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Vayigash: Doing Away With The Trappings

In Germany in 1799, the Protestant Theologian Friedrich Schleirmacher wrote a marvelous book entitled “On Religion: Speeches To Its Cultured Despisers.” He observed, in his high-spirited opening lines, that for a long time “faith has not been every man’s affair,” that only a “few have discerned religion itself, while millions, in various ways, have been satisfied to juggle with its trappings. Now, especially, the life of cultivated people is far from anything that might even have a resemblance to religion.”


You can’t walk into a store during this season without hearing Christmas carols and seeing the colorful decorations. I can’t count the number of Jews who have told me how much they love Christmas movies. They love the holiday spirit. Many converts and Ba’alei Teshuvah, speak longingly of Christmas with its trees, gifts, songs, and meals. “Chanukah just is not the same,” they say. We are inundated with trappings, but is it really religion?

Chanukah is a stripped-down festival. We spend a few minutes lighting the Menorah. We sing Hallel. We eat latkes and sufganiyot. We may even play Dreidel. Whatever decorations we see in Jewish stores are just in imitation of the rest of the world. Either we need better marketing or this was intentional.

Our bare bones approach to Mitzvot is not a statement of separation from the world. We stress beautification of Mitzvot; beautiful Etrog, Succah, Tzitzit, and Torah scroll, but we have guidelines for the beauty. A silver etrog box may be quite luxurious, but it is not beautification of the Mitzvah. The elaborate silver crowns and breastplates hung on a Torah scroll do not fulfill the Halachic guidelines of a beautiful Torah. Even the “Mehadrin Min Hamehadrin,” “The Most Beautiful of the Beautiful,” fulfillment of lighting Chanukah candles is measured by the number of candles, not by an ornate Menorah. We eschew the trappings and focus on the inner essence.

The trappings are externals, and Joseph, at the moment in which he reveals himself to his brothers, teaches them and us about the dangers of external trappings.

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