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‘Boneless Wonder’

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Between the two World Wars, Winston Churchill, the future prime minister of Great Britain, was exasperated with the impotence of the British government in regards to it’s foreign policy.[1]

On one occasion he addressed the House of Commons and related that as a boy he always looked forward to the London arrival of the Barnum and Bailey Circus.

“But,” added Churchill, “there was one show that my nanny would not let me see. She said it was ‘too revolting a spectacle for the human eye.’ The sideshow was called ‘the Boneless Wonder.’

“Now thirty-six years later, I have finally discovered the freak show that I wanted to see so badly. Where did I find it? Not in the circus, but in the House of Commons, sitting on the front bench. Here they are before me – the Boneless Wonder.”

After languishing in an Egyptian prison for over a decade Yosef was suddenly hoisted out of the doldrums of jail and brought before the mighty Pharaoh. Yosef successfully interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams explaining that they were foreshadowing visions of the future economic situation of Egypt. After seven years of plenty there would be seven years of intense famine, so intense that the previous years of plenty would be all but forgotten.

For all intents and purposes that should have been the end of Yosef’s audience with Pharaoh. He had interpreted the dreams and assuaged Pharaoh’s frazzled nerves. But Yosef took the liberty of adding some unsolicited advice. “Now let Pharaoh seek out a discerning and wise man and set him over the Land of Egypt…”[2]

Who asked Yosef for his opinion? Moreover, how did he have the audacity to tell Pharaoh what to do?

In this exchange we see a component of Yosef’s greatness. Yosef understood that stating facts without solutions and practical ideas is worthless. Yosef unabashedly stated what he felt was true and just.

Standing up for the truth is by no means an easy feat and Yosef paid for it dearly. Years earlier, when he was a seventeen-year old boy, he had dreams which indicated that he would rule over his brothers. Yosef understood that his dreams were prophetic. A prophet is obligated to repeat his prophecies and Yosef felt he was mandated to share them with his brothers, despite their negative disposition towards him.

After years of anguish and pain because of those dreams, one might think that Yosef would no longer be so assertive and forthcoming. Yet he stood before the greatest monarch in the world, looked him square in the eye, and advised him how to proceed. In fact, Pharaoh was so awed by Yosef and the advice he espoused, he conferred upon Yosef the very authority Yosef suggested.

When Moshe Rabbeinu offered his blessing to each shevet just prior to his death, he lauded the Levi’im for their courage to stand up for truth. “The one who said of his father and mother, ‘I have not seen him’; his brothers he did not recognize, and his children he did not know; for they kept Your statement, and Your covenant they would preserve.”[3] Rashi explains that at Chait HaEgel, Moshe rallied the faithful to avenge Hashem’s honor for the egregious sin that was committed. He beckoned, “Whoever is for G-d [gather] to me.” It was the Levi’im who heeded his call. They fulfilled Moshe’s command to kill the participants, even though many of the sinners were their own close relatives (maternally).

Moshe then blessed them that “G-d should bless His army.”[4]  Rashi explains that this alluded to the future Levi’im who would repeat Moshe’s call. In the time of the Chanukah miracle, the Chashmonaim sought to avenge the honor of Hashem from the Hellenists and Greeks. Though vastly outnumbered and outflanked they took up arms and fought against the myriads of enemy forces. Their battle cry paralleled Moshe’s, “Whoever is for G-d [gather] to me.”

Maharal[5] explains that the Greeks are symbolized by a leopard because of their extreme boldness and audacity.

The Greeks were extremely confident of their culture and beliefs. They arrogantly sought to spread their culture to every people they encountered. One of the failings of many of the Jews of that time was that even those who maintained their faith, lacked the courage and temerity to defend their traditions and beliefs.

Ultimately the righteous Jews who had the audacity to strike back were blessed with miraculous victories. They were able to defeat their enemy by employing the enemy’s own defining character trait – brazen boldness. They would not be intimidated by their far superior foes and ultimately vanquished them. It was only when the Maccabim demonstrated “holy audacity,” and uncompromised pride for their identity, that they were victorious.

 

Alexander Hamilton once quipped that, “Those who stand for nothing, will fall for anything.”

To be a leader one must be ready to stand up for one’s cause. In our world, we are very disenchanted by feckless politicians whose opinions reflects which way the political tides are blowing. Someone who changes his opinion to that of the masses is surely not staunch or passionate about his own views.

A true leader must believe in what he stands for and be ready to “pledge his sacred honor”[6] to his cause. Yosef had that moral strength and conviction. The prophet compares Yosef to a raging flame which consumes everything in its path, most notably the pernicious influence of Eisav.[7]

The Maccabim possessed that same fierce drive and determination. They had an inner fire that could not be quelled, even in the face of insurmountable odds. In a certain sense the Chanukah miracle was a reflection of the inner passion of those who were the catalysts of the miracle. The fires atop the Menorah, which would not go out, were an external manifestation of the internal fire that raged in the hearts of the valiant Maccabim.

The Kabbalists write that one should gaze at the Chanukah lights during the first half hour after they are lit because they contain tremendous spiritual energy. It seems that they also contain a reflection of the inner flame within ourselves.

One of the many timeless lessons of Chanukah is feeling proud of our identity. We should not be apologetic about our Judaism nor should we seek to “water down” our observance so that we better fit in with society. We are the sole bearers of a torch that miraculously has not gone out because we have kept that torch aglow by never being embarrassed to hold it aloft.

 



[1] This was especially true in regards to the Allied policy of appeasement, allowing Hitler to proceed as he willed, falsely hoping that allowing him some gains would satiate him.

[2] 41:43

[3] Devorim 33:9

[4] Ibid, v. 11

[5] Ner Mitzvah; Maharal has a lengthy treatise explaining the detailed dream of Nebuchadnezzar from the book of Daniel. The dream contained four beasts, which Daniel explained were representations of the four major exiles the Jews would be subject to throughout history. The third beast was a leopard, a reference to Greece. Maharal explains the symbolism.

[6] In the words of the revolutionaries who fought for America’s independence from Britain

[7] “The house of Yaakov will be fire, the house of Yosef a flame, and the house of Eisav for straw; and they will ignite them and devour them. There will be no survivor to the house of Eisav, for God has spoken.” (Ovadiah 1:18)

About the Author: Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW is the Rabbi of Kehillat New Hempstead, as well as Guidance Counselor and fifth grade Rebbe in ASHAR, and Principal at Mesivta Ohr Naftoli of New Windsor. He can be reached at stamtorah@gmail.com. Visit him on the web at www.stamtorah.info.


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