December 14th-15th, 2001
30 Kislev, 5762
(6TH DAY OF CHANUKAH; ROSH
I’m going to start by offering a bit of Chanukah advice.
What I have in mind is something beyond, "How to Make Luscious, Low-Fat Latkes," or "How to Break it to Well-Meaning Friends That Your Children Already Have Enough Milk-Chocolate Gelt to Last Them Until High-school Graduation." (As important as those topics admittedly are.)
After all, there are still a couple of days left in this sacred holiday. Rather than acquiesce to our normal tendency to wane in enthusiasm towards the latter part of an experience (like a Jewish festival), we can attempt, through deeper reflection, to increase our joy on each successive day of Chanukah. Why should we say (and feel), as the hours or days of a Jewish holiday progress, that it’s "winding down?" Shouldn’t we feel, instead, that it’s "revving up?" That each day of Chanukah adds more, and purer, spiritual illumination to our lives (just as each extra candle lit on the menorah increases physical illumination)--and not just more presents, and more (olive) oil spills on the carpet?!
So, here’s the advice. One of my revered teachers has been known to counsel his students to try to refrain, if possible, from doing anything secular for a half-hour after lighting the Chanukah menorah. Don’t rush right back to the phone or Internet (to see if they’ve nabbed Bin Laden yet), don’t scurry off to do the million things you have to do before tackling the next million things…
Just let yourself savor the experience of the mitzvah, give yourself a chance to absorb some of the holiness of the Menorah and what it symbolizes. No knowledge of
kabbalistic meditation is required.
You can sing Chanukah songs with your family (or by yourself), like the traditional hymn, "Ma’oz Tzur" which encapsulates all of Jewish history--from ancient Egyptian bondage to anticipated messianic deliverance. The focus in that song is on praising and thanking G-d for all the many salvations He has wrought for us as a people, not only the one especially commemorated on Chanukah. "O mighty Rock of my salvation, to praise You is a delight," are its opening words. We praise and thank You for preserving and sustaining us, even in the darkest periods of our history. We praise and thank You for never allowing the forces of darkness (and they are out there) to extinguish the light of our Torah, and our heritage.
For women, specifically, the custom of not engaging in domestic labor while the candles of the Menorah burn is an ancient one. It is mentioned in the various Codes of Jewish law, and highlights the crucial role of the Jewish woman in spurring this deliverance:
"The reason…is that the cruelty of the evil decree [of our Syrian-Greek persecutors] was directed mainly at Jewish women. For they decreed that a virgin girl before her wedding must first cohabit with the general. Another reason for this is that the miracle [of the Jews’ military victory over a much larger force] came about through a woman. The daughter of Yochanan [brother of Judah Maccabbee]…was a very beautiful girl, and the ruthless monarch wanted her to lie with him. She told him that she would fulfill his request; and she served him cheese dishes, so that he would be thirsty, and drink wine; then become intoxicated, and fall asleep. That is precisely what happened. Then she cut off his head and brought it to Jerusalem. When the general saw that the monarch was dead, he [and his army] fled." [Kitzur Shulchan Aruch; translation based on Metsudah edition.]
Here are a few thoughts related to Chanukah, culled from different commentaries I’ve been reading this week, that you might contemplate as you sit by your Menorah.
We are taught that it was the power of self-sacrifice (mesiras nefesh), epitomized by the Maccabees, that brought about the miracle of Chanukah. (G-d’s supernatural intervention came as a response to the dedication of those among our people who went to the limits of their natural ability to fight for their Judaism.) In one of his lectures, Rabbi Yerucham Levovitz, zt’l, points out that self-sacrifice is not only demanded of us in crisis moments when the pillars of our faith are threatened, but in every detail of our service unto G-d…every single day!
There is (heroic) self-sacrifice in trying conscientiously to say the Shema twice a day, to pray with the congregation, to resolve to keep kosher, to say blessings with concentration before and after eating, to work on reducing one’s anger (or other negative character traits), to extend kindness to our fellow Jews and to our neighbors…and so on. These things are not unattainable, and they are not inherently burdensome, but they do require a commitment to rise above our selfishness. It may well be that one day we will have to take up arms to defend our Torah (all the way to Tora-Bora), but even if things don’t come to that, we can glorify our Torah by strengthening our spirit of self-sacrifice in our daily and domestic lives. This is the battle we face every day: to become better human beings, better servants of G-d.
The S’fas Emes writes that at this time, every year, there is an "awakening" and a spiritual "illumination" from the very miracles that occurred on Chanukah. (This is a common idea found in mystical works: Jewish holidays offer us not mere remembrances of things past, but recurring opportunities to benefit from the same profound spiritual influences that were operative at those times.) However, to be able to perceive something of that illumination, a person cannot be completely engulfed in materialistic concerns. It stands to reason: a "miracle," by definition, is an occurrence above nature, and so a person must also have some ability to live on a plane above nature if he or she is to "pick up the signal."
Well, this is the precise function of the mitzvah of the Menorah--it allows us to cling to that which is above nature. In fact, he writes, that is the essence of all the mitzvos: though carried out in the physical world, mostly by means of physical materials, they join a person to that which is above the realm of nature and beyond the physical world.
By lighting your Menorah conscientiously, you can receive the spiritual illumination of the original Chanukah miracle. The more thought you put into the mitzvah of lighting (before and after), and the more enthusiasm you put into the mitzvah of praising and thanking G-d on these days, the more you can benefit.
There is an incredible and under-appreciated power in Chanukah. The Shem M’Shmuel (a great Chassidic commentary on the Torah) writes that the illumination on these days is so potent that "if there is even a little bit of desire to
serve Hashem [in a person], then it will be easy [on Chanukah] to fan it into a flame, and to cling to holiness" (my translation and emphasis).
May we all sit by our Menorahs the next few nights--not for tanning, but for fanning the flames of our neshamos (souls). And may we all emerge from Chanukah with a renewed commitment to serve G-d to the best of our ability.
Into Genesis |
Insights Into Exodus | Insights Into Leviticus
Insights into Numbers | Insights
Edelstein, Savannah Kollel. Phone: 355-0157; fax: 354-9923
Produced and distributed by
the Ben Portman Computer facilities of the Savannah Kollel.
This Dvar Torah page created and hosted
courtesy of OU.ORG. No responsibility for its contents may be
implied or taken by the OU.