They said to one another, “Alas, We are being punished on account of our brother, because we looked on at his anguish, yet paid no heed as he pleaded With us. That is why this distress has come upon us.”
–Genesis 42:21 (JPS Tanakh)
What lesson for our lives can we learn from their statement?
Rabbi Dovid of Zeviltov comments in the commentary Otzer Chaim: If a person did something wrong and recognizes that he has done wrong, he will be forgiven. However, if a person does something wrong and denies it, there is no atonement for him. When Joseph’s brothers previously said that they were innocent, Joseph responded by calling them spies. When they said that they were guilty, Joseph was full of compassion for them and cried.
Rabbi Packouz also states that according to Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski in his book Twerski on Chumash, “there is no coincidence that Chanukah occurs during the week that we read about the epic of Joseph and his brothers.” But what can one have to do with the other? What can we learn about ourselves?
Well, for starters:
Many people deny their faults and the things that they have done wrong because they mistakenly think that others will respect them more. In reality people admire someone with the honesty and courage to admit his mistakes. It takes a braver person to say, “Yes, I was wrong.” This kind of integrity will not only build up your positive attribute of honesty, but will also gain you the respect of others. When you apologize to someone for wronging him, he will feel more positive towards you than if you denied that you did anything wrong. This awareness will make it much easier for you to ask forgiveness from others.
Yesterday was Thanksgiving, an American national holiday dedicated to giving thanks to God for His bountiful goodness to us. All that we have, whether great or small, comes from the Holy One of Israel, the gracious and compassionate Provider and Creator. Even the ability to forgive and be forgiven by God is a blessing for which we should be thankful. Without such a gift, a single sin would forever separate us from God, and condemn us to our doom.
But as Rabbi Pliskin’s Dvar Torah states, we are only forgiven and freed from guilt, slavery, and destruction if we admit to our wrongdoings and ask for forgiveness. Our “free gift,” so to speak, actually comes with a price. True, as a Christian, I believe that the death of the greatest of all tzaddikim, Yeshua of Nazareth, paid that price, but forgiveness of sins is like a package wrapped in bright shiny paper decorated with a pretty bow. It just sits there until we accept it and open it up. To do that, we have to do something else. We have to admit our sins rather than deny them. For when we too say we are guilty, then the Father will welcome us back with open arms.
And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate.
–Luke 15:21-24 (NASB)
But what does any of this have to do with Chanukah?
“Rav Avraham Pam (former Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Torah Vodaas) teaches us that we see this special love of God for the Jewish people regarding the many Jews at that time who had defected to Hellenism and then returned to Torah observance with the triumph of the Macabees — regarding their relationship with the Almighty after their return to the Torah. When a couple reconciles after a separation, the relationship often becomes one of peaceful coexistence, but the quality of love that they initially had for each other is rarely restored.
“Not so when Jews do teshuvah (repentance — returning to the Almighty and to the ways of the Torah). Rambam says that although a sinful person distances himself from God, once he does teshuvah he is near, beloved and dear to God. It is not that God “tolerates” the baal teshuvah (returnee), but rather that He loves him as He would the greatest tzaddik (righteous person). As the prophet says, “I will remember for you the loving-kindness of your youth, when you followed Me into the desert, into a barren land” (Jeremiah 2:2). The love of yore is fully restored.
“This is the significance of the miracle of the oil. It teaches us that with proper teshuvah our relationship with God is restored, as if we had never sinned.”
As believers, as disciples of Messiah, Son of David, the light of the world, the doorway to the Father, we too have been granted the ability to do teshuvah with the same results. It is not as if we are “damaged goods” that, once broken and dirtied, can only approach God just so far and no further. It’s as if we never left, as if we never sinned, as if we have always lived in the Father’s household as beloved sons and daughters. If I can extend the above commentary, God loves the baal teshuvah as He does His Son, His only Son, the one who saved us and redeemed us at the cost of blood and life.
During this week, people in Jewish homes will be lighting the Chanukah candles in remembrance of the miracle of the oil and the miracle of victory over the Greeks in battle. However, the Chanukah lights and the lesson learned by the brothers of Joseph should remind us of something more. As believers, when we light the menorah, we are reminded of God’s great forgiveness in our lives, and how He literally turned darkness into light in our hearts and souls.
In John 8:12, Jesus declared himself the light of the world. In Matthew 5:14-16 we discover that as his disciples, we too are the light to the world. In Jewish tradition, once the menorah is lit, it should be placed in a window for everyone to see. We too were encouraged to allow our own light to shine into the world, as a message of hope and peace, and as evidence that God does powerful miracles.
Love, hope, and redemption are powerful miracles indeed, and a tiny light shining in the darkness is evidence in our world of an overwhelming brightness shining from the Throne of Heaven.
Happy Chanukah and Good Shabbos.