INSPIRATIONAL CHANUKAH THOUGHTS

By RABBI SHLOMO PRICE

I have already written (in "My Bar Mitzvah Speech") about how contradictory it is to make a Bar Mitzvah celebration that represents a milestone of reaching the privilege of doing mitzvos, and yet at these celebrations they have many things that are contrary to the Torah.

The problem is that people don't truly understand the significance of the Bar Mitzvah celebration.

I'm afraid that the same applies to lighting the Chanukah Menorah. Some people think we just celebrate the victory of the Jews over the Greeks as if we were stronger and better soldiers. Some old Chanukah songs that I remember as a kid only praise the might of Yehudah HaMacabi and his soldiers and forget that Hashem gave them the power to be victorious. In fact the name Macabi is the four letters Mem, Chof, Beis and Yud which stand for Mi Comocha Bo’ailim Hashem - Who is like You among the heavenly powers, Hashem. This is the banner that Yehudah HaMacabi would carry with him to make sure that he knew Who was orchestrating the war.

Also it wasn't just a victory of one nation over another. Rather it was a victory of one ideology over another. Torah values of spirituality over the Greek culture of being submerged in physical pleasures. As we say in the "Al Hanisim" prayer of Chanukah, "....when the wicked Greek kingdom rose up against Your people Israel to make them forget Your Torah and compel them to stray from the statutes of Your Will...."

So, when we light the Menorah and remember the significance of the victory, we should try to do things that will help us "remember His Torah and not to stray from the statutes of His Will."

How contradictory it is that as we watch the flickering Chanukah candles, we run after the Greek culture of watching the idiot box or go to the movies. Even if we can't completely get rid of this problem we should at least minimize it especially while the Chanukah lights are burning. We should spend that time learning or gazing at the lights and thinking about Hashgocho Protis- Divine Supervision (See The "Hashgocho Protis Vs. Coincidence Sicha).

[Of course you can also enjoy some "latkes - potato pancakes" and "sufganiyot-jelly doughnuts". But you can't make a mitzvah out of it. I once heard about an Israeli woman who ate "Duncan Doughnuts" on Chanukah and wanted to know if she complied with the "mitzvah" of eating sufganiyot, because the doughnut has a hole in it].

There is also a "custom" of gambling the night away with cards or a dreidel-a spintop. This is a spin off (pardon my pun) of the dreidel that was used during the era of the Chanukah victory. If we would understand the origin of the dreidel in the Chanukah era, we would realize that this too is totally the opposite of the spirit of Chanukah.

The Greeks made an evil decree that the Jews shouldn't learn Torah under the penalty of death. The Jews risked their lives and attended their yeshivos as usual. However they brought along little tops to spin, and they posted watchmen outside. When the watchmen saw a Greek officer approaching they warned the children who immediately started playing with their tops. This gave the Greeks the impression that they weren't learning rather playing.

How anti-Chanukah this is to use the very scheme they used to learn Torah at the risk of their lives, and we use it for totally the opposite.

It was once pointed out to me that the name of the Israeli Olympic games is called the "Maccabean Games". Of course the origin of the Olympic Games is the Greeks. Again, the very name Maccabi which is the symbol of the arch enemy of the Greek customs is used to describe one of the very customs that the Maccabeans fought valiantly against. Again we see how people don't realize the significance of Chanukah.

I now want to write some stories that may inspire us and give us something to think about on Chanukah.

Rabbi Paysach Krohn, in his book, "Echoes of the Maggid," p. 135, tells a beautiful inspirational story from Rabbi Shabsi Yudelevitz, z.t.l. (1924-96), one of the famous magiddim of Jerusalem. It's entitled "Broken to a Point."

It's about a poor Rabbi who, a 100 years ago, had to go to Milan Italy to collect money for his family. When he got off the boat he met a wealthy man. The man was Jewish and invited the Rabbi to spend Shabbos with him.

At the meal that night in the wealthy man's mansion, the Rabbi saw a beautiful closet filled with exquisite silverware, crystal bowls, flasks, and cups. Then he spotted what seemed to be way out of place in such a display-a broken glass flask, with sharp points of jagged glass jutting out. The wealthy man noticed the Rabbi's look and asked him if everything was all right. When the Rabbi excused his curiosity and asked about the broken flask, the wealthy man was more than happy to tell him the story.

The man was born in Amsterdam and came to Italy at the age of eighteen to help his sick grandfather run his business. Eventually, his grandfather died and his parents wanted him to liquidate the business and return to Amsterdam. The man however was very successful in the business and decided to remain in Italy. He was doing so well that he even opened up a branch. However, he was so engrossed in the business that one-day he forgot to daven Mincha. The next day even Shacharis slipped away and one by one he stopped doing Mitzvos. Eventually he married and had children but he was leading a secular life. Although he remembered that he was Jewish, his practice of Mitzvos was almost nil.

One afternoon ,he was walking in the street and saw some children playing. They all seemed to be very happy, but then he heard one of them screaming and crying bitterly. He kept repeating, "What will I tell my father? What will I tell my father? No one could console him. The wealthy man went to see what the problem was. He found out that the boy came from a poor family and that his father had saved a few precious coins throughout the winter to buy a flask of oil for Chanukah. His father warned him to come straight home with it and not to stop and play with his friends, as the flask may break. The boy didn't listen and sure enough, while he was playing, the flask broke and the oil spilled out.

The man consoled the boy and bought him a bigger flask of oil than he had and he sent the now happy boy straight home with the precious oil.

As the wealthy man was walking home that evening, the little boy's words rang in his ears. "What will I tell my father? What will I tell my father?" And then he thought to himself, indeed, what will I tell my Father? My Father in Heaven- after 120 years? He had drifted so far from Judaism that he forgotten that is was almost Chanukah. What excuse would he have when he stood before his Father in Heaven on that final Judgement Day?

The man walked back to where the children were playing and picked up the broken pieces of glass from the flask and took it home with him. That night, to the surprise of his wife and children, he lit a Chanukah candle.

The next night, he lit two, and with each passing night, he increased the amount of candles. He stared at the candles as they flickered and sparkled, remembering his parents' home back in Amsterdam. He had gone far away-maybe too far.

The wealthy man concluded his story, "That Chanukah was the beginning of my return to the observance of mitzvos. Eventually, with the understanding of my wife, we began training our children the way we were brought up. Our road back had started with that broken flask and the words of that boy, 'What will I tell my father?' That is why I keep that flask as a treasured memento of what changed my life."

Rabbi Krohn pointed out that these thoughts correspond to an interpretation Rabbi Meir of Premishlan, a great chassidic master (d.1773) a talmid of the Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760), gave to a similar phrase uttered by Yehudah when he was standing in front of the viceroy in Egypt, whom he did not realize was his brother Yosef.

Yosef had accused his brother Binyomin of stealing his silver goblet and wanted to keep him in Egypt, while the brothers returned to their father.

Yehuda, who had taken responsibility for Binyomin, exclaimed, "For how can I go up to my father if the youth is not with me." (Bereishis 44:34)

Rav Meir of Premishlan explains that this alludes also to a question we should ask ourselves. "How can we go to our Father in Heaven on Judgement Day if our youth (our children) are not with us, i.e., if we haven't educated our children to live according to the Torah?!"

Rabbi Krohn adds that the first Ger Rebbe, The Chidushei HaRim, R' Yitzchok Meir Alter (1789-1866), also sees Yehudah's expression as a question we should ask ourselves, "How can I go to my Father in Heaven if I have not recaptured my youth by repenting the sins of my early years?" [I saw both of these interpretations in the book, "Mayanah shel Torah - Wellsprings of Torah"- Parshas VaYigash].

We see from here that sometimes an appropriate remark at an opportune moment can change the life of the listener.

I'm sure that some of you also had such experiences or heard such stories. I would appreciate if you could share it with me by e-mailing them to me. Maybe I would use them, with your permission of course, for a future sicha.

I'm going to end off with a famous story about Rav Yisroel Salanter, who also was able to be inspired by seemingly simple words.

He once went to a shoemaker one night with a pair of shoes to fix. Rabbi Salanter asked the shoemaker if he could fix them that night. The shoemaker pointed to the half burned out candle that was flickering and said, "As long as the candle is burning I can mend the shoes."

Rav Yisroel came out of the shoemaker inspired, and kept repeating, "As long as the candle is burning, I can mend the shoes." He told his talmidim this is a very important lesson for all of us. As long as our neshomo-soul, which is compared to a candle, as it says "The candle of Hashem is the soul of a person..." (Mishlei 20:27), as long as this soul is burning-alive, then we can mend the shoes-we can do teshuvah-repentance on our sins.

I hope that we spend some time on Chanukah reflecting on these points, try to rid ourselves of some of the Greek culture that we are submerged in, and try to "mend our shoes" so that we will be prepared, after 120 years, to go to our Father in Heaven.

Have a Happy Chanukah.

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