Parashat Vayeshev Print Version
24th of Kislev, 5782 | November 27, 2021
Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik
Rabbi YY Jacobson Chanukah at the Kremlin
I once had a conversation with the chief rabbi of Russia, Rabbi Berel Lazar, and he shared with me a marvelous experience that happened a few years ago on Chanukah. He was invited by the Kremlin for a personal audience with President Vladimir Putin. The time for the audience was Friday afternoon, but he took a look and saw that that Friday – a winter in Moscow – Shabbos was to begin at 3:00 p.m. It was also Chanukah. As such, he’d need to get home early so both the Chanukah and Shabbos candles could be lit. Considering this, he asked the Kremlin if the meeting could be postponed to another day. But President Putin insisted that he had to see him that day. It would be 12:00 p.m. sharp, so he would have enough time to get back from the Kremlin and light the Chanukah and Shabbos candles and prepare himself to welcome our holy day. And when Putin says you got to come, you got to come.
Rabbi Lazar arrived at the Kremlin at 12:00 p.m. sharp. But as he was about to enter the office of the President, he heard loud arguments and disputes. Apparently, the Labor Organization was inside the office and there was intense bickering and arguing, and the meeting kept on being pushed off. From 12:00 to 1:00 and from 1:00 to 2:00. At this point, Rabbi Lazar began growing anxious, but they told him not to worry. “Putin will be sure to keep the meeting with you succinct. It is extremely important, as Putin has to communicate a vital message to the Russian Jewish community.” So Rabbi Lazar remained and arranged for his wife to deliver a menorah to the Kremlin so that if he sees the time to Shabbos is too short, he'll be able to light the menorah in the Kremlin. Sometime later, he was admitted to the Office of President Putin and they held the meeting.
When Putin and Rabbi Lazar finally came out of the meeting, he took a look at the clock and knew instantly that it was too close to Shabbos to get home in time. He wouldn’t be able to kindle the menorah before Friday sunset. He immediately told the aids of the president, “I have a menorah here. Please prepare it for me as I need to light.” The aids agreed to set it up, yet requested that Rabbi Lazar address the press in the meantime. So as requested, Rabbi Lazar spoke to several reporters for a few minutes. Afterwards, they directed Rabbi Lazar to a beautiful room right near the office of Vladimir Putin. The menorah was set up right in the middle of the table for him to light. But as soon as he saw what they had done, Rabbi Lazar knew they’d made a mistake. “I need to light Chanukah candles, not Shabbos candles. I also have to do it at the window, or actually as my custom is, by the door.” But to put it by the door, Rabbi Lazar would need a small table. And even though it's the Kremlin, go find an available small table in the Kremlin.
And so, the Kremlin officials began a search. Fortunately, they found a small table and they set it up by the door. And now the menorah was by the door and there was oil and wicks. But that wasn’t everything. “I need a match!” Rabbi Lazar needed a match to light the Shamash. “Rabbi, we aren’t allowed to smoke in the Kremlin, there's no fire and there's no match. Sorry. Is there any other way to do this? Can you just make the blessing and the prayer without the fire?” But Rabbi Lazar knew the answer. At this point, there was only four minutes left to Shabbos.
Then Rabbi Lazar remembered the security guard out front. Perhaps he smokes? But as the officials began making their way outside, Rabbi Lazar knew that if wouldn’t do something himself, he wouldn’t make it. So Rabbi Lazar began running. He took the elevator, ran down, retrieved a lighter from the guard, and ran back up and lit the menorah.
The aids of the president watched him light the menorah at the doorway in the Kremlin right near the office of President Putin. Rabbi Lazar made the blessing, expressing the truism that we light these candles for all of the beautiful miracles that Chanukah commemorates. Rabbi Lazar looked outside as the sun slowly set on the horizon of Moscow and the new Shabbos descended into the world.
Now Rabbi Lazar needed to walk home. A walk of an hour and a half. In Moscow. During the winter. At night.
Knowing this, Rabbi Lazar spent a few minutes next to his menorah candles, enjoying his final moments of warmth and comfort. He bid the Kremlin officials goodbye, thanked them for their assistance and began his walk home.
But minutes later, hearing someone approaching him, he noticed the Russian Minister of Religion. “You’re not walking home alone!” Rabbi Lazar was taken aback. “You’re not Jewish! You can drive; you don’t need to walk with me!” But the Russian Minister was adamant. “You’re here because of us. We brought you here and we are the ones responsible for this chaos and mess, and it is therefore my responsibility as Minister of Religion to walk home with you on Shabbos.”
On the trek home, it was freezing home. But Rabbi Lazar had a nagging question. Turning to the Minister, he said, “I made a real commotion there, between my menorah, table, window, matches, fire and walking home. Are you a little annoyed with me? How do you feel about it?” The Russian Minister looked back at Rabbi Lazar. “You think we can’t deal with Jewish spiritual leaders who don’t take Judaism so seriously? We don’t want to, because we can’t really trust them. You’re a man we know we can trust. You have principles; you have values. You are going to walk home on the Sabbath! You are the types of leaders we trust and we want to deal with.”
The world respects Jews who respect Judaism; the world is embarrassed by Jews who are embarrassed by their history, heritage and faith. Never be ashamed to be like the loyal: true to your identity.
Mr. Charlie Harary Responsibility Leads to Ability
Sometimes you hear something and it changes how you see the world. I heard something in the name of Rav Malkiel Kotler, some twenty years ago in a shul in Pittsburgh, that has stayed with me since.
In Parshas Vayeitzei, Yaakov leaves his parents’ house. He’s received the blessings, and Rivkah and Yitzchak send him to the house of Lavan. Yaakov follows suit.
When Yaakov arrives at the town, it's at the moment when the townspeople are about to move the rock off the well. Think about it, back in the old days, the most valuable asset people had was water. And so they protected it. They probably had one well of freshwater, and they put a huge rock on it so that nothing else would get in. And every day, at some point, everyone would gather around the well and all the shepherds would feed their sheep. The townspeople would apportion water to take back to their homes, and then they would cover the well again. So at that moment, when they were about to do that, Yaakov comes onto the scene. And shortly after Yaakov arrives, so does Rachel, and Yaakov sees her. Welled up with this feeling of seeing Rachel, Yaakov singlehandedly lifts the rock off from the well.
But it’s bizarre, notes Rav Malkiel. This is the story the Torah tells us? Yaakov sees Rachel, feels this wave of Divine, prophetic, spiritual inspiration and lifts the rock for her? It seems odd that the Torah accentuates this physical strength which
Yaakov is displaying, and almost indicates that it was a key factor in Yaakov and Rachel’s future. To paint the scene in contemporary times, imagine a very respected rabbi lifting a car over his head. Rashi, in fact, writes that Yaakov lifted the rock with such ease, as if he was popping a cork out of a bottle. Since when is physical strength so greatly praised and highlighted by the Torah? This isn’t a bodybuilding or weightlifting contest.
The way we think the world works is that ability leads to responsibility. I have and therefore I give. I have wealth and therefore I am generous; I am smart and so I teach; I have a great voice and therefore I sing. If I have a talent in a certain area, I will use that talent to inspire or benefit others. This isn’t totally true, though.
The way it works, from a spiritual perspective, is that we are all born with a soul, which is more potent than anything physical. G-d is running a world and what takes place every day is beyond what I was born with and what I have. It's not that ability leads to responsibility It's actually flipped: responsibility leads to ability. We have an enormous amount of ability, but how does that manifest itself? That is up to you. If you're waiting to have it in order to give it, you're never going to fully reach it. But when you take responsibility for something beyond yourself, when you take responsibility for something that is beyond what you think your ability is, especially if it's what's right and what's good and what's beneficial to others, then you can get the ability.
It's not that ability to lead to responsibility; responsibility leads to ability. We always wonder why some people are so great. Do they have some greatness gene? No, they don’t. They're regular people who took on great responsibility. How could one person be so kind, generous, courageous? They must be different. But they're not different. They just took responsibility, and when they took responsibility, they tapped into their abilities. That was always there, but was resting dormant. We don't know what we can become until we take responsibility for something beyond what we think we can do.
The story of Yaakov is this story. Yaakov was the one who couldn't lift the rock. Yaakov was the one that Yitzchak almost passed over because his brother, Eisav, was the strong one. And Yaakov arrives and the rock needs to get lifted right now. G-d says that this rock is going to be lifted, and Yaakov sees the rock and takes responsibility for the rock. And because he took responsibility, he gained the ability to do it. It was the responsibility of lifting that gave him the power to lift.
That's the lesson for our lives. It could be so many things that we are not accessing because we don't know we could and we will never know until we take responsibility for more than ourselves. Stretch. Try. Climb. Push. By doing it. you will tap into your deeper spiritual source.
It's not ability that leads to responsibility. It’s responsibility that leads to ability
Rabbi Label Lam Days of Eight
In Maoz Tzur, we refer to Chanukah as “Yemei Shemoneh – “The Days of Eight.” The Sfas Emes points out that there's a world of difference between saying Shemoneh Yamim, Eight days, and Yemei Shemonah, Days of Eight. The former tells us about the quantity of these days. There are eight. The latter tells us about the quality of this time.
Somehow, everything is connected to Shmona, Eight. If we anagram the letters of the word Shmona, we come up with neshama, soul. If we jumble them again, we come up with the word Mishnah, the building block of the Oral Torah, which is inside every Jew. The word Shemen, oil, is also in the word Shmona, because it rises to the top and it goes beyond this world of teva, the natural world of seven. There's something beyond, something transcendent about these times. Chanukah, being “days of eight” is penetrating and impacting and saturating the world of seven.
Subscribe to our Weekly Newsletter
Timely Torah insights, stories, and anecdotes from your favorite TorahAnytime speakers, delivered straight to your inbox every week.