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(Torah Portion Vayigash) Can't You Tell It's Me!

There was a severe famine in the Land of Israel and our forefather Yaacov sent ten of his sons to Egypt to obtain food. The Land of Egypt was also experiencing a famine; however, because of Yosef’s foresight, Egypt had a stockpile of food, and was able to provide sustenance for the region.

Yosef, who had been separated from his family for many years, figured that in due time, his brothers would wind up coming to Egypt. He was on the lookout for them and even described them to the customs officials so that they should alert him if they came. Sure enough the Yosef’s ten bothers were spotted and brought to Yosef. The Torah relates that Yosef recognized his brothers, yet they did not recognize him.

Why didn’t they recognize him? The Talmud says that since Yosef at the time he was sold was only 17 years old and did not have a beard and now it was twenty-two years later and he had grown a beard and looked different. Additionally, Yosef was now the viceroy over Egypt.

Yosef accused his brothers of spying, and the Torah and our Oral Tradition describe the various conversations, accusations and demands Yosef made to them. There were many times that Yosef through his innuendos basically gave himself away, yet his brothers never picked up on it. Why not? What kept them remaining in the dark?

Perhaps we can explain this with an idea presented by the Shem Mishmuel pertaining to Chanukah. On the first day of creation the Torah describes the world as, “Darkness upon the surface of the deep.”

Surprisingly, the Medrash tells us that within the word Choshech – Darkness – there lays an inference to the Greeks; for the Greeks, with their pagan methodology and self-indulgent behavior brought darkness to the world. Just as the original darkness that existed in the world before light was created, was not a darkness because of the absence of light, rather it was a creation itself. So too, the darkness that the Greeks brought into the world was not something a simple light could disperse. It was dark, deep and thick, similar to what the Egyptians experienced during the second phase of the plague of darkness, when they could not even move about.

The Greeks enforced their pagan lifestyle and immoral beliefs upon the Jewish people and the Jews’ eyes and thought process became darkened, shaded, and obscured by this foreign invasion into their lives and outlook. This darkness made it very difficult for them to discern the truth of the Torah, which they had always held so dear.

The Macabees finally had enough. With their resolve and bravery, they fought hard against the mighty Greek army and were miraculously victorious. They repossessed the plundered Holy Temple in Jerusalem and searched and searched to find a ritually pure flask of oil to kindle the Menorah.

The reason for their resolve to specifically light the Menorah with ritually pure oil is because pure oil in connection with the Menorah had the power to dispel the thick darkness the Greeks inculcated within the thinking and mindset of the Jews.

Our Sages teach us that the Menorah and its light symbolize the light and illumination of the Torah. The Menorah that was lit with the purest oil in the Temple had the energy to remove the thick darkness of the Greeks just as it had the miraculous ability to last for an additional seven days.

The Menorah that each of us light in our homes on Chanukah, is the only ritual of the Temple that we have a Mitzvah to memorialize. Our flames continue to have the same illuminating capabilities to dispel the darkness, uncertainty and doubts about spirituality that enters our minds or environment.

Getting back to why the brothers weren’t able to figure out that the man they were interacting with was their brother Yosef. Since they believed so strongly that they were correct for selling Yosef and that his dreams which reflected his dominion over them were untrue, an obscurity and darkness settled over them so that they were unable to see what should have been obvious to them.

The Medrash relates that when Yosef finally revealed himself to his brothers. He proclaimed, ‘I know where your missing brother is!’ He then called out, “Yosef ben (son of) Yaacov, come and greet your brothers.” They started looking in all directions, and didn’t see anyone. He finally said, “Ani Yosef – I am Yosef.” It was at this point of clarity that the brothers passed out from utter embarrassment.

Although Chanukah is slowly ebbing away…. we are able hold onto its spiritual message and energy throughout the year. This experience helps our mind find clarity in the eternal Torah’s message and guide us to triumph over challenges or issues we may face.

Wishing you a restful, peaceful and inspirational Shabbos!
Rabbi Dovid Saks