I will go down with you into Egypt; and I will also surely bring you up again; and Joseph shall put his hand upon your eyes. (Bereishis 46:4)
With Chanukah behind us, we feel a little bit at a loss and vulnerable leaving those cherished lights which gave us the feeling of an ability to serve Hashem while overcoming our adversaries against all odds. Yet, as we turn to this week’s parsha we find Yaakov Avinu struggling with the idea that he has to go into exile. Hashem reveals Himself to him and tells him to be comforted because Hashem Himself will go with him into exile. This needs to be explained. Why should Yaakov be comforted just because Hashem will also go into exile? Does that make Yaakov’s lot any better? Imagine if someone heard that his child was sent to prison, the person who informed him of this told him “Don’t worry, your other son is there, too.” All this does is add more grief!
This year on Chanukah I heard a new idea regarding what the lights of Chanukah represent: The Chanukas – the inauguration – of the lights of the future (ohr haganuz). Even while the Jews were still in the depths of the Greek exile, the light of salvation was physically present, albeit for a brief moment. Though the Maccabees were successful at defeating the Greeks, the erosion of the Jewish people continued until the destruction of the Temple. It was a fleeting glimpse of the salvation in the midst of the exile.
The Sefas Emes explains that when Hashem goes with us into exile, it affords us the ability to live a Jewish life in a totally new world. This is, in a sense, the beginning of the salvation. For example, when the Jews arrived in America as refugees after the Second World War, most people assumed that it was fnot possible for religious Judaism to thrive on the shores of America. Yet Hashem made that impossibility a true reality (with no better example than the Siyum Hashas this week). This is what is meant by “Hashem is with us in exile.” While Yaakov Avinu understood that he had to go down to Egypt, he was afraid “How can I do it?” he asked. Hashem answered, “I will be there with you to help you forge a way for the Jewish people to survive, even in Egypt.”
As we now look ahead to the bleak days of Winter, we try to figure out how to be inspired. We should know that Hashem told Yaakov and all of his descendants that no matter what challenges they will face, “…I will be there with you to help you forge forward.” After the establishment of the holiday of Chanukah in our calendar, we can even tap into the lights of Moshiach in those days as in our days! Yes, indeed, there are bright lights in the dark days of Winter.