Hanukkah: Threes Redux

The Torah is begging us to look for the three that runs through the whole Yaakov story, beginning in parshat Vayishlach and culminating in parshat Miketz, with its hints of Hanukkah. That three is found on the Codex of Hanukkah - the dreidel, the sivivon. Can you guess?

Rabbi Dr. Aryeh Hirsch,

Aryeh Hirsch
Aryeh Hirsch
Last year, in "The Rule of Threes", I showed how parshat Vayeshev is full of explicit, and hidden "threes." Certainly there are more threes than the ones I mentioned there. For example, there are the three branches on the grapevine in the dream of the Minister of Drinks. And on a deeper level, the Gemara (Pesachim 108a) counts up the number of times "the cup of Pharaoh" appears in verse 40:11 and says that these three "cups of Pharaoh" correspond to three of the cups that we drink at the Pesach Seder, followed by the separate fourth element, the cup of Birkat HaMazon (the Grace after Meals). The Midrash also adds to the list by noting that "the man" is repeated three times in 37:15-17, so it must refer to three different men (actually, angels).

But all this merely begs a question: Why all the threes?

I believe that the Torah is pushing us to look for another three, in a code-filled message more intricate, and more spiritually satisfying, than The Divinci Code. The Torah is begging us to look for the three that runs through the whole Yaakov story, beginning in parshat Vayishlach and culminating in parshat Miketz, with its hints of Hanukkah. That three is found on the Codex of Hanukkah - the dreidel, the sivivon. Can you guess?

Back in parshat Vayishlach, we are introduced to the city of Shechem. After the battle with Eisav's archangel, Yaakov "arrives whole in Shechem, and he brought chayn to the city." (Genesis 33:18) Rabbi Matis Weinberg quotes the Gemara, Shabbos 30b: "The chayn referred to is money (a symbol throughout the Yosef story; and hinting at Hanukkah gelt); Yaakov Avinu minted coinage for the city of Shechem." (Frameworks: Chanuka, pages 171-179)

In the battle with Eisav's angel, Yaakov is wounded in his sciatic nerve, gid hanashe, and limps. The wounded leg symbolizes that "Yaakov had been damaged in his ability to utilize money, as 'those who study Torah won't have the financial support, they won't have a thigh or leg to stand on.' (Zohar)" (Frameworks, page 178) The thigh being close to the genitals, others see the wound as symbolizing a problem with Yaakov's offspring: the limp literally parallels Israel's being handicapped by the schism among the Children of Israel; i.e., here we prophetically see the future battle of Yosef and his brothers. And that fight, with the brothers' hatred of the ba'al chayn (according to Rashi, ben porat Yosef means "Yosef the ba'al chayn," Genesis 49:22; also 39:4 and 39:21) is the prototype of the sinat chinam (hatred of the chayn of our Jewish brothers) that underlies all our exiles and destructions - including Tisha B'Av and contemporary problems in this country.

Thus, gid hanashe and Shechem represent all that is wrong with Israel. As Rashi says (37:14): "Shechem is a place made for punishments. There, the brothers sold Yosef; there, Dinah was kidnapped, there, the kingdom of David was divided (Kings 12)." Rabbi Weinberg explains the deep connection of Shechem to tragedy. There are 365 negative commandments (lavin) in the Torah. The Zohar says that each one of these lavin corresponds to a day of the solar year. The lav of Tisha B'Av is gid hanashe. This cements gid hanashe as the symbol of destruction and exile, as well as symbolizing their cause: sinat chinam.

Shechem symbolizes Israel's problems, but it also symbolizes the healing of the gid hanashe. When the Jews crossed the Jordan River, they traveled to Shechem to seal the Brit Arvut, the Covenant of Mutual Responsibility, on Mt. G'rizim and Mt. Eival (Devarim 11:29; 27:12). "The Hanukkah that leads to this unity began in the divisiveness of Shechem; that city that comes eventually to symbolize a covenant of mutual responsibility." (Frameworks, page 200)

The message is so vital that the Zohar says it was encoded in the Shema that we say three times a day. There are 24 letters in "Baruch Shem Kvod Malchuto L'Olam Vaed," the second line in Shema. These letters represent 24 days in Kislev, which are followed by the 25th day, on which the Hashmonaim rested (Hanukka equals Hanu ["they rested"] and kah ["25"]), the sentence that opens Shema itself has 25 letters. And the acronym of Baruch Shem Kvod, etc. is B'Shchem l.v., or "in Shechem - 36" - thirty-six being the total number of candles lit on all eight days of Hanukkah.

All fine, you might say, but on a holiday with so much symbolism (menorah, Hanukkah gelt, etc.), if gid hanashe is so central to Hanukkah, then where is the symbol of gid hanashe?

In the "simple children's game." The letters on the dreidel, the Chanuka top (sivivon), spell out the letter gimmel (which equals three) and n.sh.e., or g'nshe; i.e., gid hanashe. But that's only on the dreidel of Chutz La'Aretz, as here is Israel we have the letters gimmel-nun-hei-pei. That's the whole point: the gid hanashe is represented by the sevivon of exile because gid hanashe symbolizes exile, sinat chinam, etc.

Sounds fantastic, you might say. Too contrived. Then consider this: the whole Yosef story leads to its culminating rapprochement of the brothers, as Yosef manipulates their money (chayn again) and lives. Theatrical Yosef does one better: he symbolically "heals " the wound of gid hanashe by removing it from the brothers' meat. Where do we see that? Many commentators see in Genesis 43:16 a hint to Hanukkah, as Yosef tells "the manager of his household" to "t'voach tevach v'hachein," prepare meat. The letters of the last word in Hebrew are an anagram (more codes) of the letters of Hanukkah. But it goes much deeper than that.

The Gemara (Chulin 91a) says that Yosef told the manager: "Spread out the animals neck so that they may slaughter it, and remove the gid hanashe in their presence." The Torah Temima explains that the brothers thought the Egyptian viceroy is a non-Jew, whose slaughter is non-kosher. Therefore, the manager was to allow the brothers to slaughter the animals. But Yosef told the manager to remove the gid hanashe himself, as a non-Jew is allowed to remove the gid hanashe.

And who is this manager?

The Hebrew language has an interesting quirk: a letter mem in the pi'el construct turns the word into its opposite, meaning to remove whatever noun the root connotes. Thus, the word shoresh (meaning "root") when constructed as mesharesh means "uproot." Therefore, the word nashe (from gid haneshe) in pi'el would be menashe - "remove the nashe."

So, who is Yosef's "manager," the one who accompanied Yosef in all his dealings with the brothers? As Rashi says in 42:23, it was the one who literally was named to be the one to remove the gid hanashe: Menashe, son of Yosef. It was he who was destined to heal the wound and bring peace to the brothers and to all Israel.

May we live the healing of the gid hanashe on this Hanukkah sameach.