Thursday, May 23, 2024

Light of the Limping

The seforim mention numerous remozim associating Parshas Mikeitz with Chanukah. Our ears perk up, especially when a halachic authority of great renown quotes such a remez. The Eliyahu Rabbah quotes the Shiltei Giborim with the following.

It says that when Yosef saw his brothers having brought Binyomin, he said to the man in charge of his house, “Bring the men into the house. Have meat slaughtered and prepare it for me with these men to dine at noon” (Bereishis 43:16). The words used for slaughtering the meat and preparing it are “utvo’ach tevach vehachein.” The last letter of tevach and the letters of vehachein spell Chanukah. From here, there is an illusion to the special seudos that we make on Chanukah. Furthermore, the gematria of the words utvo’ach tevach is forty-four, the number of candles and shamoshim that we light on Chanukah.

Could there possibly be a deeper connection between the story of Yosef and Chanukah more than just the parsha being read during this time? Furthermore, the Gemara (Chulin 90a) explains vehachein to mean remove the gid hanoshe, the sinews on the animal’s thigh that we are forbidden to eat. Is it possible to find an association between this mitzvah and Chanukah?

The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 11b) relates: Once every seventy years, there is a celebration in Rome. They bring a healthy man and place him upon the shoulders of one who is lame. They dress the lame man in the clothing of Adam Harishon and put on his face a mask made of the skin stripped off the face of the holy Rabi Yishmoel Kohein Gadol, one of the Asarah Harugei Malchus. This is a celebration of the fact that Klal Yisroel is still in golus. The man below signifies Yaakov, who became lame in his struggle with the Sar Shel Eisav, a supposed sign of weakness. He dons the clothing of Adam Harishon, which he wore when taking the brachos from Eisav. The man above represents the dominance of Eisav over Yaakov and the nation of Edom over his progeny. They declare that the nevuah of Yaakov about the End of Days that Klal Yisroel will finally be redeemed is false.

This is the superficial outlook of Edom. But a deeper examination of what the limping of Yaakov represents teaches us quite the opposite: that it is a sign of his strength and of Klal Yisroel’s unique role in history.

“Therefore, the Bnei Yisroel shall not eat the gid hanoshe to this day, because he struck Yaakov’s hip socket on the displaced sinew” (Bereishis 32:33). What are the implications of this prohibition, and what practical applications does it have? Many explanations are given (see Ramban Al HaTorah, Sefer Hachinuch).

Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch offers a novel interpretation. The malach did not in any way remove anything from Yaakov’s body. The bones of the leg, the flesh, the muscles, and the sinew were all still whole. The striking of the hip socket caused that the sinew would not be able to fully function. Yaakov would not have the full use of his leg. His ability to walk was compromised.

This is a sign for generations. From that momentous encounter until today, Yaakov walks through the paths of history limping, being forced to tread lightly, without his full physical strength.

This doesn’t mean that he is weak. To the contrary, his sons are compared to lions and wolves. It does mean, however, that the pathways of history prevent the Jewish nation from fully utilizing their strength. For the Ribono Shel Olam decreed golus upon us, and while in exile we must defer to the nations of the world. One of the oaths we took when going into golus was that we wouldn’t rebel against the nations (Kesubos 111a). As long as Moshiach has not yet arrived, our footing in this world is infirm. We do not have an equal standing with the goyim.

When the Brisker Rov was in Warsaw, he heard that the Chofetz Chaim was there and he paid him a visit. He asked the Chofetz Chaim why he was here and the tzaddik related, “I applied for a passport by an agency near Radin so that I could travel to Eretz Yisroel. The clerk in charge told me that I had to show him my birth certificate. When I told him that I didn’t have one, he requested that I bring witnesses from my birthplace, Zhetl, who could testify about the date of my birth.

“I asked them, ‘How can you expect me to bring such witnesses? I am over eighty years old, which means that they would have to be close to a hundred to know when I was born. This is just not possible.’ But they were adamant in their stance. ‘Either produce a birth certificate or bring witnesses.’ So I came here to Warsaw to see if they could accommodate me. But they would not budge. ‘That is the rule,’ they said. ‘Either a birth certificate or witnesses.’”

Now the Chofetz Chaim asked the Brisker Rov, “What did they want? Their request defied logic. Why couldn’t they just soften their approach and be more understanding? The answer is: If the Pollack believed that a Yid has a right to exist on this world, that he has equal standing with a goy, he would be inclined to accommodate me. But the Polish government believes that the Jew does not have equal standing in its country and therefore does not have to oblige my requests or even bother answering any of my questions.”

The Brisker Rov said that this explanation was an eye-opener to him.

But why would the Torah stress this? Why is it so paramount that we know this?

Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch continues: The designated mission of the Jewish nation in this world is to carry the flag of Hashem’s honor, to publicize His greatness. The very fact that we are still in existence, one sheep amongst seventy wolves, for thousands of years is a loud declaration of the eternity of Hashem and His people. Our survival is only possible because of the guidance of a higher force…Hakadosh Boruch Hu.

Now imagine if we had equal standing with the goy and that we would be able to tread on this world with our full potential, with our might, with our sword, and with our ingenuity. Would anyone deduce from this that the Shechinah is with us, that Hashem is constantly watching us, that His outstretched arm guards us? They would say that we are naturally gifted.

It is only because of the striking of Yaakov’s thigh, of his limping throughout the generations without the ability to walk full strength on his own, that Rav Yaakov Emden can say, “I swear by my life that when I study the wonders of Klal Yisroel’s survival in golus, it is greater to me than all the miracles and wonders that Hashem performed for our ancestors in Mitzrayim” (introduction to commentary on the siddur).

When the Romans placed Eisav on top of a limping Yaakov, they intended to portray his superiority of his weaker brother. But in reality, the limping Yaakov acts as a support for Eisav and the other nations to teach them that Hashem runs the world and that nature is full of miracles. Any true spiritual light found among the goyim emanates from Klal Yisroel and the example they set for the rest of the world.

This is the story of Yosef being forcefully taken to Mitzrayim. In Eretz Canaan, under the guidance of his father, he led an idyllic life. But then he was kidnapped to a foreign land, where he had no standing whatsoever. As the Sar Hamashkim said to Paroh, “He is a young lad, a servant, and a Jew.” Rashi explains, “A young lad, foolish and not fit for greatness. A Jew, who does not speak our language. A servant, and it is written in our laws that a servant may not rule or wear royal clothing (Rashi 41:12).

There was no way by natural means that Yosef could ever rise to power. Yet, rise to power he did, becoming second in command only to Paroh. He caused a major upheaval in Mitzrayim, bringing the name of Hashem to the mouth of Paroh and paving the way for his fellow Yidden to live there and further spread the name of Hashem through their survival there and by the miracles that were performed for them. Yosef limped down to Mitzrayim, arriving there in a weak state, alone and forlorn. Yet the impact he had on history will remain forever.

The Yidden who suffered throughout Golus Mitzrayim also appeared to be the lame ones on the bottom, with the powerful Egyptians riding on top of them. They seemed helpless, with no end in sight to their misery. But in the end, they served as a medium for spreading the name of Hashem. “People heard – they were agitated, terror gripped the dwellers of Peloshes…” (Shemos 15:14). They all heard of the mighty feats of Hashem.

Golus Yovon is the only golus that Yidden suffered in their own land. They lost their footing on their home turf. The foreign winds of Hellenism raged so fiercely in Eretz Yisroel that they swept the Yidden off their feet by the masses. At the beginning of the revolt against Yovon, only thirteen tzaddikim were there to stand up for the name of Hashem (Rashi, Devorim 33:11). But in the end, through open miracles, the powerful Syrian–Greek kingdom was defeated. And like the menorah that serves as a vessel for the flames of Chanukah, we served as a vessel to spread the light of Hashem.

This is how the story of Chanukah ties in with Yosef in Mitzrayim. In both cases, those who were seemingly weak brought about a tremendous kiddush sheim Shomayim. And they are both also associated with gid hanoshe, because the displaced sinew represents a common point between them, an apparent weakness that led to the spreading of Hashem’s name, which is the fulfillment of our purpose on this world. This is why there is such an emphasis on pirsumei nisah, publicizing the miracle, for that is the tachlis of it all, to show the world that despite the fact that we were the few facing the many and the weak ones facing the mighty, through the miracles of Hashem we overcame the odds against us.

From the gid hanoshe we also learn that any efforts to attain equal footing with the nations of the world are doomed to failure. Despite all of its successes, diplomacy, and public relations, the State of Israel is still isolated and constantly censored by the United Nations and is at the mercy of the umos ha’olam unless we merit siyata diShmaya. Yes, we must be mishtadeil for the freedom to serve Hashem, and yes, we must speak against anti-Semitism. But it is with the realization that until the sunrise of Moshiach, the nation of Yaakov will continue to limp.

Nosata liyirecha neis lehisnoseis – You gave to those who fear You a banner to be raised high” (Tehillim 60:6). This can also be explained as, “You gave those who fear you a miracle to become miracle-ized.” The nissim are supposed to teach us that our daily lives are a miracle. That if not for Hashem’s chassodim, we could not survive.

May we be zoche to nissim with our redemption from golus. “Then I shall complete with a song of hymn the chanukas hamizbeiach.” Ah freilichen Chanukah.



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