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Parshas Mikeitz / Chanukah - Having the Right Tools     29 Kislev 5783

12/23/2022 09:52:06 AM


Ever wonder just what makes the most used hand tool? While a tape measure might not be the first tool to come to mind when making a list of hand tools, it is one of the most used items. When I was growing up we just had a few basic tools in the house;  when I got married and feeling manly, I also made sure to have the same basic tools in my arsenal. There are six basic tools that one needs, including a hammer, screwdriver, pliers, wrench, measuring tape, and perhaps the most important, the toolbox! Without a proper toolbox one can never remember where  the screwdriver or other stuff had been left. Today, just like many other instruments and devices used during our lifetime, we have exponentially increased the number of basic tools, primarily thanks to the available variety of each one of the basic tools. For example, there are no less than fourteen different kinds of screwdrivers, forty-two different kinds of wrenches, thirty-two different types of hammers, and  so forth. As a result, not only do I need a toolbox; I need a tool shed!

I do not claim to be “Mr. Handyman”, but I do pride myself on trying to fix small, uncomplex things that pop up around the house and car. There are times when I amaze my wife that I fixed the broken item. But there are always the other times when I disappoint myself, learning that this is one something I just could not repair.   One of my theories of life is that any average person has the intellectual capacity and the physical ability to perform and do almost everything in life within reason. The day-to-day tasks where we simply call someone to repair or help us with are usually driven by a lack of time, money, or basic laziness to just get around to fixing it on our own.  Over time, one comes to the realization that half the battle is having the correct tools for each job. Even a simple, basic item -  a ladder -made all the difference for me this week.  I needed to switch out an LED four pin prong lightbulb from a can fixture. In previous attempts, I stood on a chair, stretched my body to the maximum but was still unable to get a good grip, leading me to crack the bulb in my hand. This week I used a six-foot ladder, bringing me up to easy reach and switched it out in a few seconds. Another example is fixing a flat tire. Instead of changing the tire with the “sufganiya”, I bought an inflator that plugs into the cigarette lighter outlet in the car (the actual lighter piece is no longer provided in cars). To make a long story short, four days later I brought my car to my mechanic to patch my tire and I am back on the rocky roads of San Diego once again. Therefore, the basic recipe for fixing things requires two main ingredients: a good YouTube video that provides the know-how and knowledge, and an assortment of proper tools which offers the ease and skill to successfully complete the job.

An essential part of parenting children, employee training, and overall life experiences requires the necessary tools to succeed.  Too often, a person fails for either one or two reasons, neither of which is related to any lack of knowledge or intelligence. The first regards the shortage of tools needed to tackle the issues in life. The second could often be the misuse of these tools primarily due to not knowing how to use them properly. A supporting issue of equal importance is that these tools are used not only to build; they’re also used to take apart. For the Jewish people the Torah is the handbook of life that offers  the necessary tools through the study of halacha, history, mussar, and other important life strategies. It is through learning how to use the tools of the Torah that we are able to navigate life and fix the problems and challenges that come with the journey. The Torah teaches us how to build the positive and remove the negative. We see this concept in a unique combination of the portion of the week and Chanukah.

In this week’s Parshas Mikeitz, the Torah states in Bereishis 41:51-52 "ויקרא יוסף את שם הבכור מנשה כי נשני אלוקים וכו'...ואת שם השני קרא אפרים" - “Yosef named the first-born Menashe ‘because God has made me forget all my troubles -and even my father’s house’. He named his second son Ephraim ‘because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering’. Rav Dov Zev Weinberger z”l, in his sefer Shemen HaTov, explains that Yosef called his first son by the name Menashe, hinting to the removal of his dark past and only afterwards to give thanks to Hashem for the present and future. When Yosef’s father Yakov named the tribes, we don’t find two reasons given on the naming of someone other than Yosef. These reasons “that Hashem has gathered my shame” and “add to me another son” are reflected in the past (Menashe) and the future (Ephraim), reflecting  and representing two hidden strengths in Yosef which ultimately are divided when Yakov blesses ‘Yosef’ through his two children. The most simple and obvious understanding of these names in the order of the names is סור מרע (מנשה)  and afterwards עשה טוב (אפרים)  :‘turn away from evil (Menashe) and perform good (Ephraim). This would later come to play in the difference of opinion between Yosef and his father Yakov (Jacob) at the giving of the brachos to Ephraim and Menashe. How did Jacob bless Ephraim and Menashe? Menashe, the older son, was placed at the right hand of Yaakov in order to receive the customarily  better blessing as the older son. Ephraim, the younger son, was placed on Yaakov's left. But instead of blessing Ephraim with his left hand and Menashe with his right hand, Yaakov crossed his arms, thereby giving Ephraim the better blessing. Yosef wanted to remove the bad first and then have the good, while Yaakov felt it was necessary to bring in the good, even though he, as of yet, had not removed the bad.

This is, in essence, the debate, or machlokes, between Beis Hillel and Beis Shammai regarding how to light the Chanukiah. In every flame there are two powers - one to burn and the other to give light. One power is the burning and get rid of the bad while the other is to give light, showing the good. This insight applies to the Chashmonaim’s victory over the Assyrian Greeks: first to remove the Tumah/impurity from the Beis Hamikdash, and then immediately kindling a new, fresh, pure light.

The debate regarding opinions of Beis Shammai to light from the eighth light down to one light, lies in his opinion that the fire of the eight lights is stronger, therefore working  first to remove the evil and bad. The House of  Beis Hillel, on the other hand, argues that the primary function is to brighten the world and bring goodness all around. Therefore, we need to start with one candle on the first day, adding more light each day with an additional candle in order to bring more light and good into the world

The word Torah means light. Through the learning of Torah may we be blessed with correct use of the tools, the light we’ve been given, to remove the bad while simultaneously bringing light, building up the world with good, using the same tools today in the manner accomplished by our ancestors over  over two thousand years ago!

Ah Gutten Shabbos & Ah Lichtiga Chanukah

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Fri, December 8 2023 25 Kislev 5784