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A Contemporary Chanukah Message

The Torah reveals a fascinating understanding about the concept of time to us.  Time is not – as most people assume – a continuous line.  Rather, Hashem created one year that is the fabric of time that we use over and over again.  Thus, we can understand the deeper meaning of the blessing – She’oso nisim la’avoseinu, bayomim haheim baz’man hazeh—that Hashem made miracles for our ancestors in those days with THIS TIME.”  For, on Chanukah, 5774, we are using the very same time that the Macabees had in their miraculous victory over the Syrian-Greeks.

This is why certain times of the year have special potency in them.  The month of Adar is an especial time to litigate with a gentile since, in that very fabric of time, we had the remarkable success over Haman and his cohorts.  Similarly, Elul is a time for repentance since it was, at that precise time, that we did tshuva for the sin of the golden calf.  So too, the month of Av is a time of danger and wariness for Klal Yisroel since it was then that we experienced the destruction of the two temples and so many other horrific tragedies.  As we celebrate Chanukah, let us analyze what special power is invested in these eight days of the Holy Jewish calendar.

In Masechtas Shabbos, the Gemora gives us a clear answer.  It teaches that the Sages of the time [one year after the miracle—so that they could determine with their sensitive antennae—what lingered from the miracle and what had impressed been upon the fabric of time] enacted the Eight Days of Chanukah for Hallel and Hoda’ah, for Praise and Thanksgiving.  Literally, this means the saying of Hallel, and the inclusion of Al Hanisim in the Shemone Esrei and in our Bentching.

Both the Kedushas Levi and the Sfas Emes teach us a fundamental understanding of Chanukah when they say that from this Gemora we see that the time period of Chanukah is a glorious opportunity for one to improve and excel in the area of prayer.  Thus, in a very real way, we can call Chanukah the ‘Festival of the Heart’ since, as we know the Gemora tells us, “Eizehu avodah shehi b’lev?  Hevei omer zu tefilah  — What is the service of the Heart?  It is prayer.”  Thus, on Chanukah, a word whose very root is chinuch – which means to educate, it is a time to inculcate our families with the all-important lesson of taking out time to give thanks to Hashem.

The special Shir shel Chanukah, the Song of Chanukah, which we say every day is the psalm, ‘Mizmor – shir chanukas HaBais L’Dovid.’  In this psalm, we say how the very meaning of our life has value because of our prayer to Hashem.  Thus, we say to Hashem, “Ma betza b’domi b’rid’ti el shochas    What profit would there be in my blood if I go down in the pit?  Hayodecha ofor    Would the dust know You?  Hayagid Amitecha    Would it relate Your truth?”

This is one of the reasons why the month is called Kislev – for the word Kislev is an anagram for the letters ‘sach lo.’  On the one hand, this means, ‘To gaze at thirty-six,’ (since the word ‘lo,’ spelled lamed [30] – vav [6], is numerically thirty-six).  This is fascinating since the sum total of all the Chanukah candles used on all the nights together is thirty-six.  But ‘sach lo’ also means, ‘To look to Him,” namely to G-d, and it emphasizes the message of better connectivity with Hashem during this time of the year.  Similarly, the sign of the zodiac of the month of Chanukah is the rainbow, which was given to us because of Noach’s prayers as a divine sign for us to think about Hashem and improve our ways.

On Chanukah, there is an ancient custom that the children find delicious called Chanukah gelt, where we give gifts of money to our kids.  One of the reasons for this delightful practice is that we are mimicking the behavior of Avraham Avinu.  As we know, Avraham Avinu bestowed awesome hospitality all of his life.  When the recipients wanted to thank him effusively, he told them to thank the Creator instead, thus utilizing the opportunity of his chesed to introduce people to the G-d of the universe.  We too, after giving our children gifts, should use Chanukah gelt as an opportunity and, when they say thank you, we should cause them to pause and say, ‘Don’t just thank me.  Thank Hashem Yisborach!’  This is a timely lesson of thanksgiving for this Festival of the Heart.

There is a sad but powerful halachah included in the laws of Chanukah.  The Shulchan Orech teaches us that even a poor man must buy lights for the menorah and, if he has no money, he must sell even his clothing to buy the ingredients for his Chanukah lights.  At first glance this is very puzzling.  After all, the Torah is a great champion of human dignity.  Therefore, it is surprising that the Chanukah lights would override one’s clothing.

This perplexing halachah reveals a great and fundamental lesson of the essence of Judaism:  The importance of prayer, as represented by the menorah, is more important to the identity of a Jew than even his very clothing.  After all, it is for this reason that we are called Yehudim, the People who give thanks.  So, the next time we take those three steps forward to say our Shemone Esrei, let’s reflect urgently on how much this means to the very identity and the very essence of our souls.

We know that, when it comes to the Holocaust, the human mind cannot fathom six million deaths, or the loss of one-and-a-half million children.  Rather, many focus on the tragedy of one little girl like Anne Frank — and multiply by six million.  So too, during Chanukah, Antiochus and the wicked Syrian-Greeks committed many atrocities against the Jews; too many for us to fathom!  So, we look at one story – like Chana and her seven sons – with its tragic ending, and in that we begin to realize the many horrors that they compounded against us.

Why did we have to suffer so severely at the hands of the Yevonim?  The Bach tells us it was because the Kohanim were negligent in their Service.  Thus, we see once again that Chanukah came about through a weakening of devotion in Divine Service – which nowadays corresponds to our prayer.  Therefore, it is our job during Chanukah to make a commitment to a more meaningful and heartfelt prayer.

And as is eminently clear, we have much to prayer for: whether it is the sad plight of thousands of lonely singles, the anguish of the childless, the plight of the unemployed, the Jewish soldier on the Israeli border, the many who are sick, and those that suffer from marital discord, or children living on the fringe.  And, while we should certainly pray for them, Chanukah’s message is essentially that we should say thank you for all the gifts that we do have – for that is what Chanukah is — the Jewish Thanksgiving.

In the merit of our diligent attempts at prayer, may Hashem bless us that the Light of Chanukah should fill our homes the entire year, and may we be blessed with good health, happiness, and everything wonderful.