|The Talmud tells the story of Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa’s daughter being sad one Friday after she had mistakenly put vinegar rather than oil into the Sabbath lamp. Rabbi Chanina responded, “Don’t worry, the One who told the oil to light, will tell the vinegar to light as well.” The lights remained burning the entire Shabbat.
There’s a basic rule in Judaism: don’t rely on miracles. Firstly, who says the Almighty is going to come to your rescue. Secondly, even if He does, you might pay for that miracle by having a decrease in some of your merits (which have accrued from the mitzvot you have done.)How, then, could Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa rely on a miracle and expect vinegar to have the ability to burn the way oil does?
When you rely on a miracle, you are revealing that you feel worthy of Divine favor—it’s coming to you. You pay for it with a loss of merit because of your arrogance in thinking the laws of nature should be changed for you.
Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa was different. His reality was trust in the goodness and power of G-d. He gives a substance called oil the ability to burn and can do so with any substance. For Rabbi Chanina, nature and miracle are the same, both come from the same Source. The only difference between what we call ‘normal’ and miracle is frequency. It’s normal for the sun to rise, your eyes to see, your ears to hear, and every other natural occurrence but they too are miracles. We get used to them due to their frequency but if we would stop for a moment and realize how perfectly our body works and how finely tuned the universe is, we would get excited over the constant miracles. One who lives with this reality understands that breathing, sight, trees, flowers, the moon’s cycle, and vinegar that burns like oil, are all equal expressions of G-d’s will in the world.
On Chanukah, Matisiyahu, his sons, and their army put themselves in danger by rebelling against the powerful Greek army. They risked everything for an ideal. But even though they were great and righteous, how could they call upon G-d to save them with a miracle? The answer is that they too had Rabbi Chanina Ben Dosa’s view of the natural world. They didn’t know if they would defeat the world’s most powerful army but they knew they had to fight for the right to be Jewish. If a miracle would happen, so be it. Was Israel’s War of Independence (1948), the Six Day War (1967), or Yom Kippur War (!973) any less of a miracle? Is the existence of a Jewish State any less of a miracle? Can a track of land about the size of New Jersey, which is surrounded by tens of millions of hostile neighbors who continually call for its destruction, survive? When Israeli is referred to as the Miracle of the Mediterranean, it’s not hyperbole Our daily Amidah (Silent Prayer) includes a prayer thanking G-d for daily miracles. When we understand that what we have in life is not our due, neither through our good deeds nor merits, but is solely a gift of the grace of from a compassionate G-d, when we recognize that everything is an expression of His will, then the Almighty acts with us in a similar vein and rewards us with daily miracles.
As we light our menorahs this Chanukah, let us remember the lesson of Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa: The same G-d who tells the oil to burn, can tell vinegar to burn as well. As we look at the small flickering flame, we should think about miraculous it is. That flame saw the Greeks, Romans, Spanish Inquisition, Czars, Communists, Nazi’s and every other world power that was determined at all costs to destroy us, is still burning. They aren’t here but we are. You are member of a nation of miracles.
Chanukah Samayach/Happy Chanukah
(Sources: Taanis 25a; Sifsei Chaim, Moadim v. 2 pp. 9-10)
Rabbi O’s Weekly Parsha: VayeshaivInner Strength and the Ability to Confront
…Joseph at the age of seventeen years was a shepherd with his brothers…and Joseph brought back evil reports about them to their father (Jacob). (37:2)
This week’s Parsha tells the story of one of the early events that led to the Jewish people’s bondage in Egypt. Joseph spoke lashon hara (slander; evil reports) to his father about his brothers. This led to a hatred, which culminated into his being brought to Egypt and sold as a slave. Joseph’s story will be the at the core of the Torah portion we will read for the next three weeks, which is an indication of its tremendous importance.
Joseph’s lashon hara (slander) about his brothers wasn’t told to anyone beside his (their) father. He motivation was not to besmirch his brothers and therefore did not publicize his evil reports. He felt he had valid concern after seeing his brothers engaged in (what he perceived as) malevolent behavior; his intentions were constructive, not malicious. If so, why is he censured for speaking badly about his brothers?
Joseph’s report was improper because he should have gone to his brothers to admonished them and try to correct their errors before speaking to his father. Had he done so, they would have had the opportunity to set him straight and show him where he had was mistaken. Even if they had been wrong, they would have had the opportunity to correct themselves; the issue would have been resolved. Joseph was punished so severely because he failed to go directly to them.One of life’s challenges is confronting people with whom we are at odds. Many people take the path of least resistance by choosing to not confront the situation. By doing so, they let negative thoughts and emotions build up; there’s no magic that makes these thoughts suddenly dissipate. Many times, lashon hara (slander, gossip) is the result of not having the inner strength to approach a person directly and giving them the opportunity to explain themselves. This non-confrontational approach doesn’t resolve anything, and commonly leads to resentment. Externally the person might not show it, but internally (s)he begins harboring hatred.
People think, “I have no desire to work on my character defects. I don’t have the time and I’m not religious; it’s a luxury I’m not interested in.” But this a flawed thinking because it will affect your happiness and your ability to be present in situation that matter to you. People of weak character, who don’t have the ability to confront others who (they perceived) wronged them, will eventually fail the men and women in their lives. They will talk about their frustrations with a friend and cause distrust and even hatred to the one who wronged them and will most likely cause their friend to dislike or even hate their perceived enemy. In addition, they are crushing their own relationship possibilities because if people don’t agree with their assessment of the other person, these people become enemies. Friendships, families, and even communities can break apart as a result of a person not willing to face someone and have an adult conversation. We should try as hard as we can not to simply resign ourselves to fate and say, “I’d rather hold on to my anger than go to the person directly; I hate confrontation.” By doing so, you will deny yourself relationship opportunities as well as all the other consequences that come from not being honest with oneself.
Joseph should have approached his brothers. The tragic consequences of his failure to do so, almost led to his death. Even thought he was saved, his failure to confront his brothers ultimately caused him to be sold into slavery.
Jewish wisdom teaches that each of us has an inner Divine spark that gives us the ability live our lives in a way that will bring us maximum pleasure. The Torah is the Jewish instruction for good living. Having the strength to confront the unpleasant people and situations in our lives is something mandated by the Torah. For Jews, personal growth and confronting our inner demons isn’t a luxury, it’s our life’s purpose.
(Sources: Chofetz Chaim, Shmiras HaLashon, Shaaar HaTorah, Vayeshaiv )
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