Vayeishev

December 22, 2016

“Then they took him, and threw him into the pit. The pit was empty. There was no water in it.” (37:24)

The Meshech Chochmah writes that the mishna teaches us about a relatively rare berachah, one that is recited upon seeing a place where some miracle occurred. The gemara explains that it is recited even for a miracle experienced by a single person. When he returns to the place of his deliverance, he recites the berachah, “Blessed is the One Who worked a miracle for me at this place.”

The Abudraham limits the berachah to a miracle that breaks the usual laws of Nature. Miracles that occur within the ways of teva are not treated the same way. We recite a berachah on the miracle of Chanukah, he continues, only because of the miracle of the cruse of oil, which was a violation of the laws of Nature as surely as the miracles of Eliyahu and Elisha.

Now, there is no question to us that the primary miracle of Chanukah was the deliverance of the community from the enemy oppressor, which resulted in Jewish self-rule for some two hundred years, until the destruction of the beis hamikdosh. It would be appropriate to mark such an event, to celebrate it yearly, through the burning of lights. It would not make much of a difference where one placed such lights, so long as they were visible.

This, however, is not the halachah in regard to the mitzvah of kindling Chanukah lights. Chazal ratcheted up the observance, effectively combining our awareness of Hashem’s miracles inside and outside of teva. They mandated that the ner Chanukah stand within twenty amos of the ground, at a height that lies within the common field of vision. In other words, they saw to it that the neros Chanukah would attract focus and attention, not just awareness. In doing this, they had us look to the menorah that stood in the Heichal, whose opening to the outside was exactly twenty amos. Miracles within and without the bounds of the laws of Nature are not so different, they are telling us. They are both sourced in the mikdosh, the place chosen by Hashem for His Shechinah, from which all kinds of miracles radiate.

We see this pattern in the life of Yosef as well. Returning from his father’s burial with his brothers, Yosef finds the pit into which had had been thrown, according to R. Tanchuma,mand stares intently into it. His brother were seized with anxiety. They worried that Yosef was not plotting his revenge against them. In fact, continues R. Tanchuma, his gaze focused on the pit because he wished to recite the blessing praising Hashem for the miracle that he experienced.

Here, too, we could challenge Yosef’s behavior. The miracle that Yosef thought to pay homage to was the sequence of events that led from the pit to his role as viceroy of Egypt. This chain of events, however wondrous, did not involve any subverting of the laws of Nature, though. A beracha, then, would not be warranted.

As in the case of Chanukah, however, one element of the story did involve an overt miracle. R. Tanchum (who is the same person as R. Tanchuma of the midrash cited above) taught that the pit in our pasuk may have been dry as a bone, but it was filled with snakes and scorpions. Yosef’s survival in it was nothing less than an overt miracle – and Yosef was therefore justified in reciting a berachah when he returned to the site decades later.

As in the case of Chanukah, HaShem created an overt miracle within the context of a more important (but less dramatic) turn of events, in order to underscore the role of Divine Providence in engineering an outcome. In relation to Yosef that outcome was his rise to power and dominion in Egypt; centuries later, the outcome would be the victory of the Chasmonaim over the numerically superior oppressors. In both cases, the Author of the overt miracle is the same One Who engineered a desired outcome without suspending the laws of Nature at all.

Shabbat shalom

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