“A bit of light pushes away a great deal of darkness.”
Joseph was sold as a slave to Egypt by his own brothers, marking the beginning of the darkest chapter of his life. As we noted last year, the caravan which brought Joseph to Egypt normally carried odorous merchandise, but since the righteous Joseph was to ride in this particular caravan, G-d made sure that the merchandise on board were sweet smelling spices (see Rashi). Divine engineering ensured this one-time change of merchandise, and to what end? Why should these pleasant odors be so important to Joseph, especially when there were much more weighty matters on his mind? The betrayal of his siblings, the emotional pain of his father, the bleak prospects for his future — any one of these would certainly overshadow the discomfort of traveling in a malodorous wagon!
This was indeed Joseph’s darkest moment, but the fragrant reminder that G-d cared to make his travels more pleasant was the light that pierced the darkness. He would face daunting challenges in the days to come, but this spark of hope, the loving whisper in his ear from his Heavenly Father, would serve to imbue him with strength to endure the obstacles up ahead. (Based on Sefer G’dulas Mordechai)
Chanukah, which begins this Saturday night, marks a moment in the dark exile where Judaism faced spiritual annihilation from the dominant Greeks. There were decrees to end core Jewish observances, like Torah study and circumcision, and Jews were abandoning their spirituality and embracing the attractive Greek values of physical and intellectual beauty in increasing numbers. Then came the Maccabees’ miraculous defeat of the Greek army, and the Temple Menorah that burned for 8 days. This spark of new hope, a sign of G-d’s presence in the dark, gave the Jewish people the strength to endure even the darkest moments of exile, under the greatest challenges to their values.
It’s interesting how the cycle of the seasons also reflects this idea. Chanukah comes at the beginning of the winter in Israel, the time of the longest nights of the year. Darkness dominates our days, but the Chanukah Menorah’s light illuminates the night every year, just as the daylight hours begin to increase.
New clarity and strength comes from knowing that the Al-mighty is holding our hand through the darkness. The knowledge that our Father will never leave us, even when the lights go out, infuses us with the necessary endurance to navigate through the darkest of times.
Good Shabbos and Happy Chanukah!
Rabbi Mordechai Dixler
Program Director, Project Genesis – Torah.org