Rabbi Mordechai Willig
Rabbi Mordechai Willig

Financial Gloom - A Precursor to Light?

The miracle of Chanukah occurred on the 25th of Kislev. The Maharal associates this date with the winter solstice. The world was created on the 25th of Elul, which presumably was the day of the autumnal equinox. As such, three months later, the first day of Chanukah, represents the shortest day and longest night of they year. Generally this is a mere approximation since the solstice depends on the solar calendar and Kislev is a lunar month. This year, however, Chanukah occurs on December 22nd, the precise date of the winter solstice.

The Maharal explains that Chanukah's timing symbolizes that no matter how long and dark the night, there is light at the end of the tunnel. The Chashmonaim were hopelessly outnumbered, yet they prevailed. The Bais Hamikdash was thoroughly contaminated, yet the jug of oil was found and miraculously lasted until new, pure oil could be attained.

Indeed, true light emerges only from darkness (see "Imrei Baruch", by Harav Baruch Simon, shlit"a, Shemos p. 51-54). The Chashmonai kings followed the Greek rulers, just as white sheep, symbolizing the Jews, follow the dark goats, representing the Greeks. This is the way of the world since its inception. The light of Torah follows the darkness of the Greeks, just as the day follows the night (Shabbos 77b, Maharsha).

On Chanukah we recite: "Hofachto mispedi l'mochol li - You have transformed my lament into dancing for me" (Tehilim 30:12). Out of the greatest darkness emerged the light of Chanukah, the precursor of the ultimate light of Mashiach (Meor Enayim. See "Chanukah: The Connection Between the Second and Third Temples", by Rav Hershel Schachter).

The bravery of the Chashmonaim, who battled against overwhelming odds when overcoming the physical enemy, was evident on the spiritual battlefield as well. They were not deterred by the sight of a ravaged and desecrated Beis Hamikdash. Rather, they demonstrated faith and optimism by lighting the menorah, thus meriting the miracle of Chanukah.

Each generation, and each year, produces different challenges, both physical and spiritual. Indeed, the correct response to physical and monetary setbacks is to improve our spiritual profile (see The Financial Curse: A Warning Shot?). Unfortunately, recent events have exacerbated the financial crisis, and have created a particularly Jewish problem in the midst of an international debacle (See New York Times Dec. 23, 2008 p.1)

As Chanukah teaches, a Torah Jew must not despair. As a whole, Am Yisroel has been in much worse financial straits, and has recovered. It is incumbent on all of us to help those who have suffered direct personal losses. We must help them financially by providing jobs or interim monetary aid when appropriate, and we must help them emotionally by expressing empathy and personal support. 

Parshas Mikeitz begins with Yosef's meteoric rise to power. But the seeds for this ascent, which saved the world from starvation and transformed Am Yisroel, are found in four words in Parshas Vayeshev. When Yosef saw the baker and butler upset, he asked them, "Madu'a p'neichem ra'im hayom?" (Breishis 40:7). Instead of ignoring his fellow prisoners, he empathized with them by asking, "Why are your faces downcast today?"

Individuals whose fortunes were diminished or nearly eliminated require encouragement even if all of their needs are met by what remains. A kind word or a sympathetic inquiry can achieve wonders.

We must all - rich, formerly rich, and never been rich - realize that wealth does not define a person. It is an external blessing which can come and go. The purpose of excess wealth is to help others. As Yaakov told his sons, "Lama tisrau - Why do you make yourselves conspicuous?" (Bereishis 42:1). One who has what others don't should not flaunt it (Rashi. See Kli Yakar Devarim 2:3).

Yaakov instructs his sons, "Shivru lanu me'at ochel - Buy us a bit of food" (43:2), enough to eat without luxuries. One who craves luxuries, as defined by the wealthy, will never be happy. The Torah way is to be satisfied with necessities. This yields happiness in this world and goodness in the world to come (Avos 4:1, 6:4; Sichas Mussar, by Rav Chaim Schmuelevitz, pp. 66, 67). 

The recent financial crises have caused much pain and anguish. But if we improve in our sympathy to others and in our attitude towards wealth, we will have learned the lesson of Parshas Miketz. Perhaps we will then deserve to see the current darkness followed by light, in the spirit of Chanukah. May Hashem recreate the miracle of Chanukah by hastening the redemption of the Beis Hamikdash, and may He turn our lament into the ultimate dance of the righteous (Ta'anis 31a).

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