Yosef lit Chanukah candles in Mitzrayim.
You have likely never heard that before because there is no such statement in Chazal. And yet, there is a truth to it.
The Torah (Bereishis 39:2) tells us:
וַיְהִי ה’ אֶת יוֹסֵף וַיְהִי אִישׁ מַצְלִיחַ וַיְהִי בְבֵית אֲדֹנָיו הַמִּצְרִי.
Hashem was with Yosef, and he was a successful man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian.
The very next pasuk tells us:
וַיַּרְא אֲדֹנָיו כִּי ה’ אִתּוֹ וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר הוּא עֹשֶׂה ה’ מַצְלִיחַ בְּיָדוֹ
And his master saw that Hashem was with him and all that he did, Hashem allowed to succeed in his hand.
What does the second pasuk add that we didn’t already know from the first? The first pasuk informs us that Hashem was with him, and Yosef was successful. The second pasuk only adds that Yosef’s Egyptian master saw this.
What exactly did his master see? Instead of the Torah writing that he saw Yosef’s success, it relates that he saw that Hashem was with him.
I have three questions:
1) What does it mean that Hashem is with someone? It is unlikely that this Egyptian had achieved such a high spiritual level that he saw the Shechinah resting on Yosef. He did not see the presence of Hashem; all he saw was that Yosef enjoyed success. Why doesn’t the Torah simply say that the Egyptian master saw Yosef’s success? — “His master saw that Hashem allowed Yosef to be successful.” וירא אדניו שה’ הצליח בידו.
2) How did he “see” it? One can believe or perhaps even know that an individual’s success is due to Divine influence, but one does not actually see it.
3) Why would an Egyptian attribute the success of Yosef to Hashem and not one of the Egyptian gods?
כי ה’ אתו. שֵׁם שָׁמַיִם שָׁגוּר בְּפִיו:
That Hashem was with him — the name of Hashem was fluent in his mouth.
With these few words, Rashi answers all three questions. Yosef was so successful in verbally acknowledging and attributing all of his success to Hashem that despite being a seasoned idolator, his Egyptian master became convinced that Hashem was the cause of all of Yosef’s success.
All of those acknowledgements and attributions were Yosef’s Chanukah candles in Mitzrayim.
Probably the most unusual element of the mitzvah to light Chanukah candles is the expenditure required to assure its fulfillment.
According to the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 671:1), even a destitute individual must purchase wicks and oil, even if that means selling his clothing for cash. This stands in stark contrast to the comment of the Rama elsewhere (Orach Chaim 651) that we need not spend more than a fifth of our available funds to fulfill a mitzvah from the Torah. Since lighting Chanukah candles is a rabbinic institution, why would we be obligated to spend more money to assure its fulfillment than on a mitzvah from the Torah?
The source for this halachah is the Rambam (Chanukah 4:12) who writes:
מצות נר חנוכה מצוה חביבה היא עד מאד וצריך אדם להזהר בה כדי להודיע הנס ולהוסיף בשבח הא-ל והודיה לו על הנסים שעשה לנו, אפילו אין לו מה יאכל אלא מן הצדקה שואל או מוכר כסותו ולוקח שמן ונרות ומדליק.
The mitzvah of Chanukah lights is a very precious one, and one must be cautious regarding it in order to publicize the miracle and to increase the praise of the Lord and gratitude towards Him for the miracles that He did for us. Even one with nothing to eat other than from charity must beg or sell his clothing and procure oil and wicks to light.
The reason Chanukah candles are so precious and their fulfillment is so critical is due to pirsumei nisa — they publicize the miracle. They declare that Hakadosh Baruch Hu performs miracles for the Jewish People. Facilitating that declaration is more important than facilitating the fulfillment of a positive commandment from the Torah. The acknowledgement, appreciation, and expression of Hakadosh Baruch Hu’s involvement in the world in general and with Klal Yisroel in particular, is more fundamental, its declaration more critical, than the fulfillment of positive mitzvos.
We find this idea expressed in the Torah itself when Eliezer, the servant of Avraham, asks for and receives a miracle from Hashem to determine the proper wife for Yitzchok. After the entire story is presented as a narrative, the Torah repeats it as part of the conversation that Eliezer has with Lavan and Besuel. What is Hakadosh Baruch Hu teaching us by repeating the whole story?
Rashi (Bereishis 24:42) quotes from the Midrash:
אָמַר רַבִּי אֲחָא יָפָה שִׂיחָתָן שֶׁל עַבְדֵי אָבוֹת לִפְנֵי הַמָּקוֹם מִתּוֹרָתָן שֶׁל בָּנִים, שֶׁהֲרֵי פָּרָשָׁה שֶׁל אֱלִיעֶזֶר כְּפוּלָה בַּתּוֹרָה וְהַרְבֵּה גּוּפֵי תוֹרָה לֹא נִתְּנוּ אֶלָּא בִּרְמִיזָה
Rabbi Acha said, more precious are the conversations of the servants of the Avos than the Torah of their descendants. The section of Eliezer is doubled in the Torah, but much of the principles of the Torah were only presented with hints.
What is so precious about the conversation between Eliezer and Besuel?
The answer is that their conversation resulted in the acknowledgment and appreciation of the miraculous involvement of Hakadosh Baruch Hu in the connection between Rivkah and Yitzchok. The result of that conversation was that even Lavan and Besuel were forced to admit that me-Hashem yatza hadavar; it was an act of God (Bereishis 24:50). It was a conversation rich with pirsumei nisa.
The purpose of lighting Chanukah candles is pirsumei nisa, the acknowledgement, appreciation, and expression that Hakadosh Baruch Hu is constantly performing miracles for Bnei Yisroel.
When Yosef behaved in a manner that made it clear to all that his success was only because of Hakadosh Baruch Hu, it was a type of pirsumei nisa. It was because of that pirsumei nisa that his master “saw” that Hashem, not an Egyptian deity, was “with him.”
That is how Yosef lit Chanukah candles in Mitzrayim, and it is in this way that we should all light Chankuah candles every day.
- Chanukka and Zecher la-Mikdash, with 6 nafkan minah | chazara shiur #3