth of the Hebrew month of Kislev. Two completely different festivals are observed.

One festival celebrates a military triumph by a small group of partisans who manage by their own bravery to overcome vastly superior forces and restore Jewish statehood to the Land of Israel. The other commemorates a supernatural victory against powers of darkness that wished to adulterate the Jewish People and their Holy Torah.

The bizarre thing is that both these festivals have the same name.

They are both called Chanuka.

The secular version of the Chanuka story makes Mattityahu and Yehuda Hamaccabee sound like characters out of a war movie. True, there’s a seven-branched candelabra somewhere there at the back of the set, but Chanuka is really a nationalistic shoot-em-up where the good guys win and the bad guys lose and, well, G-d got written out of the plot at the first script meeting.

The other version of Chanuka focuses on the supernatural events that surround Chanuka. The miracle of the oil lasting eight days; of a small minority who manage to hold on to their Judaism against the blandishments of materialism and hedonism. True, there’s a military victory somewhere in there, but it’s a miraculous victory against impossible odds, a victory which is no more than the revelation of G-d’s providential Hand.

There’s a fine line between faith and folly. There’s an equally fine line between thinking that the Jewish People win wars because we have the best tanks and planes and the best training.

In 1967, the Six Day War opened with a blistering attack on the Egyptian airfields by the Israeli air force. The Israeli air force managed to knock out some 90% of the Egyptian planes while they were still on the ground. Now, 90% is an interesting statistic — because it can’t happen. Warplanes bombing a tiny ground target under fire can achieve 40%, maybe 50%. But 90% doesn’t happen.

After the Six Day War ended, you couldn’t buy a pair of tefillin in the whole of Israel. There were appeals in the United Statesfor anyone who had a spare pair to send them to Israel. The Jewish People realized that G-d had given them a miraculous victory against five Arab armies on four fronts, and the upswell in the observance of Judaism was remarkable. Equally remarkable — and predictable — was the short-lived nature of this awakening. Nothing much had changed in three thousand years, and just as the Jewish People were capable of cavorting around a golden calf a few weeks after they had witnessed the splitting of the sea and all the miracles in Egypt, so too the Jewish People very soon forgot Who it was Who fights our wars, and were busy bragging about the invincible Israeli army.

So, as it were, to give us a little reminder of Who’s really running things, some four years later, the Arabs attack again. This time they manage to make deep inroads into the heartland of the country. But the Arabs make a fatal mistake. They think that they will attack on Yom Kippur when everyone is fasting and weak.

They forget two things. One strategic and the other supernatural. Strategically, the most difficult thing about starting a war without a large standing army is to mobilize. The major problem is to find everyone. However, on Yom Kippur you can find everyone because almost everyone is in shul. So all you have to do is to take a truck drive from shul to shul and call out the names at the back. Also, the roads are empty so you can mobilize your army in about half the time it would normally take. Secondly, the Arabs forget to read their history books. If they’d paid closer attention, they’d have realized that, traditionally, the Jewish People always used to fast before going into battle to purify themselves before G-d. And even in the secular State of Israel, anyone with the remotest connection to his Judaism is davening his heart out in shul and the angels are taking his prayers upstairs to the King of Kings. Not a good day to attack really.

Again the same thing happens. A realization of a miraculous miracle followed by a return to “with my own power and the strength of my own hand” way of thinking.

So next time, G-d, as it were, says, “So you think it’s your army that’s winning these wars? I’ll tell you what. Next time, your army will sit on its benches, and I will send the largest and most powerful navy in the world steaming half way around the world, and your army and your navy and your air force will do absolutely zero.”

And that’s exactly what happened in the Gulf War. I remember sitting in a taxi at the time, and this totally secular taxi driver was quoting me a verse. I think it was from the prophet Yishayahu. All about how G-d will tell us to go into a sealed room for a little while until the danger passes. “Who is like your people Israel?! One nation in the land!” Even the taxi drivers quote you the Prophets!

I also remember when the day the Gulf War ended. It "just happened" to be Purim. I went into my own sealed room and I ripped the plastic off the window and threw the window open wide to let in the sweet air of freedom wafting in the holy city of Jerusalem.

If I live to a hundred and twenty I don’t think I’ll ever have a Purim like that one.

And now, that same holy air is filled with the sounds of jihad, and not-so-distant guns, and the shrill threats of another Haman, and the promise of weapons that should keep us awake at night.

Isn’t the message that G-d is sending us clear enough?

“If only you would think of Me... and mention Me to Pharaoh, then you would get me out of this building.”

In this week’s Torah portion Yosef asks the Chamberlain of the Cupbearers twice to intercede on his behalf to Pharaoh. By his lack of trust in G-d, by asking the Chamberlain twice, Yosef languished two further years in jail.

Rabbi Chaim of Brisk once asked Rabbi Shimon Shkop how long Yosef would have been kept in prison if he had asked the Chamberlain only one time to help secure his release.

Rabbi Shimon replied that if Yosef had asked only once, he would have spent only one year in prison.

Rabbi Chaim disagreed. “He wouldn’t have had to spend any more time in prison at all. To try to secure his release by asking once is considered to be hishtadlut — the human effort that G-d expects of each of us. To ask twice showed a lack of trust in G-d. So it would have been two years or nothing.”

The Jewish People are faced yet again with the threat of war. Again there are those who rise, as they do in every generation, wishing to annihilate us. If we must fight we must fight with everything we have. With our bodies. With our minds. But mostly we must fight that little voice inside us that tells us that we ourselves are doing all this. The greatest fight is the fight to remember that whatever we do, there is only one Master of War.

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