This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Vayeishev (5762)
This week we read in the Torah about the imprisonment of Yosef (Josef) the eleventh son of the Patriarch Jacob.
We also just celebrated the Chassidic Holiday of the 19th of Kislev, when Rebbe Shneur Zalman, the author of the Tanya and founder of the Chabad Chassidic movement, was released from a death sentence in Czarist prison, and we prepare for the holiday of Chanukah when the Jews were miraculously saved from Greek domination and defilement.
Why were hardship, imprisonment and danger necessary in these three instances? Why couldn't G-d have just done a few miracles and make Yosef into a king, the Rebbe into a great Jewish leader, and the Jews into a joyous, light-producing people, without the troubles, opposition, darkness, imprisonment, strife and war?
I'd like to answer this with a story:
A Jew once came to a great Tzadik (Holy Jew) by the name of “The Shpola Zeidi” (Grandfather from Shpola) with a desperate request.
He had been falsely accused of cheating the government and stood a good chance of spending the rest of his life in jail. He begged the Rebbe to save him.
"Nu!" answered the holy Tzadik "A month or so in prison isn't such a long time."
"A month!!? " he cried “Rebbe! I'm innocent! I never stole anything in my life!" His eyes were wide in fear and almost fell to his knees as in supplication. Wringing his hands in despair he continued. "Rebbe, Rebbe! You don't know what prison is. I've heard stories! Even one day there will be the end of me! Oy!! A month! They’ll kill me!! Please, please Rebbe. I heard you can do miracles! Free me completely!" And he burst out in bitter tears.
The Rebbe waited until the Chassid had calmed down and replied. "I know exactly what prison is. I myself was there! I was there and I know that sometimes prison can be a very good place! Just calm yourself, sit down and listen.
The fellow wiped his eyes, took a few deep breaths, sat and the Rebbe began.
“Many years ago I was in the middle of a long journey and I stopped for the night in an inn.
“I paid the owner, got settled in my room and was learning some Talmud before going to bed when I heard knock on my door. I opened it and there stood the owner of the inn with a religious Jew standing next to him. He apologized for the intrusion, explained that the extra bed in my room was the only one available in his hotel and asked if I minded sharing the room with this guest for the night.
“It was already after midnight and I wanted to get back to my learning, and the fellow looked perfectly fine; long white beard and everything. So without thinking much about it I agreed.
“The Jew thanked me profusely, came in, put down his bags, prayed the evening prayer, said he was very tired, got into bed and went to sleep while I continued learning. After a while I went to sleep myself.
“When I awoke in the morning his bed was empty and I concluded that he must have left before daybreak and was careful not to wake me up. Very considerate of him!
“I prayed the morning prayer in my room and began packing my bags when suddenly the door burst open revealing the owner of the inn but this time with two huge policemen and a third man with him who was pointing at me and screaming "There! There he is officer! That’s the thief!! Get him!!"
“The police rushed at me like mad dogs. One pushed me to the wall, the other opened my suitcase and turned it upside down on the bed while the third fellow was scurrying around my room, furiously looking in every potential hiding place and corner."
“I was astounded to say the least.”What are you looking for? What's going on here?" I asked innocently. "Just then, one of the policemen lifted the mattress of the second bed and yelled, "Hey! I think I found something here!""
"AHA! THAT’S IT!! MY SPOON!" Shrieked the stranger.
"The police grabbed me, tied my hands, and began slapping and punching me while the man jumped around in the background screaming, “I knew it! I knew it! You can't trust those Jews! WHERE ARE THE REST OF MY THINGS?"
"Suddenly it became clear to me; that the "nice" man that spent the night in my room was a thief. He had stolen this man's silverware the day before and planted the spoon hoping they would grab me and stop chasing him.
“Of course they didn’t listen to a word I said in fact every time I opened my mouth to say something they slapped me! So all I could do was silently pray to HaShem for help and hope that somehow it was all for the best.
“They bound me up like a calf, threw me in their wagon, and took me to prison. As soon as we arrived they made a ten-minute trial and sentenced me to five years imprisonment on the condition that I would tell them where the rest of the loot was hidden and if not I would get ten years. Then I was shown to a large, dismal, cold cell where there were sitting ten or fifteen other prisoners more animal than human.
“It didn't take long for me to find out what prison means. As soon as the guards left my cellmates approached me. They were huge and fearsome and their eyes were flashing with who-knows-what evil thoughts that were running through their minds."
“One of them, probably their leader, put his face in mine and said, ‘Listen Jew. You’re either with us or against us! Fifty rubles and you are in, but you have to do what we say. If not, you'll regret it.’
"I took a step back, looked him in the eye and said that I had no money, I wasn't interested in being one of them and in any case I trust in G-d, the creator of the heavens and earth, to protect me or to do with me what He wants.
“Before I could say another word he pushed me to the floor, one of them grabbed my head, others my arms and legs, and another pulled out a long metal bar from under his shirt.
“The one holding my head covered my mouth with a rag so I couldn't scream, and the ‘executioner’, with a strange smile on his lips, raised the bar ominously.
“Suddenly his face contorted in pain, his eyes bolted out in horror as he stared at his upraised and he let out a piercing scream ‘AAAAAhg....it's burning! AAAhh AAAaii hellllp me!!! helllllllllllp!’
"The pipe suddenly became red hot and was burning his hand, but he couldn’t release it; his arm was paralyzed in mid air."
"The guards heard the noise and came running, but neither they nor his friends could help him. His hand was locked around the blazing metal and they were afraid to touch it.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry!" he pleaded to me with beseeching eyes. "Make it stop burning! I'll leave you alone! AAAAAAAHH!!!"
"As soon as he said that, the pipe inexplicably fell from his hand and the guards whisked him out of the room to the hospital.
“As you can imagine, after that everyone left me alone. I spent the days and nights in prayer and repeating the Torah I knew by heart.
“But in the course of time I noticed that one of the prisoners, a young fellow that had not been involved in the fight, kept staring at me. I thought he was a gypsy at first, but I got in a conversation with him and he told me he was born a Jew.
He said that his parents died and left him an orphan at a young age and he wandered around for a few years until he fell in with a group of gypsies. He was agile and clever, and it wasn't long before they revealed his potential as a horse thief.
“They taught him to sneak into farms and ranches and steal horses, and for a few years he was very successful. In fact, he became a rich man with a rosy future awaiting him. But then one day he got caught by the police in the middle of a "job" and was sentenced to twenty years in prison. And that is how he got here.
“He told me that he never told anyone he was a Jew and he never even cared until the episode with the pipe. When he saw the strange miracle it aroused his curiosity and now he had questions. We spoke for several days and eventually he agreed to put on Tefillin, and in a few weeks I taught him how to read Hebrew and even say some prayers.
“Then one night I had a very vivid dream. Elijah the Prophet appeared to me and said: ‘Tomorrow night take the boy and leave. Just tell him to hold onto your belt and follow.’
“The next morning I told the young man about my dream, and sure enough that night we were following Elijah out of the prison. It was very miraculous; every door that he touched just swung open, and all the guards were sound asleep. We just walked out of the jail to freedom.
“That young boy sat and learned Torah for several years and eventually he became a great Rabbi who today leads a large Jewish community and helps thousands of people."
"So you see, jail isn’t necessarily such a bad place. And I see that, with the proper attitude, you will accomplish a lot there in one month."
This is the lesson of our section, of Chanuka and of Yud Tes Kislev; sometimes the greatest spiritual treasures can only be revealed through suffering, and exile.
Just as diamonds and pearls are hidden deep under the ground and the sea and can only be acquired by effort and self-sacrifice, so Yosef had to suffer years of imprisonment in order to reveal his true greatness (and eventually save the entire world from famine), the Jews had to overcome the ‘darkness’ of meaningless Greek culture to reveal true meaning in the world and Rebbe Shneur Zalman had to suffer to reveal the light of Chassidut Chabad; the light of Moshiach, to the world.
That is why Chanuka centers around oil and the miracle of finding a bottle of pure olive oil; Just as an olive must be squeezed to release the oil hidden within it, so the Jews had to be oppressed by the Greeks in order to reveal the infinite potential in each of them.
Which is the reason that today, even thousands of years after the miracle, Chanukah observed even by the most "non-observant" Jews… and in the MOST religious way ("mehadrin min ha mehadrin").
Because this potential is eternal and unlimited.
[The minimum requirement is to light only one candle every night for the entire household. Mehadrin light one for each male. But the MOST religious way is ("mehadrin min ha mehadrin") to add a candles each night, ending with eight.
So lighting Chanuka candles is the ONLY commandment that ALL Jews do in the MOST religious way.
Because the blessing and the love of G-d hidden in each of us can and must always be increased.
That is why Rebbe Shneur Zalman, the founder of Chabad, had to suffer in prison; only by first to being ‘crushed’ and ‘pressed’ could he reveal the light that began to shine on Chanuka thousands of years earlier in a permanent way. Through Moshiach (Moshiach means anointed with oil)
In fact, the essence of Moshiach is to bring all mankind to break it’s personal barriers. (As hinted at in the seemingly out-of-place story in this week's section of Yehuda giving birth to "Peretz" which means to ‘break through’. And Peretz is the progenitor of King David and eventually of Moshiach. (See Ruth 4:18))
But now the Lubavitch Rebbe says with certainty that the terrible sufferings of thousand plus years of exile has been more than enough. The time of ‘redemption has arrived’!
But it all depends on us: one more good deed, word or even thought can tilt the scales for good.
Just like it was with Yosef, the Jews in Chanuka and Rebbe Shneur Zalman…. So we will all be miraculously released from all spiritual and physical limitations by ....
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