Chanukah and Purim, Russia and Germany

November 25 2010

The parsha concludes with the dreams of the Sar HaMashkim (officer of the cupbearers) and the Sar HaOfim (officer of the bakers) and Yoseph's respective interpretations. Why did Yoseph interpret the dreams such that the Sar HaMashkim would live and be reinstated while the Sar HaOfim would be hanged? Perhaps this was simply Yoseph's understanding of the events which transpired in the dream. However in the beginning of Parshat Miketz the Sar HaMashkim relates to Pharaoh how Yoseph was able to interpret the dreams and "vayehi kaasher patar lanu ken haya" "and it was that just as he interpreted for us so did it happen" (Bereishit 41:13). The pasuk implies that Yoseph did not simply interpret the dream as he heard it, but rather his interpretation actually determined what was going to take place. Had Yoseph interpreted the dream otherwise, something else would have resulted.


Chazal deduce from here that "shekol hachalomot holchim achar hapeh" "all dreams follow the mouth" (i.e. the import of a dream depends upon the interpretation given it) (Berachot 55b). Yoseph could have interpreted the dream otherwise.


The Sar Hamashkim related to Yoseph that he dreamt of a grapevine. We are not informed who this grapevine belonged to, presumably it did not belong to the king. The Sar HaMashkim was such a loyal servant that he pressed all the grapes into Pharaoh's cup and gave them to Pharaoh, keeping none for himself. Such a loyal servant is worthy of being reinstated as an officer in the king's court.


Let us compare this to the dream of the Sar HaOfim: His dream featured three baskets on his head, with the upper basket containing Pharaoh's food. A bird then landed on the basket and began to consume the contents of the basket. As far as appears from the dream, the baker made no attempt at preventing the bird from eating the king's food. Such a disloyal servant does not deserve to be an officer of the king and deserves to be hanged.


There is a lesson for us in this incident. Hashem is our King and we are His servants - whatever we do must be for Hashem's sake. Although He does not drink wine and eat cakes but it is our task to determine that everything we do in this world is for His honor - this makes us true servants. When we do not channel our energies to fulfill His will and for encouraging others to do so, then we are not acting as loyal servants. I am not saying that we will be hanged (Pharaoh chose his birthday as the day to hang the Sar HaOfim, remember Hashem does not have a birthday). Our task in this world is to fulfill the will of Hashem in this world.

The Chashmonaim were small in number and waged war against a strong Greek army armed with elephants and many other things. In spite of this, Hashem made a miracle and led them to victory. Why were they worthy of a miracle? Their only interest was to fight for the fulfillment of the will of Hashem. The Greeks fought against the Torah and defiled the sanctity of the Beit HaMikdash. The Greeks fought against the soul of the Jewish nation, it was not a war of physical annihilation. The Chashmonaim, with great self-sacrifice waged war and thank G-d succeeded in restoring our ability to learn Torah, keep Shabbat, Brit Milah, and other mitzvoth.


Years later the Jewish people fought the Romans but were not as successful. They fought with great self-sacrifice but not for the Torah, but rather their motives were purely patriotic. Hashem did not make a miracle for them because they were not fighting for the will of Hashem. Because no miracle was performed, the stronger Romans defeated the weaker Jewish nation.


The Bach notes one of the distinctions between Chanukah and Purim. On Purim we celebrate by eating and drinking while on Chanukah we celebrate by lighting candles, saying Hallel and reading the Torah. What is the reason for this distinction? On Purim the enemy wished to physically destroy us, so our celebration therefore focuses on the physical. On Chanukah, on the other hand, it was a spiritual war so the celebration focuses on additional spiritual-based mitzvoth.


There is an interesting distinction between the text of the al hanissim recited on Purim and that which is recited on Chanukah. Purim's al hanissim makes no mention of the celebration being a feast, while Chanukah's does mention the lighting of candles. The Rav (HaGaon HaRav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt"l) explains the distinction as follows: in al hanissim we announced that Hashem intervened and thwarted the plans of the enemy and carried out the exact opposite of what they had intended. Therefore on Purim when the enemy wished to hang Mordechai, we thank Hashem for saving Mordechai and for hanging Haman. On Chanukah, on the other hand, the Greek goal was to cause us to forget the Torah. What better way to highlight their failure than to show that after the miracle of Chanukah not only were we able to learn Torah but we were given additional halachot pertaining to Chanukah.


HaGaon HaRav Yechezkel Sarna zt"l was known to ask children whether the Chashmonaim were strong or weak. The children of course would respond that they were strong, after all how else could they have defeated the mighty Greek army. R' Yechezkel would then point out that we say in al hanissim: "masarta giborim beyad chalashim", that Hashem gave over the strong in the hands of the weak meaning that the Jewish nation was the weak one.

Perhaps we can offer a different interpretation to "masarta giborim beyad chalashim". Perhaps the Chashmonaim were indeed strong, and chalashim - weak - refers to those who were killed by the Greeks for keeping Torah and mitzvoth, for it was the merit of their dying al Kiddush Hashem that helped the Chashmonaim defeat the Greek army.

I would like to add that in my lifetime (before the students in the Yeshiva were born) there were two great powers which waged war on the Jewish people - Germany and Russia. The German aim was to kill every Jew regardless of his level of mitzvah observance, while the Russians wished to assimilate us. I would venture to say that the Germans were the Haman of the previous generation while the Russians were the Antiochus. Millions of people died in World War II, not only Jews but the many soldiers of Russia, the United States, Britain, France, and other nations before Nazi Germany was finally defeated. Communism, however, fell with hardly any casualties. What brought the downfall of communism? It was those who lived their lives al Kiddush Hashem in Soviet Russia, by defying the authorities and learning Torah, performing Brit Milah, and other mitzvoth.


My father zt"l once told me that he once heard Rav Zolty zt"l speak on Shabbat Chanukah. He mentioned a pasuk from the haftarah of Shabbat Chanukah: "lo bechayil velo bekoach ki im beruchi" "not with soldiers, not with strength, but with My spirit". Rav Zolty mentioned that we can see a clear example of this in our generation. The Russians are armed with tanks, sputniks, and so many other things yet what were they afraid of? The siddur in the hand of the Jew - this was their enemy. Had Rav Zolty zt"l lived a few more years he would have seen that the siddur won the war - the Russian empire of communism collapsed and as a result Jews are now able to learn Torah and keep mitzvoth and move to Eretz Yisrael if they wish.


In both of these oppressive regimes there were incredible amounts of Kiddush Hashem. Although that evil German declared war on the Jews, he was fighting Judaism as well as is evident from his burning shuls and Sifrei Torah. The Russians were officially battling Judaism. They lost the war - the Torah defeated the Russians.


I would venture to say that we have not seen such acts of Kiddush Hashem in both of these countries since Akeidat Yitzchak. Many wonder where Hashem was while his people were in Auschwitz. I would say that the acts of Kiddush Hashem show us that he indeed was there. Life in Soviet Russia as well, was also full of tremendous acts of Kiddush Hashem and mesirut nefesh for the mitzvoth of Brit Milah, Shabbat, and many other mitzvoth.


A story is told of a Jew who emigrated from Russia with very few belongings. One of the belongings he did take with him was a piano which he took great care to insure that it was not damaged. Someone approached him: "you brought so little from Russia, why did you feel it was so essential to bring the piano? Are you a musician, or at least very musical?" The man responded: "I am not the least bit musical, however this piano has great sentimental value. I very badly wanted to learn Torah with my son but I did not want the goyim to hear me, who knows what punishment I would have received. Whenever my son and I would learn, I would let my daughter play with the piano to make sure the goyim would not hear us learning."


There was the story of another Jew who very badly wanted to move to Eretz Yisrael. He entered the emigration office and was sent from one officer to another. Finally he arrived at an officer who asked him why he so badly wanted to move to Palestine. The Jew responded that he wished to move to Eretz Yisrael. The officer took out a piece of paper, scribbled a note, and gave it to the Jew saying: "you can go on one condition, that you put this note in the Kotel when you get there."


A very moving story involved a man who gathered a minyan of Jews together to make a brit milah for his son. The son was more than 8 days old because it took about a year to find a mohel (in Soviet Russia there were no ads for mohalim in the local newspapers). Following the Brit Milah, the mother kissed her little son, remarking that this is the first time she had kissed her son for she had decided she would not kiss him until he had a Brit Mildah.


A story is told of a group of Jewish boys on their way to the gas chambers on Simchat Torah who suddenly broke out in song and dance. The German guards barked: "why are you singing and dancing?" One of the young men responded: "we are joyous at the prospect of leaving this terrible world and going to a much better place." The German responded: "wait a minute! I am not about to let you go to any better place."


A Rav told the story that he was sentenced to be hanged. The Germans sentenced many people to hanging that day and there was a long wait. In the meantime there was work that needed to be done. The hangman said to him: "why don't you go to work, but come back quickly or you may lose your place on line." The Rav, who was very happy to lose his place, did not return, and lived to see the end of the war.


There was a Jew in America who made a Bar Mitzvah for his son, inviting a few friends to a Shabbat Kiddush. Cakes and kugel were served. A man entered whom nobody knew, but being a good host, the father of the Bar Mitzvah offered him a piece of kugel. The man was not satisfied and asked if he could speak. Of course, the people in the room were not thrilled with the idea but realized they had no choice but to allow him to speak. He began: "you people all think you are at a Bar Mitvah, but let me tell you this is not a Bar Mitzvah it is a Brit Milah. You think this kugel is delicious, well let me tell you I once tasted better kugel." The people in the room thought he had lost his mind. However, he continued: "I want to tell you people the following story: the mother of this child was with me in the ghetto. She prayed that she would not have a son because she would not know how she could give him a Brit Milah under these terrible circumstances. For some unknown reason the Germans sent her to Vienna where she did in fact give birth to a son. She asked the head of the Jewish community if he could speak to the Germans about allowing her to give her son a Brit Milah. The man of course responded that he could not speak to those murderers about such a thing. She decided to secretly have a Brit Milah performed on her son. One man told her that being a doctor, he knew how to do a Brit Milah. The mother refused him saying that he was not a religious Jew. Eventually another group of Jews arrived, among them a religious mohel who had his knife on him and he performed the Brit. In honor of the great simcha, the mother took whatever potato skin she could muster and made some sort of kugel. I would like to inform everyone here that the mother of the Bar Mitzvah was that woman, the Bar Mitzvah boy was that child, and I am the mohel. As delicious as this kugel that we are eating is, it does not compare to the potato skin kugel we ate risking our lives to give this child a proper Brit Milah."

Venue: Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh


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