Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Mikeitz-Chanukah 5771

שבת טעם החיים מקץ-חנוכה תשע”א

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Mikeitz-Chanukah 5771

In honor of Chanukah, whose root word is chinuch, meaning beginning, I will begin offering a new format for the Shabbos page. I will be writing short essays on the parasha and one final essay relating the parasha to Shabbos. Enjoy!

Exporting horses from Egypt

ויאמר פרעה אל יוסף אני פרעה ובלעדיך לא ירים איש את ידו ואת רגלו בכל ארץ מצרים, Pharaoh said to Yosef, “I am Pharaoh. And without you no man will lift up his hand or foot in all the land of Egypt.” (Bereishis 41:44)

What did Pharaoh mean by this expression that “without you no man will lift up his hand or foot in all the land of Egypt?” Rashi cites the Targum, who renders the following translation: “without your utterance no man will raise his hand to designate a weapon, nor will any man raise his leg to ride on a horse in all the land of Egypt. What was the meaning of these restrictions that Pharaoh had imposed on the Egyptians and now transferred to Yosef? The answer to this question is that the Ramban (Devarim 17:16) writes that aside from the king of Egypt, no one was allowed to take horses out from Egypt. Thus, Pharaoh transferred to Yosef the control of exporting horses from Egypt. Further proof that Yosef was given this control is because later it is said (Ibid 45:27) וידברו אליו את כל דברי יוסף אשר דבר אלהם וירא את העגלות אשר שלח יוסף לשאת אותו ותחי רוח יעקב אביהם, however, when they related to him all the words that Yosef had spoken to them, and he saw the wagons that Yosef had sent to transport him, then the spirit of their father Yaakov was revived. The Daas Zikeinim MiBaalei HaTosfos write that Yaakov saw the wagons and then he believed that Yosef was alive and was in a high position in Egypt. Prior to this incident Yosef had decreed that no one could export wagons from Egypt. Now Pharaoh instructed Yosef, “do this, load up your animals and go directly to the land of Canaan.” The reason Pharaoh had to tell this to Yosef was because no one else was allowed to remove wagons and animals from Egypt. Thus, when Yaakov saw the wagons that Yosef had sent, he believed that it was Yosef, because Yosef must certainly be the king. Now we understand the meaning of Pharaoh’s instruction to Yosef, as only Yosef was now able to export horses from Egypt.

No slander in the family

The Torah records how Yosef accused his brothers of being spies and they vehemently denied this accusation. It is said (Bereishis 42:9-14)ויזכר יוסף את החלומות אשר חלם להם ויאמר אליהם מרגלים אתם לראות את ערות הארץ באתם ויאמרו אליו לא אדני ועבדיך באו לשבור אוכל כלנו בני איש אחד נחנו כנים אנחנו לא היו עבדיך מרגלים ויאמר אליהם לא כי ערות הארץ באתם לראות ויאמרו שנים עשר עבדיך אחים אנחנו בני איש אחד בארץ כנען והנה הקטן היום את אבינו היום והאחד איננו ויאמר אליהם יוסף הוא אשר דברתי אליכם לאמר מרגלים אתם, Yosef recalled the dreams that he dreamed about them, so he said to them, “You are spies! To see the land’s nakedness have you come!” They answered him, “Not so my lord! For your servants have come to buy food. All of us, sons of one man are we; we are truthful people; your servants have never been spies.” And he said to them, “No! But the land’s nakedness have you come to see.” And they replied, “We, your servants, are twelve brothers, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan. The youngest is now with our father and one si gone.” But Yosef said to them, “It is just as I have declared to you: ‘You are spies!” What was the meaning of Yosef accusing the brothers of being spies? The Ramban posits that Yosef felt that his dreams needed to be fulfilled, so he employed these tactics so that all his brothers and eventually his father would bow down to him. However, it is not clear why Yosef had to accuse the brothers of being spies. We can suggest that the word mirageil is similar to the word miracheil, as the letters gimel and chof are interchangeable (Rashi writes this regarding the prohibition of rechilus in Vayikra 19:16).  Yosef understood that he had been punished by being sold to Egypt as a slave for bearing tales to Yaakov about his brothers. Yosef suspected that things were not going smoothly at home and perhaps his brothers were also guilty of slander, and this would warrant that they too be sold as slaves. The brothers therefore responded that they were honest, and they offered proof to this from the fact that they were all sons of one man. This declaration of unity would negate any allegation of the brothers being slanderous. However, they added that one is gone, and Yosef used those words to buttress his claim that they were slanderous. Yosef was claiming that if a brother was missing, it was likely that there was disparity in the family and that was the cause for their brother’s disappearance. Yosef then told the brothers that the test of their unity would be if they would fetch their younger brother from home while they remained imprisoned. If they brought their brother back with them, their concern would demonstrate that they were united. Ultimately this ruse led the brothers to confess to each other that they had been guilty when they heard Yosef’s heartfelt anguish when he pleaded with them and they ignored his suffering.

Shabbos with the Sfas Emes and the Rebbes of Ger

It is said (Bereishis 43:16) וטבח טבח והכן, have meat slaughtered. Yosef told this to the one in charge of the house. The Medrash interprets this verse to be alluding to Shabbos, and the commentators write that this alludes to Chanukah. The Sfas Emes (Mikeitz 5624) writes that the ideas are synonymous, as one prepares for Shabbos by negating the days of the week to Shabbos. Chanukah too is the light that is found within the days of the week. This world is a hallway to the World to Come, and in a similar vein the days of the week are a preparation for Shabbos. Every aspect of creation negates itself to the level above it, and this is reflected in the word Chanukah, which is an acrostic for the words chanu chaf hei, they rested on the twenty-fifth of Kisleiv. Thus, Chanukah alludes to the illumination of rest that is contained in the workweek, and this illumination is a result of negating the days of the week to Shabbos.

Shabbos Stories

Light in the Darkness

NOT LONG AGO, the entire Soviet Union was one huge prison. Its citizens were deprived of many freedoms we take for granted, including the right to practice our religion and live anywhere we choose, or even to emigrate to another country if we so desire. Any Russian citizen who wanted to leave the Soviet Union was considered a traitor to his country.

Many Russians would have preferred to live elsewhere, anywhere, just to be free of oppression, but few were willing to risk being branded disloyal and made to suffer all sorts of demoralizing punishments. One group of Soviet citizens, however, was prepared to take that risk: the Jews. In increasing numbers, the Jews of Russia began to openly declare their desire to leave Mother Russia and resettle in the Land of Israel. These fearless Jews were called “prisoners of Zion.”

Since the Bolshevik Revolution, hundreds of brave men and women courageous enough to stand up to a ruthless regime became prisoners of Zion. Among them was a young man named Yosef. Remarkably, not only did Yosef proclaim his intention to live in the Land of Israel, he tried to fulfill his dream in a bold, dramatic move that finally made the plight of Russian Jewry known to the whole world.

The day he attempted to escape to Israel in a stolen airplane, he was arrested by the infamous KGB–the Soviet secret police–and condemned to death. Due to pressure applied by free countries all over the world, his sentence was eventually commuted to a long and harsh prison term in Siberia’s dreaded Vladimir Prison.

Vladimir was a terrifying institution devoted to the destruction of the human spirit. Inside the prison compound, the living conditions were appalling. Rations varied in caloric content from sub-average to starvation level, exercise and fresh air were minimal and contact with the outside was limited to several letters a year, with this privilege, too, often suspended. Technically, each prisoner was allowed two meetings a year with his family, but years could pass without any visits at all.

The KGB had an elaborate and remarkably pragmatic way of controlling an inmate’s body and soul. Once prisoners recovered from the initial shock of life at Vladimir, a KGB representative would invite them in for a talk. They would be offered coffee, tea, meat, or a visit to a restaurant in civilian clothing. An officer from the secret police might even tempt them with a letter from their family, or a visit with a friend.

To earn these privileges, a prisoner merely had to be willing to inform on a cellmate, or confess to a crime he never committed. Naturally, Yosef refused to do either, so he was denied all religious articles, as well as permission to perform the mitzvahs. But for all its unspeakable terror, intimidation, demoralization, and frequent punishments, the KGB couldn’t break Yosef’s iron will to fulfill God’s commandments.

Somehow he managed to observe, in the most primitive fashion imaginable, whatever mitzvahs he could. He virtually risked his life by not working on Shabbos. He refused to eat non-kosher food and avoided chametz (leavened bread) on Passover. He made a tallis (prayer shawl) for himself, always kept his head covered, and even performed the mitzvah of searching for chametz.

One frigid winter, a single thought managed to warm Yosef’s soul: Chanukah was approaching. Commemorating the victory of the pure and the weak over the evil and powerful, Chanukah celebrates the triumph of right over might, the triumph of the spirit over the forces of terror. Yosef dreamed of lighting a Chanukah menorah, a virtual impossibility under the circumstances. Certainly the prison authorities would never permit the performance of this mitzvah and would react harshly to the very notion. Regardless, Yosef put his mind to the mission and developed a clever, viable scheme.

Every day he saved a little of his meager rations, even though this meant subsisting on a starvation diet. When no one was watching, he secretly slipped a crust of bread or a sliver of potato into his pocket. Later on, he carefully stashed these precious scraps on a small ledge in his cell, and prayed that no guard would notice his curious cache. Hoarding food was considered a criminal act, and if discovered, not only would the food be confiscated, but the perpetrator would suffer a cruel punishment as well. As with every other mitzvah he performed in Vladimir Prison, Yosef accepted the risk.

The day before Chanukah, Yosef could scarcely contain his excitement. So far his little collection had gone unnoticed. Now there was only one final, critical detail to be arranged. Trying to attract as little attention as possible, Yosef traded some of his rations to another prisoner for a pack of cigarettes and a box of matches. He had no use for the cigarettes, but the matches were the crucial missing ingredient for his plan.

Fingers trembling, Yosef opened the box of matches and found forty-four matches inside, exactly the number he needed, to serve as the Chanukah lights.

And so, late on the first night of Chanukah, when everyone was finally asleep and no guards were in sight, Yosef inserted the matches into his scraps of bread and potato and fashioned a secret Chanukah menorah! The matches burned for only a few seconds, but they provided endless light and inspiration for Yosef Mendelevich in the depths of the Vladimir Prison in Siberia.
Heard from Yacov Mordechai

Chanukah in Bergen Belsen

In Bergen Belsen, on the eve of Chanukah, a selection took place. Early in the morning, three German commandants meticulously dressed in their festive black uniforms and — in visibly high spirits — entered the men’s barracks. They ordered the men to stand at the foot of their three-tiered bunk beds.

The selection began. No passports were required, no papers were checked, there was no roll call and no head count. One of the three commandants just lifted the index finger in his snow-white glove and pointed in the direction of a pale face, while his mouth pronounced the death sentence with one single word: “Come!”

Like a barrage of machine-gun fire came the German commands: “Komme, komme, komme, komme, komme.” The men selected were marched outside. S.S. men with rubber truncheons and iron prods awaited them. They kicked, beat, and tortured the innocent victims. When the tortured body no longer responded, the revolver was used…

The random selection went on inside the barracks and the brutal massacre continued outside of the barracks until sundown. When the Nazi black angels of death departed, they left behind heaps of hundreds of tortured and twisted bodies.

Then Chanukah came to Bergen Belsen. It was time to kindle the Chanukah lights. A jug of oil was not to be found, no candle was in sight, and a Chanukiah (menorah) belonged to the distant past. Instead, a wooden clog, the shoe of one of the inmates, became a Chanukiah; strings pulled from a concentration camp uniform – a wick; and the black camp shoe polish – pure oil.

Not far from the heaps of the bodies, the living skeletons assembled to participate in the kindling of Chanukah lights.

The Rabbi of Bluzhov (Israel Spira) lit the first light and chanted the first two blessings in his pleasant voice, and the festive melody was filled with sorrow and pain. When he was about to recite the third blessing, he stopped, turned his head, and looked around as if he were searching for something.

But immediately, he turned his face back to the quivering small lights and in a strong, reassuring, comforting voice, chanted the third blessing: “Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has kept us alive, preserved us, and enabled us to reach this season.”

Among those present at the kindling of the lights was a Mr. Zamietchkowski, one of the leaders of the Warsaw Bund. He was a clever, sincere person with a passion for discussing matters of religion, faith and truth. Even here in camp at Bergen Belsen, his passion for discussion did not abate. He never missed an opportunity to engage in such a conversation.

As soon as the Rabbi of Bluzhov had finished the ceremony of kindling the lights, Zamietchkowski elbowed his way to the rabbi and said, “Spira, you are a clever and honest person. I can understand your need to light Chanukah candles in these wretched times. I can even understand the historical note of the second blessing, ‘Who did miracles for our fathers in days of old, at this season.’ But the fact that you recited the third blessing is beyond me. How could you thank God and say, ‘Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has kept us alive, preserved us, and enabled us to reach this season’?

How could you say it when hundreds of dead Jewish bodies are literally lying within the shadows of the Chanukah lights, when thousands of living Jewish skeletons are walking around in camp, and millions more are being massacred? For this you are thankful to God? For this you praise the Lord? This you call ‘keeping us alive’?”

“Zamietchkowski, you are a hundred percent right,” answered the rabbi. “When I reached the third blessing, I also hesitated and asked myself, what should I do with this blessing? I turned my head in order to ask the Rabbi of Zaner and other distinguished rabbis who were standing near me, if indeed I might recite the blessing. But just as I was turning my head, I noticed that behind me a throng was standing, a large crowd of living Jews, their faces expressing faith, devotion, and concentration as they were listening to the rite of the kindling of the Chanukah lights.

I said to myself, if God, blessed be He, has such a nation that at times like these, when during the lighting of the Chanukah lights they see in front of them the heaps of bodies of their beloved fathers, brothers, and sons, and death is looking from every corner, if despite all that, they stand in throngs and with devotion listening to the Chanukah blessing ‘Who did miracles for our fathers in days of old, at this season’; if, indeed, I was blessed to see such a people with so much faith and fervor, then I am under a special to obligation to recite the third blessing.” ( )

Only one minute of Torah study?

Rav Naftali Tropp zt”l, Rosh Yeshiva of the famed Radin Yeshiva, was gravely ill. In the Yeshiva, each of the bachurim (students) decided to commit themselves to a certain number of hours of uninterrupted Torah study, in whose merit he should receive, G-d willing, a complete recovery (refuah sheleimah). A delegation of students approached the holy Chafetz Chaim zt”l, whose love for R’ Naftali was legendary, to ask him to participate in their ‘drive’ by donating some of his uninterrupted Torah study.

“Yes,” he responded enthusiastically, “I will donate one minute of uninterrupted Torah study in his merit!” The delegation was caught off- guard. Students had dedicated many hours of Torah study to this worthy cause, and they had sincerely hoped the great sage would have been a little more generous in his contribution.

One of the students mustered the courage to interject. “We had hoped the Rebbe would have given a little more than one minute.”

“My dear bachurim,” replied the Chafetz Chaim, “you interpret my donation of one minute as lacking recognition of the worthiness of your cause. I assure you this is not the case. My love and admiration of the Rosh Yeshiva is limitless. Perhaps you don’t appreciate the inestimable value of just one minute of uninterrupted Torah study; if you would have, you would never have deemed my contribution as lacking.” (



Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Mikeitz-Chanukah 5771

Have a wonderful and delightful Shabbos and a Freilechen Chanukah

Prepared by Rabbi Binyomin Adler

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim

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