– Author: Rav Yehoshua Asulin

One of my favorite holidays is Chanukah. Beautiful songs, beautiful candle light, delicious doughnuts… everything a decent Jew could possibly ask for. But such a big deal… and for what exactly? All the celebration and the candle lighting – for what? Yes, we commemorate an incredible miracle – a small jar of oil which was enough for one day, and miraculously lasted for eight days! But as remarkable as it is, upon closer inspection it seems to be quite insignificant.

If we think about it for a moment, they had plenty of olive oil in the Beit Ha’Mikdash, and they could use it to light the Menorah. Even though the Greeks had defiled the oil and rendered it ‘Tamei’ (impure), there is a halachic principle that “טומאה הותרה בציבור”, meaning that if all the oil they had was impure, it could still be used to light the Menorah. However, Hashem performed a miracle to allow the Menorah to be lit with “Tahor” (pure) oil instead, in order that they could fulfill the mitzvah with extra ‘Hidur’. That’s it. So what’s the big deal about it? Does this really justify another chag? All those extra days off? Beautiful songs and candlelight? And of course Heaven forbid we forget the delicious doughnuts!  Not that I’m complaining…

But really, what is the meaning of this?

Perhaps if we look at our Parsha, we’ll find an answer in an unexpected place – from the story of Yosef. When he was taken by a convoy of Ishmaelites to Egypt, the Torah mentions what type of merchandise they were carrying with them, as the verse (לז,כה) says:

A caravan of Ishmaelite’s were coming from Gilead, and their camels were carrying spices, balm, and lotus, going to take [it] down to Egypt. וְהִנֵּה אֹרְחַת יִשְׁמְעֵאלִים בָּאָה מִגִּלְעָד וּגְמַלֵּיהֶם נֹשְׂאִים נְכֹאת וּצְרִי וָלֹט הוֹלְכִים לְהוֹרִיד מִצְרָיְמָה.

Rashi asks – why mention such unnecessary details as to which goods they were carrying? He answers as follows:

To let you know the reward of the righteous, for Arabs usually carry only naphtha and tar, whose odor is foul, but for Joseph it was arranged that they should be carrying spices, so that he should not be afflicted by a foul odor. “להודיע מתן שכרן של צדיקים,

שאין דרכן של ערביים לשאת

אלא נפט ועטרן שריחן רע,

ולזה נזדמנו בשמים

שלא יוזק מריח רע”.

Behold the reward of the righteous! You were betrayed by your closest and most beloved ones. Your brothers sold you. You’re going to be away from home for who knows how long, maybe forever. You’re about to become a miserable slave and it seems your life the way you know it is over. But you know what? It doesn’t matter, because it smells really good in here…

It doesn’t seem to make any sense. At the most desperate moment of his life, why would Yosef care about the smell around him? And if that is the reward of the righteous, I don’t even want to imagine the punishment of the wicked…

Perhaps by understanding the depth of Yosef’s reward we can gain an understanding into the meaning of Chanukah as well.

Even though we’d like to, we don’t understand the way Hashem runs our world – his world. Sometimes everything is good and Hashem shows us his mercy and seems to smile towards us. But there are darker times, when we might wonder whether Hashem had left us because it’s so hard to see him right now. Some things just must happen, as hard as they may be, and we cannot question that. But when they do happen, will we be able to see that it is our loving Father behind all this, secretly holding our hand through the dark and walking us to a brighter future? That is the million shekel question.

The reward of the righteous is to feel the presence of Hashem even in darker days. And hence Yosef is driven to Egypt with a group of Arabs, who uncharacteristically, were carrying perfumes and herbs with a pleasant smell. And that fact didn’t change anything. It was still a desperately difficult moment in Yosef’s life. But in that ultimate darkness, a small light appeared. The whisper of Hashem echoed through the dark, saying: “Don’t worry, I’ve got this. I’m with you. I haven’t left you even for a moment. It’s all a part of my plan and everything is for the best.”

Everyone goes through hard times, but only the righteous get to see Hashem in the darkness. They know that He is with them, loving them, watching them.

Opposing the Greeks wasn’t easy or obvious, and the decision to fight wasn’t accepted by all the Jews of the time. No one could be certain as to what the correct course of action was at the time. Did Hashem expect us to keep a low profile and weather the storm of the Greek Empire? Or perhaps we were meant to fight back and risk everything for our spiritual survival? The answers were neither clear nor absolute, and even after the miraculous victory in the war not everyone was sure that they had done the right thing. The Greeks were no longer a threat, but the damage they had caused was not easily reversible. Our holiest of places was desecrated and Hellenistic culture had become so ingrained that many Jews were no longer following the ways of their forefathers. Many blamed the Hashmonaim with all that happened.

But when Hashem lit up the darkness in a way that was clearly unnecessary, we realized that He had been with us the whole time. That miracle, just like the spices in Yosef’s convoy, was a symbol of Hashem’s love to us, and a sign that He is with us even in the darkest times. That idea is worth commemoration and celebration in the long term. That miracle wholeheartedly justifies all the happiness in the world, because Hashem loves us, and clearly it requires some beautiful songs and candlelight and (of course) delicious doughnuts…

May we all become צדיקים and be worthy of the reward of seeing Hashem even in the darkest of times. But we pray even more that we shall live to witness the ultimate end of the darkness as משיח comes and Beit Hamikdash is rebuilt במהרה בימינו אמן.

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