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Parshat Vayeishev (5761)

This story takes place about one hundred years ago in Baghdad at the Shabbat table of Mr. Avraham Pinchas, a rich Jewish merchant. Usually Mr. Pinchas had a table full of guests but this Shabbat he only had one; a poor man that he had invited from the Bait Knesset (Synagogue).

The guest was awed by the plush richness around him; the thick Persian rugs, gold inlayed dishes and beautifully decorated walls. Only one thing perplexed him; in the middle of the table stood an old, empty, broken bottle that looked like it once contained olive oil about twenty years ago.

When Mr. Pinchas noticed how his guest was staring at the bottle he said. “I see that you are wondering about my bottle. Do you want to hear a wonderful story?” When the guest nodded ‘yes’ he began the story: "My father was a respected businessman here in Baghdad, but he was always busy and he left me in the hands of my grandfather.

Every morning my grandfather would wake me, make sure I washed my hands, said the morning blessings and didn’t forget my lunch. Then each time, just before I left the house for school, he would give me a kiss on my forehead, raise his hands to the heavens and say:

“VAANI ANA ANI BAW” (lit. And I, where will I go?! Bereshet 37:30 - this week’s section, VaYeshev)

Later I learned in school that this is what Reuven cried out when he discovered that Yosef was not in the pit and that it was impossible to save him. But I had no idea what it had to do with me.

Then, when I was about fourteen years old, tragedy struck; my grandfather passed away. There was no one to take care of me in the morning so I started to go with my father to work. My father tried to make sure that I prayed and learned a little but he was always very busy, and the business he did fascinated me so I didn’t pay much attention to my studies.

Then, two years later, tragedy struck again; my father died suddenly and now, besides the fact that I was alone, there was another problem; what to do with the business? I was given the choice either to sell it and save the money, or to try my luck managing it for a while and I decided, against the advice of the lawyers to try the latter.

Well, I took to it like a fish to water. It wasn’t long before I was making big business deals with the best. But I began to feel out of place with a Yarmulke and Tzizis, and not eating with everyone else, and the keeping of Shabbos prevented me from making big contacts.

So I began to stop being so observant and I discovered that the more Commandments I dropped, the more successful I became. Several years passed and I rose higher and higher until, one day I was walking home after landing a really big deal and I noticed a young Jewish boy, maybe thirteen years old, sitting on the sidewalk crying.

You know how it is when you feel happy you can’t stand to see someonemiserable, right? So I went over to him and asked him what was wrong. ‘Oh thank you sir,’ he said ‘but this is something for Jews, I don’t think you would understand’.

When he said those words I felt like someone stabbed me in the heart. ‘You should know that I am Jewish’ I said to him, ‘ I even learned Talmud in Torah School’.

‘Oh, I’m sorry’ he answered’ I didn’t mean to make trouble, I just feel so bad. You see at home we don’t have any money.’ He looked up at me and wiped his eyes with his shirtsleeve, ‘My father died a while ago and my mother has to work and also feed us, me and my six brothers and sisters, so things are not good.

Well, this morning my mother said that it is Chanuka tonight and we have to look through the house for money to buy oil so we can light the Menorah and that maybe HaShem will make a Chanuka miracle for us and we’ll find something.

We looked and searched and were just about to give up when my little sister found a coin behind one of the drawers. We were all so happy! So my mother told me to run to the store and buy the oil before it closes. I ran and just as he was closing I got there and bought the oil. I was walking home, holding the bottle and dreaming. I imagined how good it’s going to be to light the lights, how everyone will smile. I remembered how the warm yellow light would shine on everyone’s faces and make everyone look so pure and happy. Maybe we’ll even sing and dance like we did last year. Maybe HaShem will really send Moshiach this time, like my mother says, and then she will start to smile again. I was walking faster and faster, I was so excited. It’s Chanuka! It’s Chanuka!!

And then…. I tripped.

I fell in the street and the bottle flew from my hands! I watched in horror as it arched in the air and came down on a stone and broke!!! It broke!! And all the oil spilled out …. and ANI ANA ANI BAW!!!’ The boy began crying again but when I heard those words I suddenly remembered my grandfather and understood what he meant, he must have known that this would happen.

That broken bottle is me! And the spilled oil is my Jewish soul; I’ve lost my Jewish soul!! As in a trance, I took out a bunch of money from my pocket, gave it to the boy and told him to go back to the store knock on the window and just tell him Avrim Pinchas sent me. Go! Buy what you want, have a happy Chanuka! Go! When the boy was gone, I lifted the bottle from the street and carried it home, still in shock. I sent the servants away for eight days and then, when I was alone, I just stood there, looking at that broken bottle and weeping.

Then the thought struck me; ‘a Jew can’t loose his Jewish soul. Maybe I ignored it or put it to sleep, but I’m sure it’s still there’. So I took my grandfather’s Menorah out of the cabinet, dusted it off, found some oil and a wick and lit the first candle. The light!! I felt like I was alive again! I even decided that I would do something…. I would begin putting on Tefillin starting tomorrow morning!

The next night I lit two candles and decided form now on to eat only kosher food. The following night, that I would begin learning Torah. The night after that I made the decision to keep Shabbot. Until when on the last night eight candles were burning, I felt that I had become a new man. A renewed man. The lights of Chanukah saved me.

So that is the reason I keep the broken bottle; to remind me where I was and how that miracle of the oil "saved my life". May the lights of Chanukah bring true peace and blessing to all mankind, and may HaShem send us the Moshiach NOW so we can relight the Menorah in the Holy Temple and rejoice together with all the Jews in the world in Jerusalem.

Copyright © 1999-2018 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.

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