Exile and Return (part 2)
The Sages enumerate four separate "exiles" that the Jewish people have endured since first settling the Land of Israel 3,300 years ago. Each of these exiles is qualitatively different, in the sense that the oppressors focused on uprooting different aspects of Jewish life and practice. The four exiles are:
- "Nafshi" (Emotional) - Babylonian tyrant Nebechudnezzer wanted the Jewish people to emotionally submit themselves to him and his idolatry. They refused, so Nebechudnezzer destroyed the First Temple and sent the Jews packing to Babylon.
- Gufani (Bodily) - While living under Persian domination, the Jews experienced an exile which threatened to annihilate them through the genocidal machinations of Haman, the villain of the Purim story.
- Sichli (Intellectual) - Under the rulership of the Greeks, the Jews were subject to harsh decrees prohibiting their connection to God and Torah. The tide of Greek philosophy and culture ― chronicled in the Chanukah story ― threatened to extinguish Jewish intellectual thought.
- HaKol (Combination) - The current exile began 2,000 years ago with the Roman destruction of the Second Temple and the disbursement of the Jews to four corners of the globe. During this time, Jews have been subjected to a horrific combination of all other exiles ― perpetual persecution, expulsion, humiliation, mass murder, and more.
Wink of an Eye
In one sense, this is terribly depressing. Though this week's parsha ― read each year during Chanukah ― contains a message which will inspire and enlighten.
The parsha begins with Joseph sitting in a dungeon prison in Egypt. Cold, hungry, unbathed and unshaven. Meanwhile, upstairs in the palace, King Pharaoh is having esoteric dreams that nobody is able to interpret. The Butler speaks up and recommends Joseph as a possible solution. The Torah (paraphrased from Genesis 41:14-46) describes what happens next:
"Pharaoh sent for Joseph, and they rushed him out of the dungeon. He shaved, changed his clothes, and was brought to Pharaoh. Joseph proceeded to interpret the dreams properly. Pharaoh was impressed… put a gold chain around his neck, and accorded him the title of Prime Minister."
An amazing turn of events: from prison to palace in two minutes flat.
Even more, Joseph's experience is an arbiter of things to come. As the Midrash says: "Maase Avot Siman L'Banim"― events of the forefathers foretell future events of their children.
A few hundred years later, the Jews eat matzah on their way out of Egypt. Why? Because they left in such a hurry and didn't have time for the bread to rise. The redemption ― a 180-degree turnaround from slavery to freedom ― happened in moments. As the verse says, "God saves as quick as the wink of an eye."
The Chafetz Chaim explains that this is also how the future redemption will occur. In fact, the Talmud says that if someone takes a vow "not to drink wine on the day the Messiah arrives," then this person is always forbidden to drink wine. Why? Because the Messiah could come any day! As Maimonides records in his "13 Principles of Faith:" "I believe with complete faith in the coming of the Messiah, and even though he may delay, nevertheless every day I anticipate that he will come."
Reversal of Fortune
What is the key to reversing our exile and bringing about redemption?
In the times of the Maccabees, when the Greeks attacked Jerusalem, they didn't try to destroy the Temple or burn it down. Rather, they defiled it. They offered pig sacrifices and placed a statue of Zeus in the Temple.
The Greeks didn't want to totally destroy Jewish life. Rather, they sought "li-challel" ― literally, to make it empty. They wanted to tear the heart and soul out of Judaism. To sap its divine core and reduce it to symbolism.
This explains why the Greeks carefully scoured the Temple searching for pure flasks of oil (bearing the seal of the High Priest). They knew that defiling the oil would silence the light of the Menorah ― the light of Torah which reflects the depth and meaning of Jewish life. The Greeks knew this was the way to best "conquer" the Jewish nation.
Therefore, the way to reverse such an attack is to put the meaning back in Judaism.
Our forefather Jacob knew this lesson well. In Genesis 46:28, before bringing his entire family down to Egypt for what will become a brutal period of slavery, Jacob sent Judah ahead to make preparation in Goshen. The Talmud asks: What preparations did Judah make? He built a yeshiva, a house of Torah study. Through learning Torah and uncovering the depth of meaning, we pour light into the world and drive away the darkness of exile.
Light and Dark
Chanukah, it so happens, is the auspicious time to pour light into the world. Jewish law states that ideally, the menorah should be placed outside your front door, in order to publicize the miracle. This also has deeper significance. Since the mezuzah is placed on the right side of the doorway, we add the menorah to the left side, so the home is now "surrounded by mitzvot." What greater proclamation of Jewish pride could there be!
Chanukah takes place in the winter, the season when the least amount of light is physically present each day. Likewise, the events of Chanukah tell of the Jewish people reconnecting at a time of spiritual darkness. Each night, as we slowly increase the number of candles kindled on the menorah, we symbolically increase our commitment to bring the light of Torah into our lives.
As noted, the four Jewish exiles are represented by the words "Nafshi (Emotional), Gufani (Bodily), Sichli (Intellectual), and HaKol (Combination). The beginning letters of each of these four Hebrew words are Nun, Gimmel, Shin and Hey ― precisely the same four letters on the Chanukah dreidel. (On the dreidel, the letters stand for "Nase Gadol Haya Sham" ― a great miracle happened there.)
Amazingly, these four letters are also the same four letters of the word "Goshna." This is the place where Judah built the yeshiva in Egypt! Reversal of our exile is achieved through the light of Torah.
TThere is a fascinating twist to this idea of dreidel letters. Dreidels in Israel today have one letter different ― Nun, Gimmel, Shin, Pey, spelling "Nase Gadol Haya Po" ― a great miracle happened here. So instead of the four letters forming the word "Goshna," an Israeli dreidel spells "Gofna" ― meaning "wine."
Amazingly, when Jacob blesses his sons before he dies, the blessing he gives to Judah ― from which the Messiah descends ― is a blessing of wine (Genesis 49:11). And the Talmud (Brachot 57a) says that a dream of wine foretells the coming of the Messiah!
I recently received a call from Achi-Meir Kalla, the rabbi of Moshav Safir in Israel. He pointed out another amazing thing: Based on some descriptions in "Sefer HaChashmonaim," some scholars theorize that the Maccabees hid in a place called the "Hills of Gofna."
At times, the world can sem a bit depressing. Confusion, anger, jealousy and greed dominate the news, and often our social and commercial dealings as well. The ozone layer, corruption in government, terrorism, disease. Things look bleak.
We need the hope of redemption.
In 1943 in the Bergen Belsen concentration camp, devout Jews secretly gathered to light the Chanukah candles. After chanting the blessing "Who made miracles for our ancestors, in those days at this season," the Bluzhever Rebbe broke into sobs, for he had already lost his wife, his 10 children, and his grandchildren.
The Rebbe said:"We may wonder as we stand here in the Nazi pit of death, where are the miracles for us today? Yet of one thing I am certain: Just as God pulled the Maccabees from darkness, and just as He has preserved the Jewish people throughout the ages, so will the Jewish people survive this, too."
Rabbi Azriel Tauber, a businessman and Torah scholar in New York, says he was able to survive the Holocaust because every day, his father would encourage him and say: "Don't despair, my son, for redemption can come at any moment."
Our task is to keep focused on the Torah, the voice of reason in our world of insanity. And in the merit of theChanukah candles, may we see the end of Jewish exile, once and for all.
Shabbat Shalom & Happy Chanukah,
Rabbi Shraga Simmons
Stay tuned next week for part two of "Exile and Return"