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12/18/2020 01:54:24 PM


Rabbi Barry Gelman

The Synagogue and The Shop

12/18/2020 11:33:01 AM

Rabbi Barry Gelman

I am not ready to say goodbye to Chanukah yet. 

Parshat Mikeitz is often read on Shabbat  Chanukah, so let’s begin (before we say goodbye to Chanukah) with a Halacha regarding when Shabbat and Chanukah coincide.

If one is confronted with the [simultaneous mitzvah] to light one’s household lamp [for Shabbat] and to light the Hanukkah lamp… then the [Shabbat] household lamp takes precedence because it contributes to shalom bayit (domestic peace and tranquility). (Rambam Laws of Hanukkah 4:14)

This Halacha may sound strange. After all, how can we set aside the Mitzvah of Pirsumei Nisah - of publicizing the miracle God did for us on Chanukah. 

Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetsky (Emet L’Yaakov Bereishit 41:16) offers a beautiful explanation. It is true that publicizing the miracle is important, but it is a commemoration of a heavinylu act. Creating an atmosphere of peace and oneg (enjoyment) in the home is the joining of the heavenly and the earthly. Such an opportunity cannot be missed and must take precedence.

Another example of this is the shabbat meal which is referred to as “me’ein olam Habah” -  a foretaste of the world to come. How can a meal which serves our physical needs be related to the spirituality of the world to come. The answer is that shabbat connects the spiritual and physical in a way that makes the meal something other than providing nourishment. 

This brings us to Parshat Miketz and Yosef’s ability to bridge the spiritual and the physical.

Consider Yosef’s conversations with Pharoah. As soon as Pharaoh says that he has heard the Yosef knows how to interpret dream, Yosef protests and declares:

בִּלְעָדָ֑י אֱלֹהִ֕ים יַעֲנֶ֖ה אֶת־שְׁל֥וֹם פַּרְעֹֽה׃

“Not I! God will see to Pharaoh’s welfare.”

Yosef introduces God to the conversation yet again when, after Pharaoh tells him the dream, Yosef repleius: 

חֲל֥וֹם פַּרְעֹ֖ה אֶחָ֣ד ה֑וּא אֵ֣ת אֲשֶׁ֧ר הָאֱלֹהִ֛ים עֹשֶׂ֖ה הִגִּ֥יד לְפַרְעֹֽה׃

Pharaoh’s dreams are one and the same: God has told Pharaoh what He is about to do.

And finally, regarding the repetitive nature of Pharaoh's dreams, Yosef declares:

וְעַ֨ל הִשָּׁנ֧וֹת הַחֲל֛וֹם אֶל־פַּרְעֹ֖ה פַּעֲמָ֑יִם כִּֽי־נָכ֤וֹן הַדָּבָר֙ מֵעִ֣ם הָאֱלֹהִ֔ים וּמְמַהֵ֥ר הָאֱלֹהִ֖ים לַעֲשֹׂתֽוֹ׃

As for Pharaoh having had the same dream twice, it means that the matter has been determined by God, and that God will soon carry it out.

What does all of this God talk amount to. It certainly is nice and even commendable that Yosef has faith in God and is willing to affirm it publicly. Yet, there is more to it. Yosef’s words have an affect on those around him. 

Pharaoh thinks he is God as indicated in the book of Yechezkel.

דַּבֵּ֨ר וְאָמַרְתָּ֜ כֹּֽה־אָמַ֣ר ׀ אֲדֹנָ֣י יְהוִ֗ה הִנְנִ֤י עָלֶ֙יךָ֙ פַּרְעֹ֣ה מֶֽלֶךְ־מִצְרַ֔יִם הַתַּנִּים֙ הַגָּד֔וֹל הָרֹבֵ֖ץ בְּת֣וֹךְ יְאֹרָ֑יו אֲשֶׁ֥ר אָמַ֛ר לִ֥י יְאֹרִ֖י וַאֲנִ֥י עֲשִׂיתִֽנִי׃

Speak these words: Thus said the Lord GOD: I am going to deal with you, O Pharaoh king of Egypt, Mighty monster, sprawling in your channels, Who said, My Nile is my own; I made it for myself.

Yet, despite this, after Yosef is finished, Pharaoh proclaims to his courtiers: 

הֲנִמְצָ֣א כָזֶ֔ה אִ֕ישׁ אֲשֶׁ֛ר ר֥וּחַ אֱלֹהִ֖ים בּֽוֹ׃

“Could we find another like him, a man in whom is the spirit of God?

Even Pharaoh - the God impersonator -  starts to talk about God.

By introducing God into the conversation and by professing God’s power, Yosef, melded heaven and earth. 

This also explains our approach to Torah. Torah study, excellence in Torah scholarship and observance are not reserved for the “holy men'', they are the purview of all Jewish men and women.  All men and women are obligated to fill their earthly lives with the heavenly Torah.

The Rabbis in Massechet Kiddushim (see Emet L’Yaakov Vzot HaBeracha 33:4) state this when they note: 

הרי כרוכה ומונחת בקרן זוית כל הרוצה ללמוד יבוא וילמוד

“Behold, it is wrapped and placed in the corner. Anyone who wishes to study can come and study.”

The Shabbat lights, the Shabbat meals, ...and even our conversations have the capacity to create a merger between two seemingly incompatible aspects of our lives. 

The truth is that it should not take shabbat to sanctify our meals. Berachot before and after all meals does the same.

Conversations wherein we recognize God exalts our discourse, but so does avoiding Lashon Hara (gossip, slander).

Another way we can enhance our existence is in the realm of how we interact with others. As all of humanity is created in the image of God, every encounter with another is a meeting with Divinity. 

Are there other  areas in our lives that lack this partnership between sacred and profane? 

In what other ways we inject sanctity into our lives? 

Are there ways we can elevate our existence to reflect the presence of God in all that we do and experience?

Rabbi Soloveitchik puts the challenge beautifully: “The dualism that is so prevalent in other religions, namely, the division of a profane and sacred domain, is transcended. The entire universe is converted into one monastic realm, the domain of God. Street and home, the synagogue and the shop merge. The whole of man’s life becomes dedicated to God.” (Sacred and Profane)

Judaism does not ask us to choose between the sacred and the profane. Judaism asks us to unite them. 


Tue, May 18 2021 7 Sivan 5781