- the difference between the miracles of Chanukah and Purim.
- which type of miracle is greater - that which is done within the laws of nature, or that which is done outside the laws of nature.
- which character trait the tribe of Reuven inherited from their forebear, that caused them to ask for the land on the other side of the Jordan.
- why Yosef was punished for asking the cupbearer to remember him to Pharaoh.
- what Reuven's intention was in advising his brothers to cast Yosef into the pit.
says in the gemora Shabbos 21b:
Rav Kahana said that Rav Nosson bar Manyumi lectured to the public in the name of R. Tanchum that the light of Chanukah which is placed higher than twenty cubits is invalid, like the din of succah and an alleyway.
Rav Kahana also said…in the name of R. Tanchum: What is the meaning of the posuk “and the pit was empty, there was no water in it.” (Referring to the pit into which Yosef was thrown by his brothers). If the pit was empty, do I not know that there was no water in it! It is to teach you that there was no water in it, but there were snakes and scorpions in it.
What is the connection between these two teachings?
To answer this, we first need to understand the difference between Chanukah and Purim. Because on both these occasions we are required to publicise the miracles which occurred on those days. However, on Purim each individual is not required to publicise the miracle in his own house, but rather to publicise the miracle of Purim by the reading of the Megillah, which is done in a public gathering in the shul. But on Chanukah, not only is each individual required to publicise the miracle of Chanukah in his own household, he is specifically required to light outside his home in order to magnify the publicity to all passers-by, and it is not sufficient to make this publicity to the passers-by within his house.
Now, it is clear why the Rabbis made a requirement to publicise the miracles of Chanukah and Purim but not those of Pesach, Shavuos and Succos, because the latter are from the Torah and their miracles are explicitly written in the Torah, and thus do not require any further publicity because everyone believes what is written in the Torah. But Chanukah and Purim which came later do need to be publicised. But still, why is there a difference between them?
The commentaries have discussed which type of miracle is superior: a miracle that is done within the laws of nature - a hidden miracle, or one which is done outside the laws of nature - a revealed miracle? In my writings on the gemora Megillah I have dealt at length with this subject, and I wrote that this is the subject of the dispute in the gemora Shabbos 53b concerning a man whose wife had died leaving behind a young baby and who did not have any money to pay a wet nurse. A miracle was made for him, and his breasts developed like those of a woman and thus he himself nursed his son. Rav Yosef said: How great is this person that such a miracle was done for him! Abayei responded: On the contrary, how inferior is this man that the order of creation was changed for him. These two Rabbis are arguing about this very matter, and Rav Yosef holds that a miracle that is done outside the laws of nature is superior and Abayei holds the opposite view.
With this I explained the gemora in Megillah 11a, which expounds the posuk in Koheles 10:18 “Through laziness the ceiling collapses”, that due to the laziness of Klal Yisrael (at the time of the Purim story) who did not toil in learning Torah, the enemies of Hashem were made poor (this is a euphemism, meaning that Hashem was made poor - His ability to save Klal Yisrael was lessened, so to speak, because of their lessened merit). I wrote that this gemora means to explain why the miracle at the time of Mordechai was different from other miracles, which were always revealed miracles working outside of the laws of nature, thereby showing clearly to everybody that the Hand of G-d was involved. But this was not true by the miracle of Purim which was clothed in the laws of nature, and thus made it possible for those who deny G-d to deny these events also and say that they were merely natural events and not the actions of G-d. Therefore, the gemora tells us that the reason for this difference was because they did not toil in learning Torah, and so they did not merit a miracle which changed the laws of nature.
We again see from here that a miracle that takes place outside the laws of nature is superior, but in the days of Mordechai they did not merit this because of their deeds. Therefore, even though we have to publicise the miracle of Purim since it is a Rabbinic celebration and so requires strengthening, nevertheless they did not require the publicity to be so great as to make it in the eyes of the whole public. In addition, just as the miracle was hidden, without publicity, so too the commemoration of the miracle does not need to be so public.
For these two reasons - that it was a lesser miracle and a hidden one - they reduced the publicity, since we cannot take pride in such a miracle, and on the contrary, it is shameful to us that we did not merit a greater miracle. Therefore, it is sufficient to make a reminder of the miracle just to the individuals who are commemorating the miracle, and not in front of others and in full view of the public.
But with Chanukah, the Chashmonaim were great tzaddikim and merited a miracle outside the laws of nature, and we can take pride in such a miracle. Therefore the Rabbis instituted that the publicity should be outside so that everyone will recognise that it was a miracle that we can be publicly proud of. In addition, just as the miracle had been very widely known, and everyone had seen that the Hand of G-d was clearly involved in the miracle, so too the commemoration needs to be very public. All this is clear.
We also need to first understand a puzzling Midrash, which comments on the posuk in Bereishis 30:14 “And Reuven went during the days of the wheat harvest and found dudaim in the field and brought them to Leah, his mother” - that this posuk is explained by the posuk in Proverbs 22:6 “Train a child according to his way; even when he grows old he will not turn away from it”, and the posuk in Bamidbar 32:5 “let this land be given to your servants”, (which was said by tribes of Reuven and Gad concerning the land on the other side of the Jordan river). We have already explained this Midrash in parshas Vayeitzei.
But another way to explain it is according to the Midrash on the posuk “let this land be given to your servants”, which says that the posuk in Proverbs 20:21 “An inheritance hastily acquired in the beginning, its end will not be blessed”, applies to this posuk. That because the tribes of Gad and Reuven said "let this land be given to your servants", therefore they were the first to be exiled. At first glance it is not apparent what was their sin or error in asking for this land. After all, they gave a good reason for their request, remarking that they had a lot of cattle, and this land had a lot of pasture, and therefore they were choosing to live there. So what did they do wrong?
It is brought in the Midrash on parshas Mikeitz, that because Yosef put his faith in the cupbearer and said to him “Remember me…and mention me to Pharaoh”, Hashem added two more years to his stay in prison, because he should have put his trust in Hashem, and not in the cupbearer. The commentary Yefas Toar asked: Is it forbidden for a person to make a normal effort, and is he instead supposed to rely on a miracle? On the contrary, Chazal learned from the posuk “And he will bless you in all that you do”, that a person is not supposed to sit idle, but rather he should take some action, and then Hashem will bless his effort.
But it seems to me that a person should certainly make some effort and not rely on a miracle, but only at the time when he needs that thing. Only then should he endeavour to achieve the goal himself. But if he does not need that thing right now but later on, then someone who has strong trust in Hashem that He can change the laws of nature, and create something from nothing, then for something which is not so urgent, he should not make any effort. But if at the time when he does need it, Hashem has not sent him what he needs, then, and only then, should he make the required effort. So say Chazal “Somebody who has food today, and says I will make an effort for tomorrow’s food, he is amongst those who are lacking in faith. So too we find by Hillel, who said “Blessed is Hashem every day”. That is, he had this level of trust in Hashem, and made no effort to leave over from one day to the next, but rather he trusted that tomorrow Hashem would send him what he needed tomorrow. However, someone who does not have such strong faith in Hashem, makes an effort at a time that he is able to make a lot of profit, so that he has provisions for his household for a period of time, because he is afraid that later he will not find opportunities that allow him to endeavour to make money. All this is very clear.
According to this, Yosef’s sin was that at the time he interpreted the dream of the cupbearer there were still three days until the cupbearer was to be released from the prison. If Yosef had placed his main trust in Hashem, he should not have made an effort to gain release from prison by requesting the cupbearer’s help immediately on interpreting his dream, rather he should have waited until the third day. Only then should he have requested that he mention Yosef to Pharaoh. Granted that after three days his request might have been less effective than it was right now, when the cupbearer was feeling very grateful for Yosef’s positive interpretation of his dream, but nevertheless, Hashem has many ways and means to bring about salvation, and therefore it would not have mattered if the cupbearer would have been less inclined to fulfil his request. Therefore, since Yosef made an effort to be released two days earlier than was correct for a Tzaddik on his level, he was punished by having to remain in prison two more years - one year for each day, just like the spies received a punishment of forty years - one year for each day that they had sinned.
This leads us to understand what the sin of the tribes of Gad and Reuven was. Certainly, since they had a large amount of cattle they should have made an effort to acquire plenty of pasture, but their sin was that they made their request not at the right time. They should have waited until after conquering and dividing up the Land of Yisrael; only then they should have made the request to be given the land on the other side of the Jordan. If it would be given to them, fine, and if not, they should have trusted in Hashem that He would make available to them sufficient pasture for their cattle. By prematurely speaking before the right time because they were afraid to wait, they showed a lack of faith in Hashem, and this was their sin. This is what the Midrash means: “An inheritance hastily acquired in the beginning” - that is was acquired prematurely, “its end will not be blessed” - they were punished by being exiled from that land prematurely, measure for measure.
This is the meaning of the Midrash which said about the daughters of Tzlofchod that they were very wise, because they spoke up at the right time. That is, they were unlike the tribes of Gad and Reuven in their request for land before they had even conquered the rest of the land, because at that point Moshe Rabbeinu was discussing the laws of land inheritance, and therefore it was exactly the right time for the daughters of Tzlofchod to raise their request.
We can now explain the earlier Midrash that we brought concerning Reuven’s bringing of the dudaim to his mother, Leah. The Ibn Ezra explained that these dudaim were efficacious for pregnancy, and he brought them from the field for his mother so that through them she would become pregnant. Now, had Ya’akov positioned his tent next to Leah at that time, so that he was living with her, then it would have been correct for Reuven to bring the dudaim, because, as we have said, it is proper for a person to make an effort and not rely on a miracle at the time that a person needs something. But since at that time Ya’akov’s main residence was actually with Rochel, as we see from Leah’s response to Rochel when she asked for the dudaim “is it a small thing that you have taken my husband”, then Leah did not need the dudaim at that time, and therefore Reuven’s efforts in that direction were premature. By this he showed that he was not so strong in his faith in Hashem, because if he had been strong he would have waited until when there was a need for the dudaim. If he found dudaim at that time, fine, and if not Hashem is quite capable of having Leah become pregnant without needing the dudaim. This weakness of faith was Reuven’s sin.
This is what is meant by the Midrash “Train a child according to his way; even when he grows old he will not turn away from it”, “let this land be given to your servants” - just like Reuven had this nature to make an effort prematurely, so too his offspring did the same, and prematurely requested the land on the other side of the Jordan.
With this we can also explain another Midrash on this same posuk, which says, “This one (Leah) lost and gained, and this one (Rochel) lost and gained. Leah lost the birthright (meaning her son lost the birthright) and Rochel’s son gained it”. The commentaries were puzzled as to how the dudaim caused the loss of the birthright. But according to what we have written the Midrash means that Reuven revealed from the episode of the dudaim that he did not have a strong enough faith in Hashem, and he focused more on making his own effort within the laws of nature, and this is not way of Klal Yisroel who are essentially above nature. Therefore he was punished in that he would no longer be the firstborn, and instead Yosef would take over that role. Maybe this the intent of Ya’akov when he said to Reuven in posuk 49:4 “You are hasty like water, you shall not have superiority”, meaning since you have the nature to be hasty, and you prematurely brought the dudaim, therefore you will not have the superiority of the birthright.
What emerges from all this, is that a miracle which involves changing nature is superior, and therefore we light Chanukah lights outside to demonstrate to everybody that such a miracle was wrought for us. And maybe it is for this reason Chazal taught that it is necessary to place the lights below twenty cubits, and that if placed above this level then the lighting is invalid. Because had we not been taught this I might have thought that the lighting is not being done in order that anyone who sees them will be cognisant of the miracle of Chanukah, rather it is only for the person who is doing the lighting. And I would have thought that the reason why he is required to light outside, is because inside his house even he would not be aware of the publicising of the miracle, since every night he lights candles in his home, and therefore he needs to make his act of lighting notable by lighting outside his home. but it is not in order that people outside should see it. Thus it might have appeared that it was just like the miracle of Purim, and it would not be clear a miracle which involves changing nature is superior.
But now that we are told that placing them above twenty cubits is invalid because the eye does not notice things that are so high up, this proves that the purpose of lighting outside is so that others should see it. Because if it was only for the sake of the person lighting, he would be aware of them even above twenty cubits, since he is the one who placed them there. So from this Halachah it is clearly evident that a miracle which happens outside the laws of nature is the greater.
Now let us return to the beginning of this Dvar Torah, and show the connection between the two teachings of R. Tanchuma. When Reuven said to the brothers “Don’t spill blood, cast him into this pit”, he knew that there were snakes and scorpions in the pit. But Reuven’s intention, as is explained in the Zohar, was that he was certain that Hashem would make a miracle for Yosef and save him from the snakes and scorpions, since they do not have freewill and will do as Hashem wishes. However, to save Yosef from his brothers, who had freewill, would be difficult. Therefore Reuven told them not to spill blood.
However, Reuven was the oldest of the brothers, and so had he told them to return Yosef to their father, they certainly would have listened to him also in this. But the main reason why Reuven did not do so, was because he wanted to save Yosef not through natural events but through a miracle, because then Hashem’s name would be sanctified. Because granted that Reuven himself normally tried to achieve things by way of natural events, and not through miraculous means, that was only with matters that were personal to him. Also it maybe possible that he did not consider himself to be so righteous that Hashem would make miracles for him - although he was nevertheless punished for this, as we have explained. But he knew with certainty that Yosef was a complete Tzaddik, and fitting to have done for him a miracle beyond the realms of nature.
Therefore he intentionally sought to have him cast into the pit of snakes and scorpions, knowing without doubt that Hashem would make a great miracle and save him, and thus Hashem’s name would be sanctified through him. We find something similar to this in the gemora in Kiddushin, where Abba engineered events so that Rav Ya’akov would stay overnight in his Beis Medrash, which was host to a powerful and dangerous spirit, knowing very well that for such a great Tzaddik as Rav Ya’akov, Hashem would make a great miracle and remove the evil spirit.
So now we understand the connection between the two teachings of R. Tanchuma. He taught that the lights of Chanukah which are placed above twenty cubits are invalid, and that is because the eye will not notice them there. If so, it is evident that a miracle which is not in accordance with the laws of nature is superior, and for this reason the Chanukah lights must be done publicly, in front of others. The gemora then continues to explain that this is consistent with R. Tanchuma’s teaching that the pit did not contain water, but it did contain snakes and scorpions, and if so, why did Reuven advise to throw Yosef into a pit where there was a definite danger, and not advise that they return Yosef to his father since they would have certainly listened to him. From this it is clear that a miracle which involves changing the laws of nature is superior, and therefore Reuven desired that Hashem would make such a miracle for Yosef, and thereby His name would be sanctified. So seems to me to be correct, and may Hashem save us from errors.