Vayeishev/Chanukah

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וישמע ראובן ויצלהו מידם  לז:כא     The Medrash (Yalkut Shimoni 145) tells us that this intervention of Reuvein to save Yosef is an example of a mitzvah that would have been done with much greater zeal had the one doing it been aware that it would be recorded for posterity in the Torah. “Had Reuvein known,” says the Medrash, “that Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu was going to write that he saved Yosef, he would have picked Yosef up on his shoulders and run him all the way back to Yaakov. Had Aharon known that Hashem would write that he was happy in his heart upon greeting Moshe Rabbeinu, he would have done so with musical instruments, and had Boaz known that it would be recorded that he gave roasted grain to Rus, he would have offered her the finest meat. From all this we learn,” concludes the Medrash, “an attribute of derech eretz: that when one performs a mitzvah, one should do so with a rejoicing heart.” Reuvein, Aharon, and Boaz were not aware of the great significance that Hashem attributed to their actions. Had they been aware of that, they would have put their heart into it fully, and done the mitzvah in a far better manner. The Medrash adds a very salient point: “In the past, one could do a mitzvah and have it be recorded by the Neviim. Now that there are no longer Neviim, though, who records a person’s mitzvos? The answer is Eliyahu and Mashiach. And Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu affixes his signature, as it were, to the recording, as the pasuk says, ‘Then spoke those that fear the Almighty…and it is written down in a book of remembrance before Him.” Even today, every action – without exception – is still being written down. The “take home” lesson of this is: if you are doing a mitzvah, then try your best to do it with a whole heart. Even in a situation when you aren’t really sure about it. For example, say you are deliberating whether or not to give tzedakah to an indigent fellow. Inside your mind, you are vacillating. Not sure of whether or not you should or if you will. And then, in the end, you decide to just give him the tzedakah. At that moment, don’t do it with hesitation or in a begrudging manner. If you decide to do the mitzvah, then do it with a whole heart! (From Rebbetzin Twersky)

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Chanukah: At a At What Point is the Flame No Longer a Flame?              Rav Huna says (Shabbos 21a) that one is not allowed to light the Chanukah candles with inferior wicks or oil. Why? Rava explains: “because he holds kavsah zakuk lah.” On this, Rashi writes, “zakuk lah – l’taknah”. This seems peculiar.  The word l’taknah means to fix it. Why didn’t Rashi just say l’hadlikah, to relight it? Furthermore, Rashi adds there, “therefore he must initially make the candle properly, because, if not, we are concerned that he will be negligent and not fix it.” On this both the Pnei Yehoshua and the Beis Ha’Levi ask: are we talking about reshaim who don’t care about the mitzvah?! And if we are, then they won’t light Chanukah candles to begin with?! The Beis Ha’Levi’s approach to this is based on a Rashi on daf 44a where he says that the word kavsah does not necessarily mean that the flame is totally out, but that it is in the process of going out. That pshat is practically a must from the Gemara itself over there which discusses whether or not one violates the prohibition of mechabeh on Shabbos by putting out a flame which is kavsah. Obviously, if the flame is completely out, there is nothing to talk about. In any event, the Beis Ha’Levi says a tremendous chiddush based on that Rashi: once the flame is dark and is going out, it is already as if it is totally doused and there is no more mitzvah even though there is still a flame there; the reason being that such a flame has no beauty and is not at all recognizable as being for the mitzvah. (What this is most probably referring to is when there is only a blue light coming out of the candle, without any yellow or orange). Therefore, concludes the Beis Ha’Levi, Rashi says l’taknah – that one is obligated to fix the candle (according to Rav Huna), because even though there is still a flame there, it is a worthless flame and must be fixed. And that is why we are concerned that he may be negligent, because he may mistakenly think that this dark little flame is sufficient. Perhaps we can utilize the Beis Ha’Levi’s inference from Rashi on 44a to posit another approach to understanding Rashi here on 21a, without being forced to be mechadeish that the mitzvah is already gone when the flame is very small and on the way out. Many take issue with that assertion. There are two components to the mitzvah: a) the act of lighting and b) the flames burning for the requisite time. Even Rav – who holds that one is not obligated to relight the candles if they went out – agrees to this, just that he holds that the second component is not integral, it is not l’ikuvah. Rav Huna – who says that one must relight if the flames went out – holds that even the second component of the mitzvah is critical, it is l’ikuvah. As such – according to Rav Huna – what would we say about a situation where the flame went out and it took a minute until he managed to relight it? Yes, he took immediate action and he did what he was supposed to do, but what of those few moments that the flames were not burning? Those moments of the shiur ad sheh’tichleh regel min ha’shuk (which, according to the Rif, is half an hour) are gone.  Lost. It is a meuvas lo yuchol liskon. Therefore, according to Rav Huna, one is obligated to fix the flames as soon as he sees that they are getting low and going out.  Not because such flames are tantamount to no flames, but rather because if he waits until they actually go out, he will lose those few moments of mitzvah-fulfillment. Therefore, according to Rav Huna, he is not allowed to use inferior wicks and oil since we are concerned that he may be negligent regarding this obligation to fix an on-the-way-out flame. (Audio Recording)

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Quotables          “There is no sugya that is not geshmak; just put your mind to it, work hard to understand it, and you’ll see!

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Vignettes            In the early 1900’s, there was an important election that was to take place in the town of Brisk. The Maskilim had their candidate, and there was a frum candidate as well who was endorsed by the rav of Brisk, Rav Yitzchak Zev Soloveitchik. For some reason, it took until Friday afternoon for the frum candidate’s campaign posters to be ready. The Brisker Rav refused to let the posters be hung up, out of concern that, because of the late hour, it may lead to chillul Shabbos. The activists vehemently argued with the rav that, seeing as the Maskilim already had their posters up and voting was to take place on Sunday, if they don’t hang up the posters before Shabbos, the frum candidate will surely lose. Many baalei batim in the city at that time did not realize how important it was to vote for the frum candidate, and that it was a matter of kevod Shamayim, and without the campaign posters that would bring the public’s attention to the fact that only the frum candidate was endorsed by the rav, there was no chance for him to win. The Brisker Rav told them, “Our job is to clarify what is mutar and what is assur. It does not matter how much kevod Shamayim could potentially be generated by the frum candidate being elected to office. It is not our job to try to figure out ‘what is worthwhile for Hashem’s sake’. When it comes to an aveirah, we cannot make any such calculations or reckonings. Nothing can justify doing an aveirah, and since hanging up the posters may wind up entailing chillul Shabbos, it cannot be done. Period.” This is a very important, fundamental principle. Take outreach, for example. Everyone involved in outreach knows that it is not a simple matter to attract young people to an outreach program. So, one may be inclined to “bend a bit” in order to entice them to come, for example by holding a mixed social event wherein there will be interactions that are prohibited by halachah. One could be inclined to sanction such an approach with the thought that it will eventually lead them to a good result, that they will eventually come close to Torah and mitzvos. But that is a flawed approach. The ends cannot justify the means. Positive results cannot be matir something that is assur. Parenthetically, the Brisk election was ultimately won by the frum candidate. The campaign posters the Maskilim hung up – which the townspeople viewed the whole Shabbos – were so incendiary and inflammatory against the frum candidate and those he represented, that the townspeople were repulsed, and became committed to vote only for the frum candidate. (As told by Rav Twersky to Rebbetzin Twersky)