Vayeishev - Chanukah
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She was being taken out, and she sent word to her father-in-law, saying, “By the man to whom these belong I am pregnant.” And she said “Recognize if you please, whom are this signet, this garment and this staff” (Bereishis 38:25).
In this week’s parsha we learn about the story of Yehudah and Tamar. Yehudah had three sons, Er, Onan and Shei’lah. Yehudah married off his oldest son Er to Tamar. After Er died without children Yehudah gave Tamar to his second son Onan as the law of yibum requires. After Onan also died without children Yehudah did not allow Tamar to marry his third son Shei’lah because he feared that he too would die. He sent Tamar away with the excuse that later when Shei’lah would mature he would allow her to marry him.
The Commentators explain that before the giving of the Torah any relative including a father-in-law was permitted to marry the widow of his deceased son to fulfill the mitzvah of yibum. Thus, Yehudah himself was eligible to marry his daughter-in-law Tamar in order to fulfill this mitzvah. Tamar, upon realizing that Yehudah had no intent to let her marry his youngest son Shei’lah disguised herself as harlot and became pregnant from him. Yehudah promised to send her an animal as payment. However, in the meantime she demanded a pledge and took his signet ring, garment and staff.
Later when Yehudah failed to locate her and redeem his pledge he gave up hope of retrieving his signet ring, cloak and staff. Soon after he was told that his daughter-in-law Tamar was pregnant. It was decided that Tamar was to be executed for two reasons. First, she was the granddaughter of Shem, a kohen. The law was that a daughter of a kohen who committed such an act was put to death. Second, she was awaiting yibum, a period of time when a woman may not marry another man who is not the relative of her husband. As she was taken to her death, she sent a message to her father-in-law saying that the father of the twin children that she is carrying is the one who owns the signet ring, cloak and staff.
Tamar could have easily revealed the secret, however this would have caused her father-in-law great embarrassment. She decided that she would not embarrass him directly and give him the option of admitting that he was the father thereby fulfilling the mitzvah of yibum. She begged him to recognize the owner of these items, admit the truth and not cause the death of three people, herself and the twins. The commentators tell us that Tamar was not just pregnant with ordinary children. One of her son’s, Peretz, would be the progenitor of the Kingdom of the Jewish People and Moshiach.
Being that this week is Chanukah, perhaps we may find a hint to the holiday of Chanukah here. The lighting of the Chanukah lamps includes three basic components; the oil, the wick and the menorah. Each one of these three entails many complex laws.
We may suggest that the three items Yehudah gave Tamar as a pledge hint to these three Chanukah components. The first item is the chosam, the signet ring. The Gemara tells us that after the Chashmonoyim conquered the Syrian-Greeks the Kohanim entered the Beis Hamikdash and found only one container of oil that was marked with the seal of the Kohen Gadol. Part of the Chanukah miracle was finding one container of oil that was not contaminated. The chosam of Yehudah alludes to the container of oil that was sealed with the chosam of the kohen gadol.
The second item in the pledge was the peh’sil. Rashi explains this as a cloak. Other commentators explain this to mean a belt or cords of thread that were used to tie up animals. However, the Hebrew word for peh’sil may also be translated as wick. Thus, the second item in Yehudah’s pledge hints to the wick of the Chanukah Lamps.
The third item in the pledge was the mateh which we have translated as staff. Chazal tell us that after the Chashmonoyim conquered the Syrian-Greeks the kohanim entered the Beis Hamikdash and found that the Menorah was defiled and thus unusable. They improvised with a makeshift menorah by tying together their spears. A spear is similar to a staff in that it is held in the hand and used in a similar fashion as a staff. Thus, the third item of the pledge hints to the makeshift menorah that the Kohanim used after taking back control of the Beis Hamikdash.
Chazal tell us that at the time of creation Hashem saw that the light he created was too good for the wicked people of this world to enjoy and hid it for the righteous people that will live at the time of the coming of Moshiach and in the World to Come. The number of hours the light shone before it was hidden was exactly thirty-six. Over the eight days of Chanukuh we light exactly thirty six candles that correspond to these thirty six hours of light. The holiday of Chanukah brings with it the pure rays of the light of creation that will reappear with the coming of Moshiach.
As Chanukah approaches we come face to face with the Menorah. If the Chanukah Menorah could speak it would say the words of Tamar “Please, recognize to whom the chos’am, peh’sil, and mateh belong.” The Menorah is asking us to take note of the deep meaning of the miracle of Chanukah. The light of the Chanukah lamp is no ordinary light it contains the rays of Moshiach, symbolic of the hope and calling of the Jewish people. The menorah begs of us not to let the holiday pass with without drawing from its rays.
© Efraim Levine 5760/2000 - 5764/2003