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Chanuka Presents!

By Rabbi Jonathan Tawil

The delicious smell of doughnuts is in the air, and the beautiful candles across the community are alight as we delve into oil for the next eight days, sharing songs and presents with our loved ones.

The story is told of a grown up Jewish man, spoiled by his mother and still living at home.

Chanuka arrives and she gives him a beautifully wrapped present. As he opens it, he is happy to see that she has bought him two sweaters.

The next day he decides to proudly wear one of the beautiful sweaters.

As he comes down to breakfast his mother stares at him with a grumpy face.

“What’s the matter?” she asks, as her eyes roll.

Startled, the man replies, “what’s wrong, Mother?”

She approaches him and says, “What’s the matter with the other sweatshirt I got you! Didn’t you like the other one?”

Sometimes we are spoiled for choice; at other times it is difficult to please everyone, but what’s behind the (not so ancient) custom to give out presents on Chanuka?

After being in jail for ten years, Yosef was finally approached with a way out.

Two of the King’s officers were jailed with him, awaking with troublesome dreams.

Yosef interprets these dreams, telling the butler that in three days he would be returned to his initial post and “you will place Pharaoh’s cup in his hand as was the former practice…”[Bereishit 40:13].

These words seem to be superfluous! What do they add? What do they teach us?

Rabbi Akiva Eiger sent a letter to his son, in which he suggests a novel and insightful interpretation. Yosef tells the butler that he will be returned to his position and once again be Pharaoh’s butler. When the butler heard those words, what went through his mind? Was there a great sigh of relief?

He might have been slightly happy, but then once he thought about it he was worried;

“What will be if something will fly into the cup again? My hand will be shaking so much that I will never be able to pour a cup of wine for the king again! Good, I got my job back, but how will I cope?”

To address that fear, Yosef responded: “You will have your job back AND you are not going to have to worry because it is going to be K’Mishpat haRishon – exactly like it was before. Why is that? It is because the whole incident of the fly falling into the cup was not your fault – it will never happen again! The only reason the fly fell into the cup is SO THAT you should be here in the dungeon with me, SO THAT you will be able to tell Pharaoh what a great interpreter of dreams I am, and SO THAT I will be able to get out of jail because of the good words you put in for me with Pharaoh!”

Many are the thoughts in the hearts of man, and G-d’s plan is what always finally emerges. (Mishlei 19:21)

From the young age of 17, Yosef was enslaved in Egypt. He had been a salve in Potiphar’s house, a prisoner, and this week is brought in front of the mighty King of Egypt Pharaoh.

Yet one thing remains constant in all his ordeals – G-d’s Name is constantly on his lips.

Rashi explains the phrase, Ki Hashem Ito (39:3), “Hashem was with him,” as Shem Shomayim Shagar B’fiv, “The Name of Heaven was fluent in his mouth,” to mean that he would regularly refer to Hashem in conversation.

In a land of many gods, Yosef was able to infuse everyone he saw with the knowledge of the Only One Almighty G-d.

Potiphar now knew there was an Elokim; the butler now knew there was an Elokim.

Finally after twelve years in prison, Yosef gets his break in front of the King.

Pharaoh is the god of Egypt; he is mighty and powerful.

Yet when Yosef is brought in front of him, he is not in fear or awe – rather, he recognises Pharaoh as another piece of the puzzle, bringing G-dliness to the world.

Even though Pharaoh compliments him, saying, “I have heard you know how to interpret dreams”, Yosef answers, “Biladay, Elokim Yaaneh Et Shalom Pharaoh” (41:16) – “It is Hashem that controls the world and can enable interpretation of dreams.”

Eventually, many years later when Yosef reveals himself and sends a message to his father, he says,

“Koh Amar Bincha Yosef Samani Elokim Le’adon Lechol-Mitzrayim” – “G-d has granted me jurisdiction over the whole land of Egypt.” (45:9)

Our Sages interpret this homiletically to mean that Yosef was saying – “Sam Ani” – I have put – “Elokim” – G-d Almighty – “Le’adon” – as a Master – over the whole land of Egypt.

The whole of Egypt now knows and understands that there exists such a concept of One G-d.

Through Yosef’s actions and his personal conduct, the whole world could now see and learn about Hashem.

Chanuka is a time when the Greeks wished to cut us off from our past and to infuse us with their understanding of the world – no One G-d, no real spirituality in the world. We fought back.

But to fight back, you need to realise where it all emanates from, search out the source.

A present isn’t just created. There is an idea; there is action of buying and sending. When you receive a present, you start to think “how kind!”, and you search back to find who was the giver, in order to thank them.

Light enables us to see; it shows the way.

At the darkest time in the year, we shine the lights of the Menorah.

Chanuka is that time when we search back and reconnect to our G-d, recognising all that goodness He has bestowed upon us.

Chanuka Sameach!

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