Chanukkah: The Price (Tag) of Peanuts

Read to the end to understand a Torah view on price tag operations.

Rabbi Dr. Aryeh Hirsch

Judaism Aryeh Hirsch
Aryeh Hirsch

Take some of the Land’s most exclusive products in your bags, and bring them to the man as a gift- a little balsam , a little honey, wax , birthwort, botnim and almonds.” ( Breishit 43,11) .

These are the words of Yaakov Avinu,  Jacob our Father, to his sons. They are returning to the Egyptian viceroy, who, unknown to them, is really their brother   Yosef, whom they sold into slavery 22 years earlier.  The family is starving of famine in Canaan, and the Viceroy’s condition for buying more Egyptian food, and returning his captive, Shimon their brother,  is to bring to him their youngest brother, Binyamin ( Benjamin).  Yaakov is telling them that if this is their only choice, then they have only one recourse : take  Binyamin, but also send the Viceroy a gift of Botnim. In the Bible, these are pistachio nuts( as Rashi points out). But in modern Hebrew, Botnim are peanuts.

Rav Matis Weinberg is quick to remark here that peanuts are the world-wide symbol for something worthless, as in  : “His offer? Peanuts! Worthless!” . T he obvious question is: why , in a life-and –death situation, is Yaakov offering peanuts?

The Rav’s answer  holds one key to the understanding of Chanukah, and  indeed to the whole story which we’ve been reading since Parshat Vayishlach.  There we saw Yaakov crossing back over the Yabok River, in order to retrieve “ pachim ktanim”( Rashi, 32, 25), some little vessels. Many  commentators see this as an allusion to the “ small vessel of oil “ ( pach hashemen) of the future Chanukah miracle of the lights that burned for eight days.

Yaakov went back for these items of little worth because “ Chavivim lahem mamonam shel tzadikim yoter mi’gufam” , meaning "to righteous men, their possessions are more precious than their own bodies". Why? For these possessions represent honest efforts which the Lord blessed with successful resultant achievements; they represent  meaning and feelings  far beyond their monetary worth.

Yaakov then has his fight with the Archangel of Eisav, who wounds Yaakov in his leg, specifically the sciatic nerve, gid hanashe, of his thigh,  “shok” in Hebrew. But “shok “ in Hebrew has the same spelling as “shuk”, or marketplace. Our Rabbis of the Talmud saw this as the message that Yaakov was, and Jews throughout the ages would be, damaged in his(their)  ability to use money. Yaakov himself was subsequently “healed in Shechem”( Breishit 33,18); and the Rabbis say that Jacob’s bringing “chayn “ (“ Vayichan” is the word there, literally meaning camped)  to  Shechem meant that he minted coinage and developed markets of trade for the locals( Shabbat 30b).

However, Rav Weinberg says, these are activities of which  Rome (symbolized by Edom and Eisav) will pride themselves in the future. This means that in this era, that of the Edomite exile, we have exchanged Yaakov’s vision of money or markets as achievement and meaningfulness, for the Eisav economic model : instant gratification (Breishit 25,verses 30-34), possession for possession’s sake, and life in the fast lane( a la Jerry McGuire and Enron). 

Romans were engineers, interested , like their Greek predecessors, only in results, the bottom line, and the final score; only Jews were focused on the means, on the road  to success, and on the moral, historical, social, etc. story that leads to the ends. The Roman lacked even the search for ideals characterized by the Greeks, which made Hellenism so attractive to Jews in the time of the Hanukkah story (for history buffs, the clash of ex-nuclear engineer, US  President Jimmy Carter and Israeli PM Menachem Begin was a classic Roman-Jew contrast; see The Prime Ministers, by Yehuda Avner, pages 417-427).

The only time that Yaakov strayed this path in life, was just before he met his brother Eisav. In order that Eisav not meet Dinah, the beautiful, righteous daughter of Yaakov, and possibly ask for her hand in marriage, Yaakov tried to manipulate and shoved Dina into a box to hide her( Rashi on Breishit, 32, verse 23).  Yaakov paid for this with the punishment of the rape of Dina: as I’ve written before (“ A Settler’s Chanuka”; Nov.25,2010), G-d has no tolerance for the manipulation represented by the gid hanashe, and “Spies”(Breishit 42,9).

Rav Kook sees another instance when Yaakov tried to force the hand of history, to be Eisav-like and “make things happen”. Yaakov saw that Yosef was a “ bar chakim” ( Onkelos , Breishit 37,3), a righteous and wise son. And so Jacob gave the famous “ coat of many colors “ to Yosef, and “ for a lousy two bits work of silk”, for literally peanuts, so “ that Yosef received more than his brothers, they became jealous, and one thing led to another, with our forefathers eventually going through the hell of Egyptian slavery” ( Talmud Shabbat, 10b).

Yaakov’s intent (as explained by Rav Tau in Emunat Iteinu, vol. 8, pages 146-155) , was all for the good: the bar chakim, Yosef, was to “prepare the foundations for the future form of the nation of Israel, with its Torah and Kedusha( holiness) powering every aspect of the nation, with all its abilities and strengths, its natural powers and its binyan maasi, its practical development. Kedusha she’mimkor ha’Emet ha’Elokit tir’eh et kocha k’sholetet  um’nahelet et ha’Mada v’ha’Technologia”- Holiness from the source of Divine truth was to see its power directing and guiding science and technology, developments and improvements of the most wondrous types. Jacob’s plan was for Yosef to raise all the various powers of the brothers, i.e. the nation, together to the heights of the spiritual ideal of Israel”.

But it all backfired. “Since the flow of life wasn’t ready for this [leap in] development”, the brothers couldn’t accept Yaakov’s plan, which exploded under their jealousies. Rav Kook says Jacob violated the natural law expressed by Ecclesiastes : “Do not be overly wise, so as to not be rendered desolate”-“don’t so broaden the rule of the intellect that it interferes with the normal development of one’s natural feelings and emotions”.

Simply put: one cannot push historical developments too fast. This was the wise way of Jacob throughout history,  “etnahala l’iti” - I [Jacob], will move and develop at my own slow pace, in his words to his brother. A pace diametrically opposed to  the breakneck speed of the rat-race of Eisav, with its inattention to “natural  feelings and emotions”;  and without the Eisav attitude toward money and possessions as status, but with the Yosef idea of inter-relating( Breishit 37,16)  with others, and attention to  their feelings and cares(ibid,  40, 6-7).

The whole story comes to focus with Yosef and the money the brothers pay for the food. Rabbi Weinberg points out that Yosef repeatedly gave his manipulative, Meraglim (spies; again, see my “ Settler’s Hanhukah") - brothers their money back, as a slap in the face, to them and their mechanistic, manipulative approach to life. The brothers were so imprisoned ( the beit ha’soar of Meitzarim/Mitzrayim) by their blindness, that they never got the message. But Father Jacob did. He sensed that the mysterious Viceroy of Egypt wanted a personal response, a response from the heart, not from the pocketbook.

And so Yaakov told his boys: “ Bring the man peanuts”. Rav Weinberg describes how the Children of Jacob must have thought “hishtagei’a  ha’ Zaken” - our Old Man must have lost his mind. Bring a King, nuts!  But the hello they got in Egypt was: “Don’t worry, everything’s fine;  your G-d brought you a hidden gift..I received the money that you paid, don’t pay more".  So they prepared the gift (peanuts!) in beautiful containers, and when Yosef came home they brought him the gift, and he inquired about their welfare” (Breishit 43, 21-27).

It worked. Peanuts bought peace, and the return of Shimon, where money failed. Because these weren’t any old peanuts: these were the peanuts from the Holy Land, and from their Holy Father. Peanuts, like the  pachim ketanim at  the River Yabok,  full of significance and meaning and feeling; not the products of rat-races and spying, mechanics and manipulation.

Surely, a spy checks out all the angles, so as to “make things happen”. As I’ve written before, this was not the way of the Chashmonaim of Chanuka, who didn’t look at what the odds might be in fighting off the Greek Empire. Nor the way of Yehuda, when he ignored the odds of fighting off the entire Egyptian army to save Binyamin in an act of kanaut, zealotry, that repaired the damage of the split up family of Jacob. This was not the infantile gevura (bravery) of Shimon and Levi at Shechem, which Rav Tau calls “gevura p’rait” , the bravery of a wild man( Emunat Iteinu, page 155) , “which one has before the heart is purified by Torah”.

And, unfortunately, this is the immature, raw, unrefined gevura of our “ Price-tag “ brethren. Like Shimon and Levi, they have good reasons for what they do: “Shall our sister be treated like a harlot”( Breishit 34,31). Shall good Jews’ homes and fields be destroyed, by their brothers, their fellow Jews, acting to further the goals of “Palestinian” Arabs, who want nothing less than the destruction of the State of Israel? 

No, they say. And so they push for results, to “make things happen”, somehow thinking that by vandalizing tents belonging to the Army, or flattening tires of Army jeeps, the Left will go away.  But they won’t. Not this way. This is not the way of the students of Rav Tau, nor of  Rav Melamed, nor of Rav Shapira or Rav Aviner.

This Chanuka, may we be blessed from Above to see the realization of what Rav Tau (page 155)  sees: that l’atid lavo, in the future, after the long , profound workings of Torah in the history of this world, may we merit to see the Tikun ha’Shalem, when all Jacob’s children will unite and, in perfect harmonious cooperation of all their many kochot (powers), and together  with all the world , “Sanctify the name of G-d , sanctify the Holy One of Jacob, and praise the God of Israel” (Isaiah 29,23, and conclusion to Haftorah of Parshat Shmot).

Arutz Sheva wishes a  hearty mazal tov to Dr.Hirsch on the marriage this Monday night of his daughter Noga, in whose honor this article was written.