Chanukah Reflections

By RABBI SHLOMO PRICE

I am writing these Chanukah reflections a few days before Chanukah. I hope people will take a few moments to ponder them.

I’m writing them with the sincere hope that they will be a merit-zechus for my oldest brother, Yerachmiel Yaccov Yosef ben Chaya Leah -Rabbi Joel Price from the Lower East Side of New York. He is suffering with a life-threatening tumor. It would be greatly appreciated if people would pray for him. May he have a refuah shleima bekarov- a speedy recovery.

The wonderful book, “Menucha Vesimcha” by Rabbi Mordechai Katz from the Jewish Education Program (J.E.P.), brings a famous question that people ask about Chanukah. Why is the emphasis of the celebration of Chanukah on the lighting of the candles and not more on the victorious battles that the Maccabees fought?

He answers that it is to teach us an important lesson. If we were to emphasize the victory over the Greeks, years later people would say that the reason we won was because we were better soldiers. They would forget that it was Hashem who was responsible for the victory. Hashem, therefore, had to perform a miracle that was impossible to explain logically, so that everyone would have to admit that it was from Hashem. Through this, everyone would come to realize that all the events of Chanukah are attributable to Hashem.

We find that this is true even in our times. When Israel was victorious in her wars against the Arabs who were far superior in weapons and in numbers, we tended to forget that these victories were due to Hashem; we could not win without Him. It is only when we forget that we are Jews and think that we are just like the other nations, that Hashem has to remind us that we will not win unless He so decides.

It is unfortunate that it took another terrible conflict like the Yom Kippur War of 1973 to prove that it is not “Kochi V’Otzem Yadi” (man’s strength) that makes the Jews victorious, but rather “Yisroel B’tach Ba’Hashem”- Israel must trust in Hashem.

I have already pointed out in “Inspirational Chanukah Thoughts” the importance of not running after the outer trappings of Chanukah, such as the latkes (potato pancakes), presents, and dreidle (spintop), and forgetting the inner essence of praising Hashem, learning His Torah, and adhering to His Mitzvos.

I thought of an interesting parable that will help us understand the foolishness of such conduct.

Imagine, your good friend from the U.S.A. is coming to visit you in Israel and he asks you what he should bring for you. You tell him how much you would appreciate it if he brought you three big boxes of “Kelloggs’ Rice Krispies.” The big day arrives and you greet him at the airport. He tells you that he brought you the boxes of “Kelloggs’ Rice Krispies” which he will give you when he unpacks.

You go with him to the Hotel, and he unpacks his suitcase and gives you the three boxes. You thank him profusely and go home anticipating your breakfast tomorrow morning with your favorite cereal. The next morning you open up the first box with relish and you findthat it is EMPTY. You try the other two boxes with the same result.

You call him on the phone expecting some sort of explanation, maybe it was a joke. Your friend tells you in all seriousness, that he brought you exactly what you asked for. “You asked me for three BOXES of “Kelloggs’ Rice Krispies,” you didn’t say that there had to be anything in them. I thought that you liked to read the funny jokes and stories that are on them.”

It is quite obvious that this friend from the U.S.A. is very foolish. When someone wants a box of “Kelloggs’ Rice Krispies,” the main thing he needs is the inner essence the Rice Krispies, not the outer trappings the box.

So too, we should realize that if we forget the inner essence of Chanukah then we are just as foolish as the friend from the U.S.A.

I’m going to conclude with an inspirational Chanukah story from “Chassidc Tales of the Holocaust”, by Yaffa Eliach.

On page 13, she tells a moving story from the Bluzhover Rebbe, Rabbi Yisroel Spira, zt’l, about the first Chanukah light at Bergen Belsen.

On the Eve of Chanukah a selection took place. Many of the inmates were tortured and later massacred. When the Nazis departed they left behind heaps of tortured and twisted bodies.

Then it was time to light the Chanukah lights. Of course they didn’t have a Menorah, oil or wicks. So they had to improvise. A wooden clog, the shoe of one of the inmates, was the menorah. A string from the prisoner uniform was the wick, and the black camp shoe polish was the oil.

Not far from the heaps of bodies, the living skeletons gathered to participate in the kindling of the Chanukah lights.

The Bluzshover Rebbe made the first two berachos -blessings on the lighting of the Chanukah candles with his melodious voice filled with sorrow and pain. Then, before he made the third blessing, he stopped and looked around as if he was searching for something.

But then he immediately turned his face back and chanted the third blessing (the “Sh’Hechiyanu”), “Blessed art Thou G-D…King of the Universe, Who has kept us alive, and has preserved us, and enabled us to reach this season.

After the Lighting, a certain inmate who always liked to debate matters of religion, faith and truth, approached the Rebbe with a question.

He said he understood the necessity of the kindling of the lights especially in these times. He even understood the significance of making the first two blessings. He said, however, “The fact that you made the third blessing is beyond me. How can you thank Hashem for keeping us alive…and enabled us to reach this season? How could you say it when hundreds of dead Jewish bodies are literally lying in the shadows of the Chanukah lights, when thousands of living Jewish skeletons are walking around the camp, and millions more are being massacred? For this you are thankful to Hashem? This you call ‘keeping us alive’?”

The Rebbe answered him that he was a hundred percent right. In fact, the Rebbe admitted that he hesitated and looked around before making the third blessing because of this very question. He wanted to consult with the other distinguished Rabbis who were standing next to him, if he indeed was permitted to make that blessing.

“But just as I was turning my head, I noticed that behind me a throng was standing, a large crowd of living Jews, their faces expressing faith, devotion and concentration as they were listening to the rite of the kindling of the Chanukah lights. I said to myself, that if Hashem, blessed be He, has such a nation that at times like these, when during the lighting of the Chanukah lights they see in front of them the heaps of bodies of their beloved fathers, brothers, and sons, and death is looking from every corner, if despite all that, they stand in throngs and with devotion listening to the blessings…; if indeed I was blessed to see such a people with so much faith and fervor, then I am under a special obligation to recite the third blessing.”

Many years later, after the liberation, this fellow sent regards to the Rebbe and said that the answer he gave him that dark Chanukah night in Bergen Belsen had stayed with him ever since, and was a constant source of inspiration during hard and troubled times.

Let the Rebbe’s answer be a source of inspiration during our hard and troubled times, especially here in Eretz Yisroel.

When we see that despite the danger and tragedy we witness constantly, more and more people pray to Hashem and come closer to Him. Even those that have been directly affected by these tragedies, turn to Hashem with faith and fervor, for this alone, we should make our “third blessing” with great feelings of emotions.

We, in this time which was designated for miracles, should come closer to Hashem and pray for the ultimate miracle of the complete Redemption and coming of the Messiah and May Hashem bless His Nation with Peace. Have a Happy Chanukah.

List of Rabbi Price's sichot
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