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Thursday, 21 November, 2013 - 8:05 am

Reading through this week’s Torah reading, one sentence stood out (see the parsha text here), Reuven comes back to the empty pit that Yosef was put in and "the boy wasn't there" so he said "Va'ani ana ani ba' ['And I, where will I go?' (Gen. 37:30)]. 

Searching for the meaning of this verse, I found the following story.

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman



Avraham Pinchas lived 100 years ago in Baghdad. The wealthy Jewish merchant usually had a table full of guests, but this Shabbat he only had one, a poor man he had invited home from the synagogue. The guest was awed by the plush richness around him: the thick Persian rugs, gold inlayed dishes and beautifully decorated walls. Only one thing perplexed him: in the middle of the table stood an old, empty, broken bottle that looked as if it had once contained olive oil.  
When Mr. Pinchas noticed his guest's interest in the odd artifact, he told him the following story.

"My father was a respected businessman, but he was always busy and left me in my grandfather's care. Every morning my grandfather would wake me, make sure I washed my hands, said the morning blessings and didn't forget my lunch. Then just before I left for school, he would give me a kiss on my forehead, raise his hands and say, 'Va'ani ana ani ba' ['And I, where will I go?' (Gen. 37:30)]. Later, I learned that this is what Reuven cried out when he discovered that Joseph was no longer in the pit and it was impossible to save him. But I had no idea why my grandfather always said that.

"Then, when I was 14 years old, tragedy struck: my grandfather passed away. I began to accompany my father to work. My father tried to make sure that I prayed and studied Torah but he was always very busy. I was so fascinated by his business that I didn't pay much attention to my studies.  
"Two years later, my father died suddenly. Besides the fact that I was now alone, I had to decide what to do with the business. I was given the choice of selling it, or trying my luck as a manager. Against the advice of lawyers, I chose the latter.

"Well, I took to it like a fish to water. It wasn't long before I was quite successful. But I began to feel out of place as an observant Jew. I felt that keeping Shabbat and eating kosher prevented me from expanding my business. Slowly but surely I became less observant, and I discovered that the more commandments I dropped, the more successful I became.

"Several years passed. One day I was walking in the street when I noticed a Jewish boy, maybe 13 years old, sitting on the sidewalk crying. I asked him what was wrong. 'Oh thank you, sir,' he said 'but this is something only Jews would understand.'

"His words stabbed me in the heart. 'I am also Jewish...' I stammered.  
"'Oh, I'm sorry,' he answered, 'I didn't mean to offend you. It's just that I'm very sad about my home situation. We are very poor. My father died a while ago and my mother works hard to support my six brothers and sisters.

"The boy looked up at me and wiped his eyes with his shirtsleeve. 'Well, this morning my mother told us that tonight is Chanuka. We prayed for a miracle, that we might find some money with which to buy oil. We were so happy when my sister found a coin behind a drawer! I ran right to the store and bought a small bottle of oil. I was walking home, holding the bottle and dreaming about Chanuka. I was even imagining that Moshiach might come now, and my mother will start to smile again.

" 'Unfortunately, I wasn't looking where I was going, and I tripped. I watched in horror as the bottle flew from my hands and landed on a stone. It broke, and all the oil spilled out. Va'ani ana ani ba!'

"With these words, the boy began to wail. At that, I suddenly realized what my grandfather had meant. He must have known that this would happen. That broken bottle is me! And the spilled oil is my Jewish soul - I've lost my Jewish soul!  
"As if in a trance, I withdrew some money from my pocket and handed it to the boy. 'Go back to the store,' I told him. 'Buy what you want, and have a happy Chanuka! Go!'

"When the boy was gone, I carefully picked up the bottle and carried it home, still in shock. I sent the servants away and when I was alone, I just stood there, looking at it and weeping.  
"Then the thought struck me, 'A Jew can't lose his Jewish soul.' Maybe I had ignored it for a while, but I'm sure it's still there. I took my grandfather's menora out of the cabinet, dusted it off, found some oil and a wick and lit the first Chanuka candle.

"Its light made me feel alive again. I even decided that the next morning I would begin putting on tefilin again. The following night I lit two candles and decided that from now on I would eat only kosher. The third night, I decided to begin learning Torah. The night after that I made the decision to keep Shabbat. By the end of Chanuka I had become a new man. A renewed man. The Chanuka lights had saved me.

"So that is the reason I keep that broken bottle: to remind me how the miracle of the oil saved my life."  
(Source: Ascent of Safed)

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