We once had a non-Jewish Dutch girl helping with the young children and it was Chanukah. Of course the lights and the flashy adverts were illuminating the streets of Amsterdam at that same time, as everyone was involved in the “festive season.” We duly prepared our menorah for the first night of Chanukah and eventually we lit the solitary light with the shamash. We ate some refreshments and after about half an hour I went back to Kollel Chacham Zvi where I was learning at the time. My wife later told me that the Dutch girl laughed at all the fuss we made over lighting one light. “This is your festival?” she asked incredulously.
In Parshas Vayeshev, Rashi tells that Yaakov Ovinu saw Eisav with his descendants, including kings, generals and powerful armies in sharp contrast to with his own small family of seventy souls. “Who can conquer all these?” he asked. Rashi says that the pasuk answers his question, “These are the generations of Yaakov, Yosef.” And in the novi Ovadia, the posuk says, “The House of Yaakov will be like fire, the House of Yosef, a flame and the House of Eisav, stubble.” One spark goes out from Yosef and destroys all of them.”
This Rashi is difficult for a number of reasons. Firstly, the pasuk (Devorim 20:1-3) says, “When you go out to battle against your enemy and you see horse and chariot, a people more numerous than you, do not fear them for Hashem is with you. Let your heart not be faint, do not be afraid, do not panic, do not be broken before them.” So why was Yaakov afraid? Does it matter how many generals Eisav has if “Hashem is with us?”
Secondly, we are told, (Devarim 2:2-3), You are passing through the boundary of your brother, the children of Eisav who dwell in Seir. They will fear you but you shall be very careful. You shall not provoke them … because I have given Mount Seir as an inheritance to the children of Eisav.” This posuk doesn’t seem to envisage any clash. They will be in their land and we will be in our land.
Thirdly what is Yosef’s contribution? Why wasn’t Yaakov himself enough to defeat Eisav? The House of Yaakov is already fire. What was this vital spark of Yosef which will destroy Eisav?
The Rambam (Hilchos De’os 6:1) writes that it is the natural way of a person to be drawn in his opinions and ways after his friends and the people of his country. Therefore a person should be close to tzaddikim and sit with Chachomim in order to learn from their deeds, and keep a distance from the wicked who walk in darkness, in order not to learn from their deeds.” And he also says (Issurei Biah 22:21) that “Impure thoughts only enter a mind which is empty of Torah.”
The Shitta Mekubetzes (Kesuvos 8a) discusses the Roman decree (mentioned earlier 3b) that a non-Jewish general would approach Jewish brides on the day of their chuppa. He brings from the Yerushalmi that the Romans intended this as a revenge for the killing of their forefather Eisav when he protested Yaakov being given the remaining burial plot in Mearas Machpela. This affected the customs in Yehuda before the chuppa. (See there for more details). Eisav’s descendants knew that any attempt to physically attack the descendants of Yaakov, even though it might partially succeed, would ultimately be futile; However small the numbers of survivors, they will always regroup and rebuild themselves. The other method, which might prove more successful, was befriending the Jews. Show them Eisav’s glittering life style, the pleasure of following one’s physical desires, offer them love and acceptance. This way, the Jewish nation will destroy itself from within.
Yaakov was not afraid of the physical power of Eisav. If Hashem wills it, His right hand can destroy our enemies in a moment. For twenty years Lovon forced Yaakov to do gruelling work both in the hot sun and freezing cold but Yaakov survived. After Yaakov escaped, Lovon pursued him in order to kill him but Lovon was again not successful. However Yaakov was afraid of Eisav’s many descendants spiritually influencing his descendants. It is the natural way of the world, as the Rambam says. He asked, “How can I defeat their negative influences? It seems an impossible task. But Yaakov was told that it will be possible with the merits of Yosef. Why? Because there has never been an occasion when the forces of evil tried to tempt a Jew more than Potifar’s wife when she tried to pursuade Yosef to sin with her. Yet with superhuman self-control he refused to be with her, neither in this world or the next. Therefore it was in Yosef’s merit as well as in his own that Yaakov could be confident that his descendants will survive the attacks of Eisav, both physical and spiritual.
Where did Yosef’s strength come from that he was able to resist the temptation to sin? What was the navi alluding to in the phrase “the flame of Yosef” which will ultimately vanquish Eisav? Chazal say, that Yosef “silences the claim of anyone who says that he could not learn because of his yetzer hora.” (Yuma 35b) They also say that Yosef saw a vision of his father. How did this help him? Perhaps this was precisely what the Rambam. meant. “We should be close to Tzaddikim and sit with Chachomim in order to learn from their deeds.” If we are inspired by tzaddikim to want to be like them, seeing a vision of them in our minds even when we are not with them, we can resist temptation. If we sit with Chachomim and our minds are full of Torah, leaving no room for foreign thoughts to enter, we will not even be tempted. What can Eisav offer us besides empty pleasures today which lead to misery tomorrow? Why should we even consider leaving our world of purity to enter a society of self-destructive immorality?
This is the flame of our Chanuka lichtel which we gaze at during Chanuka. The flame of Torah, the flame of Tzaddikim and Chachomim together with memories of our holy ancestors. We will not be fooled by Eisav’s glittering lights, up today, down tomorrow.
That Dutch girl just didn’t get it!