07 Dec 2023 Chanukah/Vayeishev 5784: Increasing Holiness
In the beginning of Parshas Vayeishev we learn of Yosef the Beloved Son, Yosef the Owner of the Kesones Pasim, Yosef the Dreamer… Yosef who is ostracized by his brothers. Yosef was seventeen years old and was a shepherd with his brothers; he would spend his time with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, the wives of his father (37:2). If father’s special love was not sufficient reason for his brothers to hate him (37:4), Yosef begins to dream: וַיַּחֲלֹם יוֹסֵף חֲלוֹם, וַיַּגֵּד לְאֶחָיו; וַיּוֹסִפוּ עוֹד שְׂנֹא אֹתוֹ – and Yosef dreamed a dream, and he told it to his brothers, and they continued to hate him (37:5 and 37:8).
This first dream was of sheaves in a field all bowing down to his sheaf. This represented that all the brothers would one day bow down to him, as he would control the finances, the “wheat”, of the region (and the developed world!). Their reaction to this dream was וַיּוֹסִפוּ עוֹד שְׂנֹא אֹתוֹ – they continued to hate him.
When Yosef has another dream, he once again relays it to his brothers: וַיֹּאמֶר, הִנֵּה חָלַמְתִּי חֲלוֹם עוֹד, וְהִנֵּה הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ וְהַיָּרֵחַ וְאַחַד עָשָׂר כּוֹכָבִים, מִשְׁתַּחֲוִים לִי – and he said: behold I dreamed another dream, and behold the sun, the moon and eleven stars bowed down to me (37:9). After this report, we are told: וַיְקַנְאוּ–בוֹ אֶחָיו – and his brothers envied (were jealous of) him (37:11).
After the first dream of sheaves in a field, the brothers hated him, but after the second dream of heavenly bodies, they were jealous of him. As every single word is precise in the Torah, why does the Torah inform us of two different reactions and feelings of the brothers, in regard to the different dreams? Furthermore, how can we understand this seemingly negative portrayal of the brothers, the fathers of the Shivtei Kah, the brothers who fathered the Twelve Tribes of Israel and who merited to be the great and holy sons of Yaakov Avinu?
Rabbi Shalom Rosner teaches, “Yosef shared both of his dreams with his brothers. After he described his first dream, their reaction was one of hatred, but after his second dream, the Torah describes their reaction as one of envy and jealousy.
“The Beis HaLevi explains the reason for this shift. The focus of the first dream was on physical wealth and success in this world. Sheaves represent material success and amassing riches. This dream foretold that Yosef would be blessed with supporting not only his brothers, but the entire region of the Middle East. However, the second dream focused on spiritual attainments and spiritual success over his brothers, as represented in the dream of heavenly bodies bowing down to him.
“Based on the content of the dreams, we can understand the different reactions of the brothers. When it came to material success and wealth, to ‘wheat’ and physical riches, the brothers were not jealous. They did not desire to amass excess wealth for themselves, and this was not their goal in life. For if someone is wealthy, it does not reflect anything about their essence. Property and physical gain is external and does not define the essence of who one is. Inherently, a wealthy person is no different than a poor person. Hence, after the first dream, the brothers did not like that Yosef said he was going to be richer than them, but they were not jealous of his dreams. They did not care if he would be in the center of the physical material world, and they would not be.
“But when it came to the spiritual pursuits of Torah and avodah (Divine service), as represented by the second dream – the sun, moon and stars – they knew that someone who has more metaphysical wealth in this area is inherently greater; and of this, his spiritual success and growth, they were jealous. For someone who is greater and deeper in Torah and mitzvos is inherently greater and different than others who are not.
“In fact, Chazal teach us that there is one type of jealousy that is condoned: kinas sofrim tarbeh chochmah – one who is jealous of others in the field of Torah and mitzvos, will gain wisdom for himself. The brothers wanted the spirituality for themselves as well, and thus, they were jealous of Yosef only after he relayed his second dream. For the heavenly bodies represented his higher level of ruchniyus. The mussar masters suggest that when it comes to ruchniyus, we should seek to attain what others greater than us have achieved. When it comes to gashmius, we should admire people who are mis’tapek bi’mi’ut – make do with little. We need to keep a proper perspective in life and not desire the home, car, or other material riches of our neighbors. Rather, we must strive to achieve the Torah and spirituality attained by those on a higher level than us” (Shalom Rav, v.I, p.171-172).
The story of Yosef is always read during Chanukah, and there are many different connections and reasons why this is so. Perhaps the above insight regarding Yosef and his brothers also relates to the miracle of oil, which we celebrate on Chanukah. There is a machlokes between Beis Hillel and Beis Shammai in regard to how many candles we kindle on each night. Beis Shammai says we kindle eight lamps on the first night and decrease one each night, till we light one on the final night. Beis Hillel says we kindle one lamp on the first night and increase every night, till we light eight on the final night. The halacha is in accordance with Beis Hillel, דְּמַעֲלִין בַּקֹּדֶשׁ וְאֵין מוֹרִידִין – because we must always increase in holiness (i.e.: in this case, from one to eight), and not decrease (from eight to one) and never decrease (Shabbos 21b). Hence, the name of the yomotov, “Chanukah”, alludes to this idea of always increasing in kedusha, as per Beis Hillel: חנוכה = ח’ נ’רות ו’הלכה כ’בית ה’לל.
This relates beautifully to the feelings of the brothers in response to Yosef’s dreams. When he dreamed of physical success, they were bothered that he dreamed of ruling over them but they were not jealous, for of the material success of others, why would one be jealous? לִי הַכֶּסֶף, וְלִי הַזָּהָב—נְאֻם, ה צְבָקֹוֹת (Chaggai 2:8). But when he dreamed of ascending in holiness, דְּמַעֲלִין בַּקֹּדֶשׁ וְאֵין מוֹרִידִין, they were jealous. However, this type of jealousy – which motivates one to grow higher and increase his/her own kedusha in life – can be a positive middah that should fuel us to ever greater heights in our own personal avodas Hashem.
As we increase from one to eight with every night of Chanukah, let us keep this lesson and message in mind, so that our individual and collective lights of holiness will flood the world with kedusha this Chanukah, and drown out the oppressive darkness that surrounds us.
שעשה ניסים לאבותינו בימים ההם בזמן הזה, amen v’amen.