We are currently in the middle. In the weekly Torah reading, we are in the middle of Yosef’s first encounter with his brothers after having been sold. In Eretz Yisroel and in the hearts of Klal Yisroel, we are in the middle of a war with a barbaric enemy committing horrific deeds. More globally, we are in the middle of a period of anti-Semitism that has shocked even the most jaded and cynical observers, both Jews and gentiles alike. We are all wondering what we are to do and how should we relate to these frightening times. Some have actually asked shailos of their rabbonim and poskim about giving up on certain pleasures and comforts at this juncture. Although there is some source for this approach (Taanis 11a), we have not received guidance to do so by the gedolei hador. However, the question still remains about what to do.
Many of us have engaged in introspection and cheshbon hanefesh, as our people have always done. Teshuvah is in the air. Everyone realizes that this is a time for improvement and spiritual growth. Some have even traveled to Eretz Yisroel and helped the injured, displaced and homeless. Others have sent packages, made donations to causes or just gone to dance with the wounded who have r”l lost limbs and are depressed or full of anxieties and concern.
But we still want to do more and at least have the proper attitude toward the situation. One place to begin is the Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 89:1) on last week’s sedra: “Keitz som lachoshech – He set a limit to the darkness” (Iyov 28:3). This clearly means that even for someone who went through as many tragedies as Iyov, we have a promise that, eventually, the bad days will end. Yosef himself survived a spiritual upheaval that would have destroyed a lesser man. Removed bodily from the holy atmosphere of his parents’ home, thrown into a pit with snakes and scorpions, he was tested in his morality, ethics and, of course, adherence to Torah in the defiled landscape of Egypt. What helped him to endure and even grow from this apparently horrid experience? Yosef had bitachon that not only would the darkness end, but that the yeshuah would come from the darkness itself.
Last week’s sedra, Mikeitz, means “at the end of…” These words give us great hope in the darkness of our current war against the barbarians of Hamas and their various allies and supporters that, like all of Klal Yisroel’s troubles, they will eventually come to an end.
Let’s look at the situation of the shevatim when they descended to Mitzrayim at the time of the famine. They were suddenly confronted by the unknown leader of Egypt who was really their brother. As far as they were concerned, Yosef was gone, the rest of them were accused of being spies against the Egyptian empire, and soon after, their brother Shimon was apparently arrested and sent to prison. Eventually, they were forced to send for their youngest brother, from whom their father didn’t want to be parted, who was also soon in trouble and accused of stealing from the viceroy of Egypt. As the brothers felt the noose tightening around their necks, they could have been broken and depressed. Yet, when they reported all these terrifying events to Yaakov Avinu, they merely stated that “adonei ha’aretz, the lord of the land, spoke harshly to us” (42:30). Chazal in the Medrash teach that this term refers to Hashem. They were telling their father that they were now living the promise Hashem had made to Avrohom Avinu at the Bris Bein Habesarim that Klal Yisroel would have to go down to Mitzrayim for four hundred years, but they would then go free. In other words, even in the midst of the darkness, they recognized that all of these events bringing them to Mitzrayim were a part of the grand plan, but there would indeed be an end to the darkness.
The Sefer Zera Beirach also states that when Yaakov Avinu asked them, “Lama tisrau? Why should you be afraid?” he used an extra letter tov, which equals 400, alluding to the same promise made to Avrohom Avinu, so there was nothing to worry about. The Zera Beirach goes on to find hints in the posuk that, in fact, the decree would be reduced to 210 and even to 86 years of bondage. All of this is included in the edict of the Medrash that there will be an end to the darkness. We all go through periods of darkness when it seems that there will no end, but here the pesukim and the Medrash reassure us that the evil will indeed one day come to an end.
Rav Moshe Soloveitchik of Switzerland sees the same message in the story of Chanukah. Times were not good for Klal Yisroel. Many Yidden had fallen prey to the Greek culture and philosophy, joining Yovon as Hellenized Jews. The Bais Hamikdosh had been taken over by the Greek hordes and the Heichal itself was defiled. It seemed as if we would never again have korbanos or the lighting of the menorah, yet soon enough a small band of Chashmonaim triumphed against the entire Greek empire, just as a tiny vial of oil burned for eight days so that the menorah could be lit in purity. Our dreams were fulfilled. The darkness of the Greeks disappeared, even as the light of the menorah shone brightly for another 200 years. Yes, there will be an end to the darkness.
Both the parsha and the miracle of Chanukah teach us to never give up. We are believers, children of believers. As such, we know that Hashem has planned everything that happens. Even if we are often in darkness, we know that the beautiful dawn is coming soon. As my rebbi, Rav Yitzchok Hutner, taught, all the churbanos are connected, from the Bais Hamikdosh, through the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, Tach Vetat, Churban Europa, and now Hamas pogroms. But although at each juncture there was room to give up, to be meya’eish, Klal Yisroel found the courage and faith to think positively and move on to the next country or golus until the ultimate redemption.
Rav Eliyohu Cohen, author of the Otzros HaTorah series of seforim, tells a story of someone who attended one of his public shiurim in Rishon Letzion. The man had made a complete turn-around in his life, becoming frum, learning Torah and scrupulously keeping all the mitzvos. Then, seemingly, one tiny mistake ruined his life, both the material and the spiritual. He worked for one of the branches of Kupat Cholim and was in charge of distributing various medications to pharmacies all over Eretz Yisroel. On one of his stops, he parked his car and proceeded to the latest drug store that required his medications and guidance. Upon leaving the store, he noticed that his car was gone. Thinking the worst, he then noticed that the mistake was his own. He had neglected to put on the foot brake, resulting in the car sliding down a steep hill. Miraculously, no one was hurt, the car came to rest, but he was fined, had his driver’s license revoked, and could no longer perform his job properly. He was summarily fired and left with no way to feed his family.
The depressed gentleman complained to Rav Cohen that this chronology made no sense. He had just made the commitment to be chozer b’teshuvah and everything in his life turned upside down. Going directly to Rav Cohen, the rov reviewed with him the story of Nochum Ish Gamzu, who had undertaken to represent Klal Yisroel to a king who was issuing decrees against us. However, at every turn, things seemed to go wrong. The planned offering to the king was stolen, the king was angry when he discovered that the Jews had sent him a box of dirt, and all seemed lost. Nochum, however, said that everything G-d does is for the best and was unperturbed. Of course, as we know, miracles occurred and the king was convinced of the goodness and wisdom of the Jews and their G-d. Rav Cohen explained that when we now read this story, we can smile even before the end, because we know that all will turn out well. Our test is to see if we will treat life the same way, believing in Hashem’s goodness even before we understand how things turn out.
Shortly thereafter, the man returned to Rav Cohen, smiling happily from ear to ear.
“Rebbe,” he announced with shining eyes, “listen to what happened. After I was fired, the Kupat Cholim hired four people to take my place, but none was able to the job. They returned to me and offered me my position again. My response was that my driver’s license has been revoked and I need a car to perform this service.” Their answer was, “No problem. We will provide you with a car and a driver. Now, as I travel all over Eretz Yisroel, I can sit and learn between each delivery of life-saving medications. Thank You, Hashem, for everything.”
“He set a limit to the darkness” is not an empty platitude or mantra. Nor is it a phrase that changes nothing. It establishes a view of life wherein we recognize that going down to Egypt, even under what seems to be horrible circumstances, will lead to geulah. It reminds us that sometimes, the snake’s venom becomes the cure, although we would rather have neither. It reminds us that the darker it is, the closer we are to the dawn.
I have unfortunately not been able to visit the wounded and mourning in Eretz Yisroel, but I have spoke to many who have and some who have shown me videos or played recordings of their visits. Almost each of them, some who have horrendous injuries and amputated limbs lo aleinu, also relate their personal miracles of survival. Each has a neis to celebrate and for which to be grateful.
I once heard the Novominsker Rebbe share an incredible line from his mother-in-law. She was a Holocaust survivor and was often challenged about her solid belief in Hashem’s goodness despite the colossal tragedy. One person asked her pointedly, “Where was Hashem during the Holocaust?” Her answer in her native Yiddish was, “In yeder vinkel – In every corner.”
It is far too early to understand what has happened and is still occurring in Eretz Yisroel and to our people in general at this time. But perhaps one of our tests is to see if we will believe and firmly accept that keitz som lachoshech – there is a limit to the darkness.” May we all see the true light very soon.