The first Rashi in our parsha notes that whereas earlier the Torah briefly mentioned the circumstances of Eisav’s offspring and where he settled for they were not treasured or important to Hashem, our parsha, begins to go into lengthy detail about Yaakov’s offspring and where he settled, for they are important to Hashem. Rashi gives a parable of someone who lost a pearl in the sand and he rummages through the sand until he finds the pearl.
We can learn from this Rashi of Hashem’s love and endearment for Yaakov and his descendants. Additionally, it would seem from this parable of Rashi that the Torah only mentioned the details of Eisav and his descendants to get it out of the way so it can focus on Yaakov and his descendants because that’s what is really important to Hashem and what He treasures. This can show us that Hashem’s real focus and endearment is on us, and He, so to speak, eagerly rummages through the “sand”—Eisav, to finally get to us—Yaakov, the “pearl.”
This parsha begins with the unfolding of a tremendous tragedy—the selling of Yosef (spurred by Yaakov’s favoritism towards Yosef), which ultimately snowballs into a long and bitter exile in Mitzrayim. Why is Hashem showing such a love for us in the beginning of a parsha which also immediately describes the beginning of events that would lead to an impending catastrophe?
A similar question can be raised about the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash: The Gemara (Yoma 54b) says that when the gentiles entered the sanctuary, they saw the keruvim embracing each other, which signifies Hashem’s love for us. Why is Hashem showing such affection immediately prior to an enormous tragedy whose effects would linger and continue for years to come?
When Yosef is sold to the Arabs, the pasuk tell us that the camels of these Arabs were carrying spices. Why is it necessary for the Torah to inform us what their camels were carrying? Rashi explains that ordinarily such people only carry petroleum and resin whose odor is foul, but since Yosef was righteous, he deserved to be led away among spices so that he shouldn’t be harmed by the foul odor.
Putting things in perspective, did it really make a difference to Yosef that there was spices instead of petroleum? Yosef—in the prime of his youth, is being torn apart from his family and dear father, to a filthy place of likely no return—Egypt—whose borders are so secure that it may be virtually impossible for anyone to escape from there! All alone, so suddenly, without knowing what would happen to him; does some pleasant smelling spice make any difference to Yosef?
Rav Chaim Shmulevitz explains that these spices carry an intellectual message for Yosef. Amidst such a dark experience, Hashem making this miracle for Yosef showed him that Hashem cares for him and is with him. Since such an experience could lead to despair and hopelessness, Hashem sent him a miracle to underscore the message that “I care for you, and I’m right here with you.”
Based on this, we can perhaps answer our original two questions. Hashem showing his love for us right in the beginning of our parsha, which marks the commencement of a disaster that would lead to galut Mitzrayim—as well as at the beginning of the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash which would lead to another galut—is to remind us that although there is darkness and difficulty now and more ahead, Hashem tells us “I and My love for you are present with you now and through what is to come.”
The Gemara (Shabbat 21b with Rashi) says that the reason for the establishment of the holiday of Chanukah was because the Chashmonaim found only one flask of ritually pure oil that contained enough oil for only one day, but a miracle occurred and it lasted for eight days. Upon realizing this miracle, these eight days were established as Yamim Tovim with respect to the recital of Hallel and thanks.
Rav Shmulevitz asks: Was not the miracle of the war victory more significant for us? We were on the verge of annihilation, chas v’shalom, (as the Greeks tried to drive us away from Torah and mitzvot) and only a few, weak, Torah scholars triumphed over the many, strong Greeks! Hence wouldn’t it be more fitting to have the holiday be established for that reason? Rav Shmulevitz explains that for Hashem to save us and grant us victory from the war was something that Hashem “had to do,” so-to-speak—for Hashem promised the continuity of Torah through the generations. This doesn’t truly reveal Hashem’s love for us, whereas the miracle with the flask of oil lasting for eight days was technically not necessary and was thus a clear demonstration of Hashem’s love for us. It is this sign of endearment that Hashem showed to us that carries the significance to establish the holiday of Chanukah for Hallel and thanks.
I thought that maybe this sign of love goes a bit deeper. I wondered why it is that Hashem performed this miracle of love specifically in this way—preserving a small flask of oil and it lasting eight days. Why not perform some other miracle?
Maybe we can suggest that the very fact that a flask of oil remained untouched and pure is itself a miracle! What are the chances of such a phenomenon? Maybe then, this flask symbolizes Hashem’s love: Just like this flask was hidden away but, nevertheless, present throughout the entire Chanukah story, so too Hashem’s love, represented by this miracle of lights which stemmed from the oil, was also present throughout the entire episode—even though the darkness and harshness of those times may have made it seem like the opposite.
These lights of love can show us that Hashem loves us right now, but they can also reflect back on all the dark times and troubles we have experienced, and remind us that Hashem’s hashgacha and love for us was present then as well.
Binyamin is a graduate of Yeshivas Rebbeinu Yitzchok Elchonon, and Wurzweiler School of Social Work.