I would like to compliment the entire staff and administration for undertaking the many challenges in running a socially distanced Chanukah program in both PHDS and NEAT.
Rabbi Yossocher Frand, in an essay on this week’s parshah, discusses a relevant topic titled “Detecting the Wink of the Ribbono Shel Olom.”
- In Parshas Vayeshev, Yosef is sold to a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, and their camels were bearing spices, and balsam, and birthwort – on their way to bring them down to Egypt. Rather than directly causing Yosef’s death, they could merely eliminate him as a problem by selling him to the Arab traders who were heading down to Egypt.
Rashi raises a question: Why was it important for the Torah to specify that the Arabs were carrying spices in their caravans, possessing a pleasant aroma?
He answers that this shows the reward that comes to the righteous. Normally, he says, the Arabs would transport foul-smelling petroleum and resin, but this time it happened that spices were the cargo, so that Yosef should not be harmed by a foul odor.
The question is, at this stage of the situation, does it really make a difference to Yosef whether the merchants were carrying sweet-smelling spices or whether they were hauling pigs? Yosef was kidnapped, accused, tried, convicted, thrown into a snake pit, and sold into slavery in Egypt with little hope of returning home and seeing his father ever again. What kind of “reward” is this that the Ribbono Shel Olom is giving him that he should have spices to smell rather than oil while he is being transported as a prisoner far away from home? Would he even take notice at such a moment? Is this how the Almighty is “nice” to him? It seems irrelevant at this point. It seems meaningless! What does Rashi mean here?
I saw in a sefer called Nachal Eliyohu an answer in the name of Rav Mordechai Pogramansky z”tl, who takes the following approach:
There are two ways the Ribbono Shel Olom can punish a person. One way is that He can say, “I have had it with you. You are on your own. Whatever happens to you, happens. I abandon My Divine Providence over your fate and leave you to the vagaries of statistics and teva, natural happenstance.”
Another type of punishment is when the Ribbono Shel Olom Himself is meting out the punishment. He is the one giving the potch. It is much more reassuring when the person realizes that even though he is being punished, it is the Ribbono Shel Olom punishing Him. He thinks, “I know that Hashem is still thinking about me and still cares about me. He feels that I need to go through the suffering I am now experiencing, for whatever reason it must be, but I am not just a statistic. I am very much in His consciousness.”
We see this in life. Sometimes it is amazing to hear, but people go through terrible tzoros and yet they still feel a connection to the Ribbono Shel Olom. They feel that the Ribbono Shel Olom is punishing them for whatever reason, but He is still in charge and still cares for them.
That is the meaning here as well. For Yosef to be taken down to Mitzrayim by a bunch of Yishmaelim, who, ninety-nine times out of a hundred carry smelly petroleum, and against all odds he finds himself riding in a caravan with sweet-smelling spices – this was a source of comfort. “G-d still loves me.” It is like a potch with a wink and a smile. By smelling the sweet aroma, Yosef saw the wink of the Ribbono Shel Olom. He saw His smile. This is not normal.
We too have spent almost a year with the challenges of COVID. This has affected us all with the need to daven outdoors, wear masks, socially distance, limit play dates, travel, and the inability to share in each other’s simchos; a real potch to us all.
As Chanukah began, the government announced the start of the distribution of a Covid vaccine, which would hopefully begin to stop the spread of the virus and its horrible effects on us all. Our Chanukah message this year is that “There is a light at the end of the tunnel.” Hashem is showing us that He is in charge and that although we are going through challenging times, the light of Chanukah will pave the way for a bright future for us all.
Rabbi Peretz Scheinerman