Thursday, December 29, 2016
Chanukah Insights and Stories
Chanukah Stories and Insights:
As we continue into the midst of this beautiful Festival, I would like to, B’Ezras Hashem/with the Help of Hashem, share some beautiful insights and stories on it with you:
So, there is a famous question on Chanukah that the Beis Yosef (HaRav Yosef Karo zt”l - author of Shulchan Aruch) asks: Why is it 8 days? If the oil would have normally burned for 1 day but it burned for 8, then only the 7 days that it was a miracle that it burned should be the Festival!! The 1st day was just normal!!
Perhaps the answer, we can say, is that it is to teach us that everything is really a Miracle. That is one of the things that Chanukah is about.
And this is something that is for us to realize and think about every day. For example; have you ever thought about every day? It is not “just the natural way” that you wake up: It is only because Hashem let you wake up and have another day! And the same goes for every second; every breath, etc. Think about that….
As we know, the Yevanim (Syrian-Greeks) did not want us to practice our Religion. But one of the things they especially did not want us to be able to do was light the Menorah in the Beis HaMikdash. Asks the Tosher Rebbe (Rebbe Meshulam Feish Lowy zt”l); why were they specifically against the lighting of the Menorah? What was the thing about the Menorah Service that they were so against?
And he answers beautifully that the Yevanim did not want us to serve Hashem with passion and fire (metaphorically) - which is what we must do. The Menorah was supposed to be constantly aflame, which represented how we must be: Always serving Hashem with passion and warmth - not with coldness, Chas V’Shalom.
So this is something that they had to - and all of us have to - overcome. The Yevanim might not be trying to get us to serve Hashem with coldness in 5777, Baruch Hashem, but the Yetzer Hara is always at work trying to make us. And we must always, with Hashem’s Help, fight against it and serve Him with warmth.
(From Sefer Avodas Avodah – told over by HaRav Gedaliah Jaffe shlita)
What other spiritual things were the Yevanim fighting against? Says Rebbe Avraham Schorr shlita: They didn’t want us to concentrate on the Inner things - only the outer things (which is very bad). They wanted to show that serving Hashem is just the same as doing anything else (which is obviously not true). The Yevanim don’t appreciate the P’nimius (Inner things), and they try to make
other people not appreciate them, either. When, in reality, the Inner things are basically the most important (especially like when we translate the Inner things into action - which is basically what Judaism is about).
And Reb Schorr shlita brings a proof to this: The letters of word ‘יןן' are the only letters in Aleph-Beis that do not have an “inside”. (Meaning that there is no space inside the letter, such as the letter ‘ס’). The Yevanim only like outer things and they did not care about the Inner - which is the opposite of what we must do. And this goes very well with what the Tosher Rebbe zt”l said above.
(From Sefer HaLekach Vi'Halibuv - told over by HaRav Shalom Rosner shlita)
Gemara Shabbos 21a talks about ‘Mitzvas Ner Chanukah’ (which means ‘The Commandment of the light of Chanukah’). The word ‘נר’, says the Chernobyler Rebbe (Rebbe Menachem Nachum of Chernobyl zt”l), in his book, Me’or Einayim, can be an acronym for the words ‘Nefesh (Soul)’ and ‘Ruach (spirit)’. Not only this, but Chanukah literally means ‘Dedication’. And so, he explains, ‘Mitzvas Ner Chanukah’ can be interpreted to mean ‘The dedication of Soul and Spirit’.
Chanukah is a reminder for us to always try to dedicate our Soul and Spirit to Hashem. This is very important for always - but Chanukah reminds us of it.
(From Sefer Me'or Einayim)
The Berditchever Rebbe (Rebbe Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev zt”l), in his book, Kedushas Levi talks about the fact that really everything is from Hashem (similar to what we were discussing above). For example; say you chop down a tree: True, you might have chopped it down, but it was really Hashem Who let you; Who let the chopping work, the tree break and fall, etc. If not for Him intervening, that could not happen.
But we must be watching, (so to speak), he explains, in order to see that everything is from Hashem. And this is one of the reasons why we light candles on Chanukah, says the Berditchever Rebbe zt”l: Because it is a light, and light you must use your eyes to see, which is a hint to the fact that we must be watching in order to see Hashem’s Hand.
(From Sefer Kedushas Levi)
The Menorah and candles are a very important part of Chanukah. In fact, the Sefarim HaKedoshim (Holy Books) tell us that when we kindle the lights of Chanukah, it is a prayer to Hashem that He make our lives full of light and holiness. May He do so, Amein vi’Amein.
There is a fascinating story recorded in Gemara Taanis 25a, about a miracle that was performed for Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa a”h:
Says the Gemara: ‘Once on a Friday evening, he saw that his daughter was sad. He said to her “My daughter, why are you said?” She said to him: “My vessel filled with vinegar got mixed up with my vessel filled with oil
and I lit from that can a light for the Shabbos.” He said to her: “My daughter, why does this bother you? Whoever told the oil to burn, He will tell the vinegar to burn.” It was taught: The light continued to burn all day until they used that light for Havdalah.’
This is a beautiful story, indeed; but what does it teach us? Says the Chiddushei HaRim (The first Gerrer Rebbe - Rebbe Yitzchak Meir Alter zt”l): Oil represents the optimal, i.e. how things are supposed to be - we have what we need, things are going well, we are doing well, etc. But vinegar is sour; it represents when things aren’t going so well - we aren’t quite feeling it, maybe we aren’t doing so well, etc.
But the above story, explains Reb Yitzchak Meir zt”l, teaches us that even if things aren’t ideal, optimal, etc. or maybe you aren’t as good of a person as you should be, you can still light up and be a great light! Just like Hashem helps an “oil” person to light up, so too He can make you light up! Even if you are in the depths, Rachmana LiTzlan/may the Merciful One save us, He can pull you up. This is great Chizuk/strengthening for everyone.
(From YUTorah.org. Told over by Reb Ari Mirzoeff shlita.)
In the Chanukah prayer, we say “the Greek kingdom rose against Your People to make them forget Your Torah and compel them to stray from the Statutes of Your Will.”
Rebbe Tzvi Hirsch HaKohen zt”l interprets the last phrase to mean that not only did the Yevanim want to suppress the observance of Torah; they also wanted to “brainwash” the Jews so that they should not even have the will to observe Torah.
(From Four Chassidic Masters)
Rebbe Tzvi Hirsch zt”l said: “When the Festivals; Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Succos are over, one is confronted with the oncoming winter months, like a person who is in a dark forest and cannot see his way, but he sees a light in the distance and heads toward it. Similarly, after Succos we head for the Lights of Chanukah.”
Sometimes things might get dark (i.e. bleak, etc.), Rachmana LiTzlan/may the Merciful One save us. But there is always a light. Hashem is always with us. And He is our light. Like Dovid HaMelech writes (Tehillim 27): “Of Dovid, Hashem is my Light and My Salvation…”
(From Four Chassidic Masters)
Now, with Hashem’s help, I would like to share with you some Chanukah stories:
It was the first night of Chanukah. Outside a snowstorm raged, but inside it was tranquil and warm. The Rabbi, Rebbe Baruch of Mezhibuz zt"l, grandson of the Baal Shem Tov zt"l, stood in front of the menorah, surrounded by a crowd of his Chassidim. He recited the blessings with great devotion, lit the single candle, placed the Shamash ("servant candle") in its designated place, and began to sing HaNairos Halalu. His face radiated holiness and joy; the awed Chassidim stared intently at him.
The flame of the candle was burning strongly. Rebbe and Chassidim sat nearby and sang Maoz Tzur and other Chanukah songs. All of a sudden, the candle began to flicker and leap wildly, even though there wasn't the slightest breeze in the house. It was as if it were dancing, or struggling. And then, it disappeared! It didn't blow out, there was no smoke, it just was not there anymore. It was as if it flew off somewhere else. The Rebbe himself seemed lost in thought. His attendant went over to relight the wick, but the Rebbe waved him off.
He motioned to the Chassidim to continue singing. Several times, between tunes, the Rebbe spoke words of Torah. The evening passed delightfully, and the Chassidim present had all but forgotten about the disappearing Chanukah candle.
It was nearly midnight when the harsh sound of carriage wheels grating on the snow and ice exploded the tranquility. The door burst open and in came a Chassid who hailed from a distant village. His appearance was shocking. His clothes were ripped and filthy, and his face was puffy and bleeding. And yet, in stark contrast to his physical state, his eyes were sparkling and his features shone with joy.
He sat down at the table, and with all eyes upon him, began to speak excitedly. "This isn't the first time I came to Mezhibuz by the forest route, and I know the way very well. But there was a terrible snow storm this week, which greatly slowed my advance. I began to worry that I wouldn't get here in time to be with the Rebbe for the first night of Chanukah. The thought disturbed me so much, I decided not to wait out the storm, but to plod ahead and travel day and night, in the hope that I could reach my destination on time.
"That was a foolish idea, I must admit, but I didn't realize that until too late. Last night, I ran into a gang of bandits, who were quite pleased to encounter me. They figured if I was out in this weather, at night, alone, I must be a wealthy merchant whose business could not brook delay. They demanded that I surrender to them all of my money.
"I tried to explain, I pleaded with them, but they absolutely refused to believe I had no money. They seized the reins of my horses and leapt on my wagon. They sat themselves on either side of me to keep me under close surveillance, and then drove me and my wagon off to meet their chief to decide my fate.
"While they waited for their chief to arrive, they questioned and cross-examined me in great detail, searched me and the wagon, and beat me, trying to elicit the secret of where I had hidden my money. I had nothing to tell them except the truth, and that they weren't prepared to accept.
"After hours of this torture, they bound me and threw me, injured and exhausted, into a dark cellar. I was bleeding from the wounds they had inflicted, and my whole body ached in pain. I lay there until the evening, when the gang leader came to speak with me.
"I tried to the best of my ability to describe to him the great joy of being in the Rebbe's presence, and how it was so important to me to get to the Rebbe by the start of the holiday that it was worth it to endanger myself by traveling at night.
"It seems that my words made an impression on him, or else he was persuaded by my adamancy even under torture. But whichever it was, thank G-d he released me from the handcuffs, saying: "I sense that your faith in G-d is strong and your longing to be with your Rebbe is genuine and intense. Now we shall see if this is the truth. I am going to let you go, but you should know that the way is extremely dangerous. Even the most rugged people never venture into the heart of the forest alone, only in groups, and especially not in a storm and at night. You can leave and try your luck. And I am telling you, if you get through the forest and the other terrible conditions safely, unharmed by the ferocious wild beasts or anything else, then I will break up my gang and reform my ways.
"If you actually reach the outskirts of the city, then throw your handkerchief into the ditch next to the road, behind the signpost there. One of my men will be waiting, and that is how I will know that you made it.
"I then became terrified all over again. The hardships I had already endured were seared into my soul, and now even more frightening nightmares awaited me. But when I thought about how wonderful it is to be with the Rebbe at the Menorah lighting, I shook off all my apprehensions and resolved not to delay another moment. My horse and carriage were returned to me and I set off on my way.
"There was total darkness all around. I could hear the cries of the forest animals, and they sounded close. I feared that I was surrounded by a pack of vicious wolves.
"I crouched down over my horse's neck and spurred him on. He refused to move in the pitch blackness. I lashed him. He didn't budge.
"I had no idea what to do. But at that moment, a small light suddenly flickered in front of the carriage. The horse stepped eagerly towards it. The light advanced. The horse followed. All along the way, the wild animals fled from us, as if the tiny dancing flame was driving them away.
"We followed that flame all the way here. I kept my end of the bargain and threw my handkerchief at the designated place. Who knows? Perhaps those cruel bandits will change their ways, all in the merit of that little light."
It was only then that the Chassidim noticed that the Rebbe's Chanukah light had returned. There it was, burning in the elaborate menorah, its flame strong and pure as if it had just been lit.
(From Chabad.org. Told by Rebbe Yerachmiel Tilles shlita).
(This one, too, is from Chabad.org): The first time Rebbe Menachem Kutner shlita and Rebbe Yossi Swerdlov shlita of the Chabad Terror Victims Project met Sgt. Ohad Benyishai of the Israel Defense Forces, he was lying unconscious in a hospital bed, having sustained significant trauma to his head. He had been critically injured this summer during “Operation Protective Edge” in Gaza, where he was deployed with his elite Egoz commando unit. At that point, it was uncertain if he would survive.
In the months that followed, Benyishai regained consciousness and slowly began relearning how to function. With great effort, he mastered the Hebrew alphabet, and had even managed to say two words, Ima (mom) and Abba (dad), but no more.
On the second night of Chanukah, the rabbis visited the Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, where he was recovering. There, around 70 wounded soldiers, their families and Chabad volunteers gathered for a special celebration and Menorah-lighting.
Benyishai was invited to light the menorah together with Kutner. The rabbi said the blessings, and Benyishai held the Shamash (helper candle) with his functional left hand. With the rabbi’s assistance, he lit the two candles.
Then suddenly, the room went quiet as Benyishai slowly began to mouth the words to “HaNairos Halalu” and “Maoz Tzur” along with Kutner. The familiar tunes that he had learned during his childhood had brought back his ability to speak. He was talking!
His parents ran to him, and showered him with hugs and kisses with tears streaming down their cheeks. They had their Chanukah miracle.
Please continue to pray for the ongoing recovery of Ohad ben Erica, and the brave men and women of the IDF who have sacrificed so much to protect our precious Homeland.
(From Chabad.org. Told by Rebbe Menachem Posner shlita)
Every year, Chanukah arrives just when we seem to need it most. When the days are at their shortest and the nights have grown unbearably long, the Menorah casts its glow upon a people hungry for light. In 1938, the entire world found itself sinking into a darkness unlike any it had known in modern history. If ever there were a need for light to guide our way, it was on this cold December evening in Germany, as the eighth and final day of Chanukah was about to begin.
The Geier family was sitting in their second-class compartment on a train headed from Berlin to Holland as they watched the winter sun slip beyond the horizon. It had been a long and terrifying trail that led from Kristallnacht (“The Night of Broken Glass”) to this moment. They could still hardly believe they had managed to obtain an American visa and were now finally on what they prayed would be an uneventful journey to freedom.
Yehuda and Regina Geier and their two children, Arnold and Ruth, spent the duration of the train ride staring out the window, nibbling on sandwiches, reading, dozing, and trying to behave as if the world were still a normal place. But unlike most of the other passengers, the Geier family remained acutely aware of the dangers that awaited them as the train approached the German-Dutch border. There, Nazis, German police, and officers of the Gestapo would all be present for a final check of passports and travel papers.
For Yehuda Geier, however, there was an additional heaviness that weighed on his heart. As an Orthodox Jew and a Chazzan/Cantor, his whole life had been devoted to following the ways of the Torah. Yet, here it was, almost nightfall, when the flames of the Chanukah Menorah should have been rising to spread their light, and he was forced to sit quietly in his seat with only the harsh glare of a naked bulb to illuminate the graying sky. Surrounded by strangers, he was afraid to strike a match or recite a blessing for fear of calling undue attention to himself and his family. Regina Geier, sensing her husband’s inner struggle, tried to reassure him that Hashem, Who sees and knows all, would surely understand his situation and, no doubt, grant him many more Chanukahs to celebrate properly.
Yehuda nodded gratefully, but did not seem comforted. In a place and time of such spiritual darkness, the light of the menorah seemed more important than ever – especially on this eighth night of Chanukah, which represents the culmination of the holiday, when all the candles are lit simultaneously to proclaim the miracle of Jewish survival. Under these dangerous circumstances, how could he possibly light the menorah? But, then again, how could he possibly not?
Yehuda turned the issue over and over again in his head as the train continued onward. Suddenly, the train screeched to a halt at the German-Dutch crossing, where it sat in the station for the longest ten minutes of Yehuda’s life as the border police and the Gestapo prepared to check everyone’s documents. He felt his wife’s body go still next to his, and even his children sat frozen in fear. One wrong answer, one nervous twitch, could mean the difference between escape and imprisonment, between a new life and certain death.
Then, it happened. A Chanukah miracle arrived at the German border just in the nick of time. With no warning, the entire station and every corner of the train was thrust into total darkness. All the lights were extinguished at the very same instant, leaving the passengers and the approaching officers groping in the darkness.
Without a second’s hesitation, Yehuda seized the moment and reached for his overcoat on the luggage rack above. He put his hand into one of the pockets and pulled out a small package. Before anyone realized what was happening, he struck a match, lit a candle, and quickly warmed the bottom of eight other candles. He then planted them firmly in a neat row upon the windowsill and, in a breathless whisper, recited the Chanukah blessings. As his family looked on in amazement, Yehuda carefully lit each candle and placed the ninth one – the Shamash – off to the side. In the bright warmth of the menorah, his face radiated joy and peace for the first time in months. Seeing the unexpected light in the window, the Gestapo and the border police came running. The sound of their boots striking the pavement with intensified blows echoed throughout the stillness.
Nevertheless, Yehuda continued to focus his thoughts on the Chanukah lights while his heart pounded as loudly and rapidly as the quickening footsteps.
When the officers burst through the door, Yehuda was braced for the worst, perhaps even the end. However, instead of Yehuda was braced for the worst, perhaps even the end responding with rage to this brazen display of Jewish ritual, the officers only noticed the opportunity that it provided. By the light of the flickering candles, they would now be able to see clearly enough to begin checking passports and papers, and so, with characteristic Nazi efficiency, they set to work. As soon as the process was completed and they were about to leave, the chief officer of the border police turned to Judah and thanked him personally for having had the foresight to carry “travel candles” on his trip.
Meanwhile, the Geier family sat in stunned silence for close to half an hour, unable to take their eyes off the windowsill. Just as the candles were beginning to grow dim, every light in the station suddenly flashed back on. Judah, still in awe at what he had just witnessed, put his arm around his twelve-year-old son. With tears in his eyes, he drew him close. “Remember this moment,” he declared softly. “As in the days of the Maccabees, a great miracle happened here.”
(From Small Miracles of the Holocaust. As told by Arnold Geier (Yehuda’s son) to Pesi Dinnerstein)
Late one night, HaRav Yisroel Salanter zt"l chanced to a shoemaker’s home. The shoemaker was sitting and doing his work by the flickering light of a candle that was about to go out.
"Why are you still working?" Reb Yisroel asked him "The hour is late. Besides, your candle will soon go out, and you won’t be able to finish.
"That’s no problem" answered the shoemaker "As long as the candle is burning, it is still possible to work and to repair."
Reb Yisroel was deeply impressed by these words, for if someone must work for their physical needs as long as the candle is lit, how much more so must one work to serve Hashem and their spiritual improvement as long as the Neshama/Soul, ‘Hashem’s candle’ is still in them, i.e. they are still alive.
(From Sparks of Mussar)
And finally, one last thought to end us off: It is taught in Chassidus that, though the “sealing of the Judgement” for our year is on Hoshana Rabbah, the Judgement is totally sealed on Chanukah. So if you feel you did not do proper Teshuva on the Yomim Noraim/High Holidays, do not despair; there is still time. And may Hashem help everyone to do proper Teshuva, Amein vi’Amein, so may it be His Will.
Let us all try to take the messages from this Chanukah to incorporate into our lives, with Hashem’s Help. There are so many great messages of the Chanukah and the candles that we did not even put into this, but are well worth learning. But just remember: No matter where or when, there is always light.
I wish a very Freilichen Chanukah to every single Jew and may Hashem grant everyone this, Amein vi’Amein.
at 10:41:00 AM