Chanukah is that bridge spanning all of This Worldly time
Parshas Vayeishev, with its riveting episode of Yosef HaTzaddik’s struggle to resolutely spurn the enticements of Potiphar’s wife, sometimes coincides with Chanukah, and in years like this one, serves as its prelude. It seems reasonable to suggest that there is a deeper connection between the saga of young Yosef, alone in an alien land, and Chanukah, which along with Purim, is the archetypal Yom Tov of galus.
The Gemara (Sotah 36b) relates that Yosef glimpsed the image of Yaakov Avinu peering through the window to convey a message to his son about the choice before him: To reject the advances of the temptress and thereby merit the lofty appellation of ro’eh Yisrael (“shepherd of Israel”), denoting an intermediate status between av and shevet, or to yield to her and suffer the spiritual ignominy of being labeled a ro’eh zonos. (The Yerushalmi adds that through that window he glimpsed the countenance of his mother, Rachel, too).
To describe Yosef’s victory in this greatest of nisyonos, the Torah uses the word “vayima’ein — and he refused.” Intriguingly, the trop (cantillation mark) over the word is the sign of the shalsheles, one that appears only four times throughout the Chumash. The word means “chain,” and indeed, looking at its shape and listening to how it is given voice by the baal korei brings a chain of many links very much to mind.
Rabbeinu Bechaye writes that the function of trop is to provide the subtext to accompany and illuminate the Torah’s explicit text. Here, too, the shalsheles conveys to us that it was only by grasping hold of a chain and refusing to let it go that Yosef was able to wrench himself free of the moment and turn his thoughts instead to his righteous past and a potentially glorious future.
Always is it the yetzer hara’s strategy to make us forget what came before and distract us from what will surely follow, urging us on to focus instead on this, and only this, fleeting moment. But then, gazing at his saintly father’s visage — identical to his own — he realized that this was how he, too, would look at his father’s age if only he were to summon the inner strength to choose wisely at this moment.
Moved by this vision of his father to consider his own potential destiny, Yosef used his past and future — what he once had been and what he could once more become — to transform the evanescent present, too, from a momentary blur in the endless flow of time into yet another solid link in a chain stretching to eternity. Time is indeed a chain — the days and years of our individual lives are its links on a micro level, and each of us in turn forms one link in a larger chain that began with our forebears and continues on until the End of Days.
And this is one of Chanukah’s messages as well. The 36 neiros are, the Rokeach writes, a manifestation of the ohr haganuz, the supernal light in which, for 36 precious hours, Hashem’s newly formed world basked. Now hidden from view, this wholly spiritual source of illumination will reemerge at the end of time. But until then, the warm light that our little neiros cast upon this dark world provides us with a glimpse of this light that once was and will yet be.
Chanukah has something to tell us all: Live neither in, nor solely for, the moment. Lift yourselves above time and see the larger time-flow of which this moment is but one small part, and like Yosef Hatzaddik, you will persevere. The dancing flames beckon us to look to our own pasts and those of ancestors recent and distant — all the way back to the beginning of time, when Hashem brought order out of chaos with the future nation of the Jewish People in mind — and discover therein the secret of the Jew’s resiliency. Look forward, as well, to times of greatness yet to come, in your own life and those of your descendants and your people, and draw the inspiration to hold fast in difficult times and forge on toward a brighter future.
Chanukah is that bridge spanning all of This Worldly time, its planks emerging from Sheishes Yemei Bereishis and continuing on as we tread through a long, forbidding galus, until we arrive at the time of which the paytan speaks, of az egmor b’shir mizmor chanukas hamizbeiach.
Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 790. Eytan Kobre may be contacted directly at firstname.lastname@example.org