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Flame Versus Fire - Parashat Vayetzei 5780, December 6, 2019


We are now in the month of Kislev and Chanukah is quickly approaching.

The 
halacha regarding the Chanukah lights is that a candle is required – a candle with a single flame. The use of a medura – a fire unconnected to a wick - does not fulfill the mitzvah. What is the difference between fire and flame such that a flame meets the requirements of ner Chanukah but a fire does not?

To address this quote, let us consider a lesson from this week’s 
parasha. Yaakov leaves the house of his father, Yitzchak, to flee from Esav – his brother – and takes residence with his first cousin Lavan. Lavan’s devious personality is well - understood by Yaakov, yet Yaakov stays with Lavan for 14 years – enough time to have married Leah and Rachel and have 12 children – 11 boys and one girl. Immediately upon Yosef’s birth to Rachel, Yaakov declares his intention to leave his residence with Lavan and take up a new residence in Canaan.

The Torah says, “and it was when Rachel gave birth to Yosef – and Yaakov said to Lavan, ‘send me and I will go to my place and to my land’.” Our chachamim understand this verse to create a linkage between the birth of Yosef and Yaakov’s decision to leave Lavan. Had the Torah wanted to say that Yaakov had completed his service commitment to Lavan, the Torah should have said that. It should not have said, “when Rachel gave birth to Yosef”. What prompted Yaakov to leave Lavan immediately upon the birth of Yosef?

The 
Tur – Rabbenu Yaakov ben Asher – gives a simple explanation of Yaakov’s decision. Yaakov waited until now to leave because he had been concerned that since Rachel had been barren, her father Lavan would have claimed that Yaakov and Rachel should get divorced and Rachel should be left in her father Lavan’s house to remarry. Now that Yosef, Rachel’s first-born had been born, such a claim would not be possible and Yaakov would be free to take his entire family with him.

Rashi, however, offers an alternate explanation of Yaakov’s decision. Rashi, quoting 
Midrash Rabbah says, “When Yosef was born to Rachel, the adversary of Esav was born. The prophet Ovadiah, describing the time of the Messiah, says, ‘and it will be that the house of Yaakov is fire and the house of Yosef is a flame and the house of Esav is straw’.” Rashi continues, “fire without a flame has no power at a distance. When Yosef was born, Yaakov trusted in Hashem and he wanted to return to Canaan.” In other words, the Lavan saga culminating in Yosef’s birth gave Yaakov the knowledge and security that he had the tools necessary to fight Esav.

In considering this 
midrash, a question arises. Fire also burns straw! Why couldn’t the philosophy of Yaakov – the “fire” – burn the “straw” – the philosophy of Esav? Why
was the “flame” of Yosef necessary?

The author of the 
Sha’are Aharon explains: Yaakov didn’t want to get close to his brother Esav. Perhaps there was too much identification between the brothers. Perhaps Yaakov was worried about Esav’s influence on him. Whatever the case may be, for fire to burn straw, the two have to touch. Yaakov couldn’t and wouldn’t allow that to occur.

Yosef’s birth was the birth of a flame – the ability to project the fire into the surrounding environment. As an example, look at what influence Yosef was capable of in Egypt. With this flame, Yaakov was secure that he could influence Esav and his surroundings without coming into direct contact with Esav.

Until the times of Mashiach, Esav continues to influence us – even indirectly. With the coming of the Mashiach, the forces of Esav will be consumed by the projection of Yaakov’s flame – Yosef.

Returning to our original question, why does a flame fulfill the requirement of the 
mitzvah of Chanukah while a fire does not? As we learn from the midrash above, a flame projects the light – it is more than a fire. The requirement of Chanukah is pirsume nissa – publicizing the miracle of Chanukah. On Chanukah, fire represents the ideas of the Torah, the miracles, our relationship with Hashem. But a fire is insufficient. A flame is required. The fire must be projected out. Let us learn from the message of the the Chanukah flame and constantly seek to project the ideas of the Torah to our surroundings.

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