Torah Insights for Shabbat
Parshat Miketz 5758
December 27, 1997
Thinking recently about Chanuka, a new idea occurred to me. Chanuka,
the Festival of Lights, occurs at the darkest time of the year (in the Northern
Hemisphere). It occurs at a time when you would least expect it. And this is an important
characteristic of Judaism: that light and holiness occur where one would least expect
Remember the origin of Chanuka- the Greeks were conquering the world, with their ideas as well as their armies, and were bringing a modern, practical, "enlightened" philosophy to the world. Resistance to this came where one would have least expected it, from a small group of people, without military power, without weapons, who went into the streets against the Greek rule and were victorious!
I am reminded of a story of a man in Jerusalem, Reb Yehuda Holtzman. He was not a rabbi, not a dayan, just a humble Jew in Mea Shearim known as "Yehuda the Blecher", since he made blechs (metal stove covers placed on the stove before Shabbos).
There was an American who was in the habit of spending Shabbos with him. He told the story that Reb Yehuda had the custom of making Kiddush on challa [festive Shabbos and holy days bread] every Friday evening. (Making Kiddush on challa is permitted if you have no wine, but it is unusual.)
At first he thought that Reb Yehuda might be allergic to wine, but no, on Saturday morning Reb Yehuda would drink wine at Kiddush. He did not ask him about this, until one Friday evening, after some years of this, he saw Reb Yehuda's wife bringing him a bottle of wine, which he then used for Kiddush. My friend could not contain his curiosity any longer and asked him the reason for this. He answered, "I'll tell you. There's no deep kabbalistic reason. It's very simple." He told him the following story.
Twenty-five years earlier, during the British Mandate, a friend of Reb Yehuda had a serious illness for which the only known cure would cost five thousand pounds sterling, a fortune in those days. He had absolutely no idea how he would raise the money, and came to Reb Yehuda for advice.
Reb Yehuda said to him, "Go ahead and borrow the money, and I'll repay it for you." For he had calculated that if he did without wine at Kiddush on Friday evening for twenty-five years, he would be able, with the money saved, to repay the whole debt. And that is what happened. And on that very Shabbos, the twenty-five years were up, and he could go back to having wine for Kiddush.
Holiness is found in the most unexpected places. Often it is found coming from people who are quiet and humble. People who have an abiding sense of commitment.
There is custom, among some people, of turning off the lights when they light the menora at Chanuka. This emphasizes the idea of light coming forth from darkness, and holiness appearing where it is least expected. I wish you all a lot of joy this Chanuka.
This material is copyrighted. Permission is granted to photocopy only within the context of Torah Insights.
Rabbi Yaacov Haber
Rabbi Haber is the National Director of the Department of Jewish Education of the Orthodox Union and rabbi of Beis Torah, Monsey, NY.
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