At any given moment, many—if not most—of us may be thinking, “How will I get through this latest crisis?” It may be the political chaos that is troubling us, or financial worries like the slide of the dollar, or the seemingly endless conflict(s) on our borders. Whatever the problem may be, there are times when we seem to reach the limit of our mortal powers, and we look to the sky for help.
There is a strange incident that occurs in this week’s sedra. Yosef is sent by his father Yaakov to seek out his brothers in Shechem. But when he gets there, Yosef learns that the brothers have already left. At that point an unidentified man finds Yosef wandering about and asks him, “What are you looking for?”
“I seek my brothers,” says Yosef.
“They have already left here,” says the man. “I heard them say, ‘We are going to Dotan.’”
The ensuing saga of Yosef—his sale and subsequent descent into Egypt, his eventual reunion and reconciliation with his family, their sojourn in Egypt and the first geula (redemption)—might never have come to pass but for the serendipitous intervention of this mysterious stranger! Who was he?
Rashi identifies him as Gavriel, one of Hashem’s four primary angels, often sent on special missions to aid humanity. But Gavriel is not the only secret sharer in our long history. The Tanach—and all of Jewish literature—is jam-packed with incidents of perfect strangers suddenly appearing out of nowhere to save the day. Whether it is Charvona in the Purim Megillah, who pops up to tell the king that a gallows just happens to be handy on which to hang Haman; or Eliyahu HaNavi, who shows up at the perfect moment, in various guises, to save a life or to make a minyan; or the individual angels many of us have encountered in our own lives who have helped us along the way.
This is what I call the God Factor. When all seems lost, and we’ve seemingly run out of options, Hashem is there for us. He may not necessarily show Himself directly or perform an outright miracle, but “harbei shluchim l’Makom,” the Almighty has many messengers at the ready to do His bidding.
And so we come to Chanukah. While Al HaNissim recounts the great military victory over the Greeks, the Gemara talks exclusively about the Menorah and the oil that lasted miraculously for eight days instead of one. It doesn’t so much as mention the amazing, against-the-odds triumph of the Maccabim. Why not?
Perhaps it is because military victories, from Chanukah to the Six-Day War, can generally be explained away in strictly natural, scientific terms: we had smarter generals, or the element of surprise, or superior weaponry, or a better esprit de corps, etc. The Menorah is meant to show us the light, to illuminate the countless hidden miracles that we experience: God’s Hand gloved in nature or coincidence, or what some would call “luck,” that continually surrounds us and guards us on the path of history. That’s why it is exclusively this facet of Chanukah, the “oil,” the Talmud chooses to discuss.
Living in Israel during these amazing, tumultuous times is proof positive that crises may come and go—but we are always in God’s glow.
Rabbi Stewart Weiss is director of the Ra’anana Jewish Outreach Center ([email protected]) and a member of the Mizrachi Speakers Bureau (www.mizrachi.org/speakers).