Learning the Power of Free Will from the Story of Yosef and the Story of Chanukah
Taste of Talmud
In Tractate Shabbos 22a, Rav Tanchum says you may not place your Chanukah menorah higher than 20 amos (9.6 meters). Then Rav Tanchum asks, “Why does it say that Yosef was thrown into a pit, and the pit was empty, without water, if the pit was empty it is obvious that it did not have water?” Rav Tanchum answers that the Torah is telling us that it was only empty of water but not of snakes and scorpions. What is the connection between these two seemingly unrelated statements? The answer is that we learn from the event of the pit that there is a range of vision beyond which a person does not notice things. If Reuvain knew that this was a dangerous pit, Reuvain would not have suggested that they throw Yosef into this pit! So it must be that he did not know of the danger lurking at the bottom of the pit because it was 20 amos deep, and one cannot see that far. This explains why the lights of the menorah cannot be placed higher than 20 amos. If they would be higher than 20 amos, then it would be difficult to notice them and there would not be the requisite pirsumei nissa, publicizing of the miracle of Chanukah. The only question is how do we know that the depth of the pit was 20 amos? When The Torah tells us how the kohanim would clean the mizbaiach, altar, it uses the word “vehishleech“, and he threw. The place where they threw the refuse was 20 amos away from the altar. So we see that when the word “vehishleech” is used it is a distance of 20 amos. This is the same word the Torah uses when Yosef was thrown into the pit, “vayashleechu”. So we could use this hekkesh, similar word usage, to learn that the depth of the pit which Yosef was thrown into was the same as distance the kohain threw the refuse off the altar, 20 amos!
Taste of Halacha
Where do you light the Menorah if you live in an apartment building with windows that are more than 20 amos (9.6 meters) above the ground? In the Shaar Hatziun the Chofetz Chaim says that in such a case one should not light the menorah by the window because it is difficult for people to see a menorah that is lit above 20 amos. Rather, the menorah should be lit by the door of the apartment. This is the way my Rebbi, Harav Y. M. Kulefsky Zt”l, lit his menorah. What if there is another building next to you with windows facing your windows? Could we say that the people in the building opposite yours will see your menorah so you may light it in your window? Rav Elyashiv Shlita says that you should not light in the window because the mitzvah of pirsumei nissah was instituted for those walking by outside. He recommends lighting your menorah by the front door of your building so that the people walking by the building outside will see it. This is the custom of my Rosh Hayeshiva, Rav A. Feldman Shlita, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Ner Israel in Baltimore. If this too is not an option, then one may even light the menorah on his table. In this event, there must be someone else in the apartment to see the menorah.
Taste of Parasha
Reuvain said to his brothers, “Let us not extend our hand against our brother to kill him. Let us throw him into this pit in the desert.” Reuvain intended to come back later and save Yosef from the pit. Our sages teach us that the pit was empty of water but it had snakes and scorpions in it. Did Reuvain know that there were snakes and scorpions in the pit? The Ohr Hachayim Hakodosh says he did know. Then how did he plan on saving Yosef by having him thrown into a pit? The Ohr Hachayim derives from here an important lesson in hasgacha pratis, divine providence. G-d gave man free will which includes the ability to kill another human being. If G-d would interfere with this decision, this would not be called free will. So it is very dangerous for anyone, even a tzadik, to be in a situation where a human being decided he wants to kill him. However, if a tzadik is in a dangerous situation due to the natural order G-d put into animals, G-d will suspend the natural behavior of the animals to protect the tzadik. It should be noted that of course Hashem could save a tzadik from any situation but he would have to be a very great tzadik to be saved from a baal bechira, a person with free will. So Reuvain felt it would be better for Yosef to be in a pit with scorpions rather than in the hands of his brothers, who where baalei bechira and who wanted to kill him.