[Please scroll down to the Story of Chanukah]

20-26 Kislev 5781


The Ninth Sedra


 Genesis 37:1-40:23

At the end of last week’s Sedra Vayishlach, Jacob has returned from Charan to Canaan.  Isaac dies and is buried by both of his sons, Jacob and Esau.  At the beginning of this week’s Sedra Vayeshev, Jacob is described as “settling” in the land where his father had “sojourned.”  But virtually all of the Sedra opens the saga of Jacob’s favored son Joseph, who spends his adult life involuntarily outside of the Land, in Egypt.  The seeds of Joseph’s displacement are revealed through the narrative.  The source of Joseph’s subsequent success is presented as divine, but its hidden hand and Joseph’s conventional piety distinguish most of this sedra as post-patriarchal.  An exception is the curious, dissimilar account of unconventional destiny in the arduous relationship of Judah and his sons with Tamar.

Joseph Emerges in Canaan


Now Jacob “settles” (Vayeshev) in the land of his father’s sojournings, in the land of Canaan.  These are the generations of Jacob.

Joseph, a lad of seventeen years, was a shepherd of the flock, along with his brothers, the sons of his father’s wives Bilhah and Zilpah.  He carried uncomplimentary reports of his brothers to their father.  Israel loved Joseph the most of all of his sons, for Joseph was the son of his old age, and his father made for him a grand tunic.  His brothers knew that their father loved Joseph more than he loved them, and they hated Joseph for it and could not speak peaceably to him.


Joseph has a dream which he relates to his brothers: “We were binding sheaves in the field, when my sheaf stood up and your sheaves surrounded mine and bowed down to it.”  This makes his brothers hate Joseph even more than before.  “Do you intend to rule over us?” they say to him.  In another dream that he relates to them: “The sun and the moon and eleven stars are bowing down to me.”  For that dream his father rebukes him: Do you mean to say that I and your mother and your brothers will come to bow down to you on the ground?  His brothers display anger, and his father remains guarded.


When his brothers go to shepherd their father’s flock in Shechem, Israel sends Joseph from the valley of Hebron to report on them to him.  When Joseph arrives at Shechem, a man encounters him.  He is wandering about in the field, and the man asks him, “What are you seeking?”  “My brothers I seek,” he says, “pray tell me where they are shepherding.”  “They have gone from here,” says the man, “but I heard them say, ‘Let us go to Dothan.’”  So Joseph finds his brothers in Dothan.


Seeing him from afar, the brothers conspire: “Oh look, here comes the master of dreams.  Let us kill him and toss him into one of the pits and say that a ferocious beast has eaten him.  Then we shall see what becomes of his dreams!”  But Reuben determines to save him by arguing against taking his life: “Let us throw him into this pit in the wilderness, without any violence,” planning to save him from their hand and return him to his father.  When Joseph reaches his brothers, they strip him of his grand tunic and throw him into the pit alive.  The pit is empty, it contains no water.

His brothers sit down to eat.  They see a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, its camels laden with aromatic spices to be brought down to Egypt.  Says Judah to his brothers: “It doesn’t pay for us to kill our brother and then hide his blood.  Instead let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, so that our hand will not be against him, because our brother is our flesh.”  The brothers agree.  When Midianite traders pass by, they pull Joseph out of the pit and sell Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver.  They bring Joseph to Egypt.

In the meantime, Reuben returns to the pit.  When he fails to find Joseph there, he rends his garments and says to his brothers, “The boy is lost, what shall I do?”  They slaughter a kid, dip Joseph’s tunic in its blood, and send it to their father, saying that they found it and asking him if   he can identify it as Joseph’s.  Jacob recognizes it, saying, “It is my son’s, a ferocious beast must have eaten him, Joseph was mortally wounded!”  Jacob rends his clothing and puts sackcloth around his loins, and mourns for his son for many days.  His sons and daughters seek to comfort him, but he refuses to be comforted: “I will go down to She’ol mourning for my son!”  Thus does his father bewail him.

The Medanites sell Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, a courtier of Pharaoh, the chief steward.

Judah’s Unique Line


At this time Judah leaves his brothers and turns toward an Adullamite man whose name is Chirah.  He marries the daughter of a Canaanite man named Shua.  They have three sons: Er, Onan, and Shelah, who was born at Keziv.  Judah takes a wife for Er, his firstborn, and her name is Tamar.  But Er is evil in the sight of the Eternal, so that the Eternal takes his life.  Judah tells the next son Onan to cohabit with his brother’s widow as her brother-in-law, “and raise up offspring for your brother” (cf. Deuteronomy 25:5-6).

Knowing that the offspring would not be counted as his, Onan lets his seed be wasted upon the ground, thus depriving his brother of offspring.  What he does is evil in the sight of the Eternal, so the Eternal takes his life also.  Judah fears that the next son Shelah would suffer the same fate as that of his brothers.  So he tells his daughter-in-law Tamar to remain as a widow in her father’s house until his son Shelah reaches adulthood.  Tamar complies with that expectation.

Many days pass.  Tamar sees that Shelah has grown up but that she has not been given to him as his wife.  Judah’s wife, the daughter of Shua, dies.  Judah’s period of mourning concludes.  Judah, together with Chira his Adullamite friend, goes up towards Timnah to visit his sheep shearers.  Tamar is told.  She puts aside her garments of widowhood and enwraps herself, covering her face with a veil, and sits in an open place on the way to Timnah.

Judah sees her and takes her for a prostitute, as she has covered her face.  Judah proposes an assignation, not knowing that she is his daughter-in-law.  “What will be your payment?” she asks.  “I will send you a kid from my flock,” he answers.  She asks for a surety until then.  “What surety shall I give you?” he asks.  “Your seal and your cord and the staff which is in your hand.”  These he gives her.  He is intimate with her, and she conceives by him.  Thereupon she goes and removes her veil and puts back on the garments of her widowhood.

Judah sends his Adullamite friend to give her the kid and collect from her the surety, but she is nowhere to be found.  When the Adullamite asks about the prostitute that was in that place on the road, he is told by the local people that there was no prostitute there.  Judah says, “Let her keep it lest we be derided.  After all, I sent her the kid and you were not able to find her!”

About three months later Judah is told that his daughter-in-law Tamar has been unfaithful and that she is pregnant as a result.  “Bring her out,” says Judah, “to be burned!”  As she is being brought out, she sends the following message to her father-in-law: “I am pregnant by the one who owns these; see if you can identify to whom belong the seal and the cord and the staff!”  Judah recognizes them, and he acknowledges, “She is more innocent than I, since I did not give her my son Shelah,” and he was not intimate with her again.

At the time of her delivery, there are twins in her womb.  One puts forth his hand, and the midwife ties a crimson thread upon it to say that he came out first.  But then he withdraws his hand, as it were, and his brother comes out first.  To him she says, “What a ‘breakthrough’ you have made for yourself!” and so he is named Peretz (“breakthrough”).  Then comes his brother, on whose hand is the bright red thread, and he is named Zerach (“brightness”).

Joseph Begins to Sojourn in Egypt


When Joseph is brought down to Egypt, he is sold by the Ishmaelites, who brought him down, to Potiphar, an Egyptian man.  Potiphar is Pharaoh’s courtier and the chief steward.  The Eternal is with Joseph.  Joseph is a successful man and earns the favor of his Egyptian master, who places him over everything in his house and over everything that he owns.  Because of Joseph, the Eternal blesses everything that the Egyptian owns, both inside his home and outside of it.  The Egyptian trusts Joseph to take care of everything.  The Egyptian himself attends only to his own food.  In addition, Joseph is attractive in appearance.


After some time the master’s wife casts her eyes upon Joseph and says to him, “Lie with me.”  He refuses her:  My master has trusted me to do with everything in the house as I see fit.  He has not withheld anything from me except you, in that you are his wife.  So how could I commit this great evil and sin before God?  Every day she would speak the same way to Joseph, and just as often he would not agree to lie with her, to be intimate with her.

Then one day, when no others were in the house, Joseph comes in to do his work and she takes hold of his clothing, saying, “Lie with me!”  Joseph runs out, leaving his garment in her hand.  She summons the people of her house and says to them, “See, a Hebrew man has been brought here to harass us.  He tried to rape me, and I called out in a loud voice, causing him to run away but not without leaving some of his clothing with me!”  She keeps the item until her husband returns home, and she relates the same story to him.  Her husband is incensed over his servant’s alleged behavior and puts him in prison, where the king’s prisoners are kept.


But the Eternal is with Joseph, extending His kindness to him and causing the warden of the prison to treat him favorably.  The warden places all of the prisoners under Joseph’s authority, and Joseph comes to be in charge of everything that goes on there.  The warden does not himself attend to those things that are put under Joseph’s control, in that the Eternal is with Joseph, and whatever Joseph does turns out well due to the Eternal.


Later it happens that the king’s sommelier and baker commit offense against their master.  Pharaoh angrily commits them to be detained in the home of the chief steward, and to the prison where Joseph is confined.  The chief steward assigns Joseph to attend to them.  They are in detention for some time.

Then, on one night, the two of them dream dreams, each one unique in itself and in its meaning.  Joseph finds them, the next morning, upset.  He asks them why, and they explain to him: We have each dreamed a dream, but there is no one to interpret its meaning.  Says Joseph: “The interpretation of dreams really belongs to God, but please tell me your dreams!”

The chief sommelier relates his dream to Joseph: “There is a vine before me, and on the vine are three branches.  As it is budding, its blossoms come up and its clusters ripen into grapes.  With Pharaoh’s cup in my hand, I take the grapes and squeeze them into the cup, which I place into the hand of Pharaoh.”  Joseph then provides the interpretation: “The three branches are three days.  In three days Pharaoh will “lift your head” (show you favor) and restore you to your office, wherein you shall provide Pharaoh his cup, as before.  But remember me when things are well, and mention me to Pharaoh, in order to free me from this prison.  For I was stolen without cause from the Land of the Hebrews, and here also I have done nothing to justify being put into prison!”

The chief baker, heartened by the sanguine interpretation of his colleague’s dream, begs to relate to Joseph his as well:  “There are three bread baskets upon my head, the uppermost basket being full of various baked foods for Pharaoh, and a bird is eating them from the basket “from upon my head.”  Joseph then provides the interpretation: “The three baskets are three days.  In three days Pharaoh will ‘lift your head from upon you’ and impale you upon a wooden pole, and birds will eat your flesh from upon you.”  And so it is, on the third day, the birthday of Pharaoh, that he makes a feast for all of his servants, and he “lifts the head of” (singles out) the chief sommelier and the chief baker from among all of his servants.  He restores the chief sommelier to his previous office, providing Pharaoh his cup, but the chief baker he impales, as Joseph predicted by his interpretation.

But the chief sommelier fails to remember Joseph. 

Maftir for Shabbat Chanukah
Second Day of Chanukah
Numbers 7:18-23


On the day that the altar is anointed,
the chiefs start to present their offerings before it.
But the Eternal tells Moses:
Let the chiefs present their offerings
one day for each chief.

On the second day Netanel ben Tsuar presents his offering for the tribe of Issachar. The offering consists of 1 silver platter weighing 130 shekels and 1 silver bowl of 70 sacral shekels, both platter and bowl filled with fine flour mixed with oil for a meal offering; 1 gold pan of 10 sacral shekels, filled with incense; 1 bull of the herd, 1 ram, and 1 year-old lamb, for a burnt offering; 1 goat for a sin offering; and for the peace offering 2 cattle, 5 rams, 5 male goats, and 5 year-old sheep.


Haftarah for Shabbat Chanukah
Zechariah 2:14-4:7

Eternal Light of the Menorah

Rejoice and be glad, O daughter of Zion,
for I am coming to dwell in your midst,
declares the Eternal!

Many other nations as well
shall attach themselves to the Eternal;
they shall all be My people,
as I dwell in your midst!

The Eternal shall claim Judah
as His portion upon the holy Land,
and He shall choose Jerusalem again!
Let all be silent before the Eternal,
as He is aroused from His holy habitation.

I am shown Joshua the High Priest
standing before the angel of the Eternal,
while Satan, to the right of him,
accuses him.

The Eternal defends Joshua
from Satan’s accusation
by calling him
a brand rescued from fire.
Joshua’s garments were filthy
as he stood before the angel.

Remove from him those filthy garments:
See, I shall remove from you your iniquity
and clothe you instead with robes.
Let them place a pure mitre upon his head!

Now the angel testifies to Joshua
the declaration of the Eternal of hosts:
If you walk in My ways and keep My charge,
then you shall rule over My house
and I shall grant you access
among those who stand here.

Consider well, O Joshua High Priest,
that your restoration and your associates’
is a harbinger of My servant Tzemach (“Sprout”)!
I put before Joshua on a single stone seven eyes;
thus do I engrave it, says the Eternal of hosts,
and I shall remove the iniquity of that land
in a single day!

On that day, says the Eternal of hosts,
you shall invite, everyone his neighbor,
under the vine and under the fig tree.

Now the angel who was speaking to me
awakens me as out of a sleep
and asks me what I see.
I reply:
I see a golden menorah
with a bowl on top of it,
connected by pipes to its seven lamps,
and an olive tree on either side of it.

As I do not understand their purpose,
the angel explains to me
that this is the word of the Eternal to Zerubbavel:
“’Not by might, and not by power, but by My spirit,’
says the Eternal of hosts!”

Who are you, O mighty mountain,
before Zerubbavel?
You shall become a plain,
while he shall bring forth the crowning stone
to jubilations of divine favor!


Genesis Rabbah 84:4
The Work of Jacob’s Fathers

  “Jacob settled in the land of his father’s sojournings (megurey), in the land of Canaan.”
(Genesis 37:1)

Abraham welcomed others to his belief in God.  This is implied in the verse, “Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his brother’s son and all that they had acquired and the lives which they had made in Charan, and they went out…and came to the land of Canaan.” (Genesis 12:5) “Lives which they had made?”  Said Rabbi Elazar in the name of Rabbi Yosi ben Zimra: If all the inhabitants of the world got together to create even a single insect, they would not be able to, yet the Torah claims that they had made lives?!  What is meant are the converts to his faith that Abraham proselytized.  Then why does the verse say “made” and not “converted?”  To teach you that whoever brings another to Abraham’s faith has, as it were, created him!

Then, do you mean to say that Abraham proselytized and Sarah did not?  No, for the verse says, “they had made”—Rabbi Chunia explained: Abraham converted the men, while Sarah converted the women.

Another implication of “they made” as a verb for conversion: It teaches that Abraham our father made them whole, that is, he welcomed them into his home, he fed them and fully embraced them, he brought them under the wings of the Shechina (Divine Presence)!

Our father Jacob also welcomed others into his ancestral faith.  This is manifest in the verses, “Jacob then instructs his household and all that are with him: ‘Remove the alien gods that are in your midst!’…” (Genesis 35:2), whereupon, “They hand over to Jacob all of their alien gods that are in their possession…” (ibid. 4).

It might appear that the Torah does not teach the same of Isaac.  Where, then, do we learn the same of Isaac?  Rabbi Hoshayah Rabbah taught in the name of Rabbi Judah son of Rabbi Simon:  It is written here (at the beginning of our Sedra), Jacob settled in the land of his father’s sojournings (megurey), in the land of Canaan.”  Since it would have been sufficient to say “in the land of Canaan,” as we already know that Canaan was the land of his father Isaac’s sojournings, “megurey” can be read “meguyerey,” “’proselytes’ of his father Isaac,” teaching us that Jacob chose to settle in the place where his father’s proselytes were living!

Genesis Rabbah 84:5a
Overcoming Fear

Consider what is written at the end of the preceding Sedra:
“These are the kings who reigned in the land of Edom…”
(Genesis 36:31)

Then comes the beginning of the present Sedra:
“Now Jacob settles…in the land of Canaan!”
(Genesis 37:1)

What can we learn from the juxtaposition of the kings of Edom
and the chieftains of Esau
(Genesis 36:40ff.) to the settlement of Jacob in the Land?

Rabbi Chuniah taught:  This may be compared to one who was walking on the road and is frightened by a pack of dogs that he sees ahead.  So, as he approaches them, he sits down.  Similarly, when our father Jacob first saw Esau and his chieftains, he was afraid of them.  But then he settles down among them.

Genesis Rabbah 84:5b
For the Sake of Joseph

“These are the generations of Jacob.
Joseph, a lad of seventeen years, was a shepherd…”
(Genesis 37:2)

Our Sages taught this verse with the following punctuation:
“These are the generations of Jacob: Joseph!”

The history of the generations of Jacob came by virtue of Joseph and for his sake.  For did not Jacob flee to Laban so that he could meet Rachel (future mother of Joseph)?!  Those generations were “put on hold” until Joseph was born—that is shown in what is written: “When Rachel had borne Joseph (evil Esau’s adversary!), Jacob asks Laban for leave to his native land…” (Genesis 30:25).  Who brings them down to Egypt?  Joseph!  Who enables their livelihood?  Joseph!  The Red Sea was split also by virtue of Joseph: “The waters saw You, O God, the waters saw You; they were convulsed and stirred up to their depths” (Psalms 77:17)! “With Your strong arm You redeemed the children of Jacob and Joseph” (Ibid. 16). Rabbi Yudan son of Rabbi Shimon said: (By the repetition of “waters” [ibid. 17]) “we learn: not only was the Red Sea split by the virtue of Joseph, but the Jordan (cf. Joshua 3-4) was as well!”

Genesis Rabbah 84:8
Envy Among Brothers

Said Resh Lakish in the name of Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah:  One must not treat one son differently from the other, for because of a grand tunic that our father Jacob made for Joseph, “they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.” (Genesis 37:4)

Genesis Rabbah 84:9
The Relief of Speaking Ill

“Do not hate your brother in your heart;
instead reprove your fellow,
and bear no sin concerning him.”
(Leviticus 19:17)

“His brothers knew that their father
loved Joseph more than he loved them,
and they hated Joseph for it
and could not speak good to him
(Genesis 37:4)

Said Rabbi Ahava bar Zeira:  Out of the Torah’s censure of the brothers, that they could not speak good to him, you can discern their credit: they could speak ill to him!  For, by contrast, when Amnon raped his half-sister Tamar and then rejected her, her full brother “Absalom spoke not with Amnon good or bad, but Absalom hated Amnon because he had raped his sister Tamar.” (II Samuel 13:22)   Whatever was in Absalom’s heart, good but especially bad, did not come out but roiled his heart to order the killing of Amnon (cf. ibid. 28-29), whereas here, “They could not speak good to him” (Genesis 37:4), implying that they could speak ill to him: “Do you intend to reign over us, do you intend to rule over us?” (ibid. 8) Whatever was in their heart for denigration of their brother went out through their mouth.  [Matnot Kehuna (Berman Ashkenazi, 16th cent.):  Being unable to subdue the hatred that was in their heart, they exposed it when they spoke to him.]  So ultimately they did not kill him: “Hate not your brother in your heart; instead reprove your fellow, and bear no sin because of him” (Leviticus 19:17)!

Genesis Rabbah 84:17
Hope Springing from Sin

“God hears their cry,
and God remembers His covenant
with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.”
(Exodus 2:24)

“Thus says the Eternal:
At the fulfillment of Babylon’s seventy years…
I shall establish for you My promise of favor
to bring you back to this place…
to give you a future and a hope!
(Jeremiah 29:10-11)

“They cast him into the pit…
then they sat down to eat bread…”
(Genesis 37:24-25)

Said Rabbi Achva bar Zeira:  The sin of the brothers is a remembrance for the world, it is a hope for the world.  “Then they will sit down to eat bread…” because Joseph will provide bread to eat for all of the starving inhabitants of the world (cf. Genesis 47:13ff.)!

Rashi:  They caused Joseph thereby to provide bread for all inhabitants of the world who found their way to Egypt, as is written, “Joseph provided sustenance…”(Genesis 47:12ff.).

Matnot Kehuna (Berman Ashkenazi, 16th cent.):  As a result of their selling Joseph, he went down to Egypt and saved the world from hunger with corn and bread.

Maharzu (Ze’ev Wolf Einhorn, 19th cent.):  It is inconceivable that the brothers were so happy about casting Joseph into the pit that they sat down for a meal.  As the Midrash interprets (cf. Genesis Rabbah 84:18), they spoke among themselves and came to the conclusion that they loved Joseph but that selling him was a sad necessity, as “God remembered Rachel…and He opened her womb” (30:22) for good, and that when “they sat down to eat bread, they lifted their eyes…” (Genesis 37:25) in hope “…as our eyes are to the Eternal our God so that He may be gracious to us!” (Psalms 123:2)

Genesis Rabbah 84:19
Reuben’s Repentance

“In the meantime, Reuben returns to the pit.
When he fails to find Joseph there,
he rends his garments and says to his brothers,
‘The boy is lost, what shall I do?’”
(Genesis 37:29-30)

“The sons of Reuben…
Be’erah his son…
was chieftain of the Reubenites.”
(I Chronicles 5:1,6)

The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Reuben:  Never before has a man sinned against Me and then repented for it.  You are the first!  I therefore promise you that your grandson will arise and be the first to prophesy repentance.  Who is he?  He is the prophet “Hosea, son of Be’eri” (Hosea 1:1), who said, “Return, O Israel to the Eternal your God!” (Ibid. 14:2)

Genesis Rabbah 84:21
When is Consolation Full?

“Jacob rends his clothing and puts sackcloth around his loins,
and mourns for his son for many days.
His sons and daughters seek to comfort him,
but he refuses to be comforted:
‘I will go down to She’ol mourning for my son!’”
(Genesis 37:35)

A Roman lady asked Rabbi Yosi:  It is written, “Judah was the mightiest of his brothers…” (I Chronicles 5:2), and after his wife dies, “Judah’s period of mourning concludes…” (38:12).  But Jacob, who was the father of all the mighty brothers, “refuses to be comforted!”  Rabbi Yosi answered her: We find comfort with respect to the dead, but we do not find comfort with respect to the living.

“The Eternal afflicted the child
that Uriah’s wife had borne to David,
and the child became critically ill.
David entreated God on behalf of the child.
He fasted.  He came in and spent the night
lying on the ground…
When he understood that the child had died,
David got up from the ground, bathed, anointed,
and changed his clothes.
He went to the House of the Eternal
and prostrated himself.
Then he went home and ate.
To his puzzled servants he explained:
‘When the child was still alive,
I fasted and wept,
for I thought:
Who knows but that the Eternal
will be gracious to me and let the child live?
But now that he is dead,
can I bring him back?
I will go to him,
but he will not come back to me.’”
(II Samuel 12:15-23)

Maharzu (Ze’ev Wolf Einhorn, 19th cent.):  When one sees his dead before him or even receives news of his demise, he can let go of hope that the loved one may return.  But if (like Jacob), he does not see his dead lying before him or has not received conclusive news of his demise, hope never departs from his heart and he cannot let go of that expectation.

Tanchuma ed. Buber Beha’alot’cha 5
Numbers Rabbah 15:5
Giving and Receiving Light

“When [ha’alot’cha] you raise up the Menorah,
let the seven lamps cast light…”
(Numbers 8:2)

Those words are explained by:

“As you light My lamp,
the Eternal, my God,
lightens my darkness.”
(Psalms 18:29)

Said Israel before the Holy One, blessed be He:  Master of the universe, You say that we should cast light before You, but You are the Light of the world!  The light dwells with You, as is written, “He reveals deep and secret things; He knows what is in the darkness, as the light dwells with Him.” (Daniel 2:22) Yet You say, “Let the seven lamps (that we have lit) cast light…” (Numbers 8:2)?!

Yes, it is “as you light My lamp…!”  Said the Holy One, blessed be He, to them: It is not that I need it; rather, you should cast light for Me just as I cast light for you.  Why?  To raise you before all the nations, that they should say, “See how Israel gives light to the One who gives light to all!”

To what may this be compared?  To two who walk together: one can see and one cannot.  The seeing one says to the non-seeing one: Come, let me guide you, and so he does.  When they come to a city and are about to enter an unlit house, the seeing one says to the non-seeing one: Come and light a candle for me to provide me light.  The non-seeing one says: When we were on the road, you supported me and guided me and accompanied me to this house; now you ask me to light a candle to provide you with light?  The seeing one explained: So that you should not feel that I did you a favor!

The seeing one is the Holy One, blessed be He, of whom it was said: “These seven, the eyes of the Eternal (cf. Zechariah 3:9 in Haftarah), they go about over the whole earth.” (Zechariah 4:10) The non-seeing one is Israel, as was said: “We grope for the wall like those with no vision…” (Isaiah 59:10). The Holy One, blessed be He, guided Israel and gave them light, as was said: “The Eternal goes before them by day…to guide them…and by night…to give them light…” (Exodus 13:21).

With the erection of the Tabernacle, the Holy One, blessed be He, commanded Moses: Provide light for Me, as was said, “in order to [ha’alot’cha] raise you up” (Numbers 8:2)!  [Ha’alot’cha can mean either “you raise up,” as in, “When you raise up the Menorah” (Numbers 8:2), or “raise you up,” as the Midrash here interprets the verse in conformity with its interpretation of Psalms 18:29: “As you (non-seeing person) light My (Seeing Holy One) lamp, the Eternal, my God, lightens my darkness!]

Pesikta Rabbati 35
Some Weep, Some Rejoice

The prophet brought forth these words
in anticipation of the Second Temple:

“Rejoice and be glad, O daughter of Zion,
for I am coming to dwell in your midst,
declares the Eternal!”
(Zechariah 2:14)

Now contrast Zechariah’s gentle vision
with words that are attributed
to Solomon under the Holy Spirit:

“If she be a wall,
we shall build upon her
a turret of silver;
and if she be a door,
we shall protect her
with boards of cedar.”
(Song of Songs 8:9)

Solomon spoke his words, in Song of Songs,
regarding the Congregation of Israel,
with the First Temple in mind.

For when the Second Temple was built, the Shechinah (Divine Presence) did not dwell upon it, as it did upon the First Temple.

But the Holy One, blessed be He, said: If all of Israel comes up, the Shechinah will take residence; if not, they will benefit only from the Bat Kol (a reflection or echo of the Divine Presence), as was said: “Many of the priests and the Levites and the Elder Chiefs of the Fathers, who saw the First Temple when it was established, for this (Second) Temple in their eyes they weep loudly….” (Ezra 3:12a), and: “Who is left among you who saw this Temple in its former glory, and what do you see now?  Is not such a one as nothing in your eyes!” (Haggai 2:3)  Yet the verse of Ezra continues: “…but many shouted joyously at the top of their voices!” (Ezra 3:12b)

Why did some of the people weep while others rejoiced at the sight of the Second Temple?  Elders who saw the glory of the Temple in which the Shechinah dwelled and then saw the Second Temple, in which the Shechinah did not dwell, were the ones who wept.  But their children, who had not seen the glory of the First Temple, but saw the building of the Second Temple, were those who rejoiced.

Talmud Shabbat 21b
The Miracle of Chanukah

Our Rabbis explained the meaning of Chanukah: On the twenty-fifth day of the month of Kislev we observe Chanukah for eight days.  When the Greeks entered the Temple, they defiled all of the oil that was in it.  Then the Hasmonean rule triumphed, and they searched and found only a single cruise of oil that remained intact with the seal of the High Priest, sufficient to burn for only one day.  A miracle occurred pertaining to it: they kindled from it for eight days.  Beginning the next year those days were established as holidays to include the recitation of Hallel and Thanksgiving (Rashi: Al Hanissim).

Talmud Shabbat 21b
Chanukah Lights: How many and when?

Our Rabbis taught that the basic mitzvah of Chanukah is for a man to kindle a light for himself and his household every night.  Among the more rigorous (hamehadrin), each member of the household kindles a lamp.  Among the most rigorous (hamehadrin min hamehadrin): the School of Shammai say that eight lights are kindled on the first night, the number diminishing each night; while the School of Hillel say that one light is kindled on the first night, the number increasing each night.

According to Ulla, the later teachers in Eretz Yisrael, Rabbi Yosi bar Abin and Rabbi Yosi bar Zavida, gave different reasons for the dispute between the School of Shammai and the School of Hillel.  One explained that the School of Shammai thought that the number of lights on a given night should correspond with the number of days that remain, while the School of Hillel thought that the number of lights on a given night should correspond with the number of days that have occurred.  The other explained that the School of Shammai related the diminishing number of lights each night to the diminishing number of sacrificial bulls each day of Sukkot, while the reason of the School of Hillel was based upon the principle: In matters of holiness we increase and do not decrease.

Talmud Shabbat 21b
Chanukah Lights: Where?

Our Rabbis taught that the mitzvah of the Chanukah lamp is to place it outside of the entrance to one’s house.  (Rashi: The purpose of this placement outside is parsomey nisah, “publicizing the miracle.”)  If one dwells in an apartment without a direct street entrance, he should place it on the inside of a window which faces the public road.  If either of these placements is dangerous, then it is sufficient to place it on one’s table.  Rava taught that one needs also an additional light to provide illumination as distinguished from the Chanukah lights themselves.

Talmud Shabbat 21b-22a
Chanukah Lights: How high?

Rav Kahana taught that Rav Nathan ben Minyomi expounded in the name of Rabbi Tanchum:  A Chanukah lamp that is placed more than 20 cubits from the ground is invalid (as fulfillment of the mitzvah)….  (Rashi: The reason for this limit is that people do not routinely cast their eyes up more than 20 cubits, so that a Chanukah lamp at more than that height would not serve the purpose of parsomey nisah, “publicizing the miracle.”)

Talmud Shabbat 22a
Throwing Joseph into the Pit

“Reuben determines to save Joseph…:
 ‘Let us throw him into this pit…without any violence,’
planning to save him from their hand
and return him to his father…
They…throw him into the pit alive.
The pit is empty, it contains no water.”

And Rav Kahana (also) taught that Rav Nathan ben Minyomi expounded in the name of Rabbi Tanchum:  Why did Scripture say, “The pit is empty, it contains no water” (Genesis 37:24)?  From the statement, “The pit is empty,” would I not know that “it contains no water?!”  The meaning of the additional words, “it contains no water,” is a talmud (an oral teaching inferred from a written redundancy), viz., the pit’s emptiness was limited to its lack of water: yes it was empty of water, but it did contain snakes and scorpions!

This teaching, in the name of Rabbi Tanchum, about the pit into which Joseph was thrown by his brothers, is found alone in the Talmud amid teachings of Chanukah.  Perhaps it was included here because the preceding teaching, concerning the Chanukah lamp, was introduced with the same attribution: “Rav Kahana taught that Rav Nathan ben Minyomi expounded in the name of Rabbi Tanchum.”  (Rashi’s explanation of its inclusion in Talmud Chagigah 3a, that it was included as one of a group of teachings by Rabbi Tanchum, seems to fit here!)  On the other hand, perhaps it was included here, amid teachings of Chanukah, because its Sedra Vayeshev occurs during Chanukah!  But the question remains: Is there any thematic connection between the midrash of Rabbi Tanchum and the meaning of Chanukah.  Perhaps the following explanation makes it apparent:

Eyn Ya’akov Shabbat 22a
Etz Yosef Commentary
(Chanoch Zundel ben Yosef, 19th cent.)
The Miracle of Joseph in the Pit

The pit is empty, it contains no water,’
meaning that it is only water that it does not contain,
but it does contain snakes and scorpions!”

Allowing that the redundant words, “it contains no water,” imply that it did contain something else, how do I know that it was snakes and scorpions that it contained and not, for example, branches and stones?  Answer: If it had contained branches and stones, then it would not be “empty,” whereas snakes and scorpions would be contained in the pit only as they enter and leave through holes and crevices, the pit itself thereby being “empty!”  And if you then question how Reuben could have intended to save Joseph alive since there were snakes and scorpions entering and leaving, capable of killing him and likely to do so, the answer to that question is that the brothers did not know that there were snakes and scorpions in the pit!  For if they had known, then they would have seen that Joseph remained alive despite his being thrown into a pit of snakes and scorpions because of a miracle.  Indeed how would they have agreed to sell him if they had seen that he was the object of a miracle?!  (Attributed to Minchat Yehudah an early supercommentary on Rashi compiled by Yehudah ben Eliezer of Troyes in 1313 and published in Leghorn in 1783)

Talmud Shabbat 23a
Did God “command us to kindle the Chanukah light?”

Over the Chanukah light one blesses, “who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to kindle the Chanukah light,” but where in the Torah did God so command us?  (Rashi: It is a commandment not from the Torah but from the Rabbis!)  Rav Ivya located God’s command in the verse, “You shall act in accordance with the instruction that they (future judges) shall teach you and the judgment that they shall say to you; do not depart in any direction from what they tell you!” (Deuteronomy 17:11)  Rav Nechemia located it in the verse, “Ask your father, and he will tell you; your elders, and they will say to you!” (Deuteronomy 32:7)

Commentary on Eyn Ya’akov by Avraham Ya’akov Finkel:  Both verses tell us that the Torah authorizes the Rabbis to enact decrees and institute mitzvoth, so that underlying all Rabbinic mitzvot there is a Biblical obligation.  Which is why, before performing a Rabbinic mitzvah, we can also say, “Who has commanded us to…e.g., to wash our hands.”

Talmud Shabbat 22a
Treat not the Chanukah light lightly

Rav Judah taught that Rav Assi taught: It is forbidden to sort coins (count money) by the Chanukah light.  When I repeated this in the presence of Samuel, he said to me, “Does the light possess holiness?!”  Rav Joseph argued against Samuel’s implication rhetorically, “Does blood (of a non-sacred animal) possess holiness?!” yet from, “Let him pour out its blood and cover it in the dust” (Leviticus 17:13) instead of merely “pour out its blood in the dust,” we infer that he should cover the blood of slaughter with dust using the same limb by which he poured out the blood, by his hand and not by his foot, so that the commandment be not regarded lightly by him.  Here also, regarding the Chanukah light, the prohibition is not because the light possesses holiness, any more than the blood of a non-sacred animal (slaughtered for human consumption) possesses holiness, but that the commandments not be regarded lightly by him!


Collected from various sources,
such as Talmud, Midrash, Siddur, and Apochrypha

Although the practice of giving Chanukah Gelt (money) to children is thought to stem from the 17th century in Eastern Europe, today it is popular to associate it with Maccabean coinage which displayed the Menorah image. This coin has been identified with the Maccabean king John Hyrcanus, 135-104 B.C.E. The achievement of coinage is a sign of the independence of the sponsoring ruler. After the establishment of the State of Israel, the Bank of Israel issued a commemorative coin, depicting this image, to be used for Chanukah Gelt. The Hebrew root of the word chanukah is also used for the word chinukh, which means “education.” The first practice of Chanukah Gelt was to enable children to distribute the coins as honoraria to their teachers.



Copyright © 2020 Eric H. Hoffman