Darkest Before the Dawn

Miketz Shabbos Chanukah 5774-An installment in the series

From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School

-For series introduction CLICK

By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz-Mara D’Asra Cong Sfard of Midwood

And it came to pass at the end of two full years….  

-Bereshis 41:1

He put an end to darkness…( Iyov 28:3)

-Bereshis Rabbah 79:1

Behold, darkness will cover-up the earth, and the nations will be enveloped in palpably dark clouds; but HaShem will shine His light upon you, and His glory will be revealed through you.

-Yeshayah 60:2

 The Hebrew word ner is commonly mistranslated as “candle”.  In truth, a ner is a lamp that holds the oil and the wick.  In other words, it is the receptacle for the light. While the Torah is the very light itself; mitzvos, our physical, sometimes ritual, acts serve as “the awakening from below” and they evoke the sympathetic vibration of “the awakening from On High” — an outpouring of Torah light that settles into and illuminates these acts. In this way maasei hamitzvos-the acts of fulfilling the commandments, serve as lamps for the Torah’s light.  This is the meaning of the pasuk : “For the commandment is a lamp, and the Torah is light, and reproofs of ethics are the way of life. “(Mishlei 6:23)

The general rule of time-bound mitzvos is that they must be performed during the day. However, there are three mitzvos that are exceptions to this rule and that are meant to be performed at night from within the darkness davka; eating the korban Pesach, matzah and marror, reading the megillah (the nighttime reading is the primary one, the gemara says that it must be “repeated” by day) and ner Chanukah.  Rav Leibeleh Eiger explains that each of these mitzvos is exceptional because they derive from geulos– redemptions.

In each case the geulos in question are introduced in terms of illumination: Just before the redemptive exodus from Egypt the Torah proclaims; “…the children of Israel, however, had light in all the areas where they lived.” (Shemos 10:23) The hidden-miraculous salvation from genocide of Purim resulted in “The Jews had light and gladness, and joy and honor.” (Esther 8:16). While the geulah of Israel from the cultural-imperialism of the Seleucid Greeks is post-biblical, the mitzvah it engendered is the one that requires the kindling of actual lights.

The root of every geulah is the one appearing at the beginning of our Sidra; the release and redemption of Yoseph Hatzaddik from prison.  This is why the midrash identifies the end of Yoseph Hatzaddik’s prison term with the end of darkness.

Chronologically, there were no rabbinic mitzvos introduced after ner Chanukah.  Rav Leibeleh Eiger points out that, appropriately, the mitzvah of Ner Chanukah is the very last of all the mitzvos. As all the mitzvos serve as lamps illumined with the Torah-light to drive out and vanquish the darkness, there could be no final mitzvah more fitting, no more apt coup de grâce to put darkness out of its misery and bring us out of the misery of darkness, than the mitzvah of ner Chanukah. While other mitzvos do away with darkness metaphorically and metaphysically the mitzvah of ner Chanukah does so physically. Ner Chanukah exemplifies the convergence of mashal and nimshal-symbol — and that which is being symbolized.

It is no accident that Parashas Mikeitz is read almost every year on Shabbos Chanukah. While the redemption of Yoseph Hatzaddik is the root of all light-suffused geulos — the proverbial end of darkness, the geulah of Israel from the domination of the Seleucid Greeks is, to date, the last. Moreover it was this last one that engendered the final mitzvah-lamp that serves as the ultimate paving stone on the bridge that leads to Mashiach and the truly final redemption.

Our sages taught that דלית נהורא אלא ההוא דנפיק מגו חשוכא – “that there is no light other than the light which emerges from within the darkness” (Zohar II Tetzaveh 184A).  Taken to its logical conclusion it follows that the deeper and duskier the darkness is, the more dazzling the light that comes out of it will be.  No galus-exile has been gloomier and obscured by more shadows than our present one.  It has endured and oppressed us for millennia and has so masked any glimmer of hope that it beggars credulity that any light will ever really emerge from it. But, paradoxically, it is precisely because this darkness seems so impenetrable that it is the harbinger of, and guarantees that, the greatest light is yet to come, a light that was hitherto unimaginable.

Unto itself the light of an individual Chanukah menorah is a humble, almost negligible thing.  Yet the synergy of the neros Chanukah in concrete practice of all of Israel collectively, the unification of these metaphorical and, simultaneously, tangible mitzvah-lamps has the power to illuminate our redemption from within the darkness, until Mashiach’s coming.

Adapted from Toras Emes-Chanukah 5630-1870 A.C.E. D”H Ki (pp 56-57)

The 60 Second Guide to Chanukah

The Battle of the Spiritual vs the Physical
To understand any Jewish Holiday it is helpful to restate the foundation of Judaism, which is that there is a G-d, who is completely spiritual who created a world with physical and spiritual parts. Man is the only creation with both a spiritual side (the soul) and a physical side (the body). The Jewish people’s role is to lead mankind to an integration of the physical into the spiritual. We accomplish that by filling our lives and the world with G-d focused thoughts, speech and actions.

Physical Orientation of the Greeks

After the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem, the presence of G-d in the world was much less evident. Even though the temple was rebuilt, man’s spiritual awareness of G-d was greatly diminished in the Second Temple period. Concurrent with the diminishment of G-d awareness was the rise of Greek thought and culture with its focus on man and the physical universe.

The Spiritual Battle Against the Jews
The initial conflict of Chanukah pitted Jews who had assimilated into Greek culture and abandoned all spiritual orientation, against Jews still focused on the Jewish mission of integrating the spiritual into the physical. Eventually the Greek government joined the anti-spiritual fight and the Talmud mentions three decrees: no Shabbos because it is a testimony that G-d created the physical world, no Bris Milah because it signifies that even the most physical aspect of man must have a spiritual orientation, and no declaration of the new month (Rosh Chodesh) because it shows that even time is spiritually sanctified by the Jews.

The Military Victory
A small group of Jews decided to fight against the Greek spiritual oppression. Although badly outnumbered, the spiritually oriented Jews led by Mattisyahu eventually succeeded in expelling the Greeks from Jewish areas in Israel and from the Temple in particular. The fact that the victory was a miracle was not overwhelmingly apparent, because it sometimes happens that the weak overpower the strong in military battle.

The Miracle of the Oil

When the Jews reclaimed the temple they wanted to perform the temple’s daily Menorah lighting with spiritually pure oil, which would take eight days to prepare. They found one container of sealed purified oil which would last for only one day. They lit it and it miraculously burned for eight days. It was thereafter instituted that every Jewish home should light candles for the eight days of Chanukah in celebration of this miracle and our success in defeating our spiritual enemies.

Appreciating Miracles
The Hebrew word for miracle is Nes which means a sign. A miracle is a sign that there is a force beyond nature, namely G-d. Although G-d is in reality always present, He is often hidden in our world. In fact the Hebrew word for world is Olam, comes from the same root as the Hebrew word for hidden: the physical world hides the presence of G-d. When we learn about the spiritual realities of G-d’s world or do spiritual acts such as lighting the Chanukah Menorah we increase the G-d awareness in ourselves and in the world and continue to march towards the fulfillment of the Jewish people’s spiritual mission.

Chanukah’s Message of Inspiration

Is growth the mission of the Jew or his essence?

Can we stay in the same place or are we always rising falling?

What was special about Aaron HaCohen’s service and what is the message for us?

How does our lighting of the Chanukah menorah bring out the great traits of Aaron in us?

How can we use Chanukah to spark real growth?

R’ Moshe Schwerd gave a fantastic shiur this past Moatzei Shabbos which provided answers to these questions.

Click here for Chanukah’s Message of Inspiration.

Santa and the Little Jewish Girl

By Marsha Smagley
Twas the night before Xmas, (or maybe a week before),
When all through the house, (that is. my best friend’s house),
Not a child was stirring, not even a mouse… (Except for the little Jewish girl, that would be me)
In hopes that.. (Santa) soon would be there! (That is until the little Jewish girl chased him away!).

The Episode
When I was four years old, I told Kathy, my best friend who was Catholic, and her three siblings, that there was no such thing as Santa Claus. The little Jewish girl (that would be me) thought she was supposed to tell the truth. Although I do not remember many things from when I was four years old, unfortunately, I vividly remember that one.

It took place in a modest apartment in Chicago in the early 1960’s. The little Jewish girl of fair complexion, with very short thick strawberry blonde hair, stood in front of her best friend and her three siblings, all contently nestled on the couch in their apartment, and innocently, did the unthinkable…
Read more Santa and the Little Jewish Girl

R’ Moshe Schwerd – Chanukah: Shielding Our Children from Assimilation

…the strong relationship between Chanukah and Succos.
…the different nature of Persumei Nissa (publicizing the miracle) on Chanukah
…what the Greeks were claiming back then
…what the non-Jewish nations want from us today
…where we are failing in the battle against assimilation and how we can succeed
…and more

Download the mp3 – R’ Moshe Schwerd – Shielding Our Children from Assimilation (right click and save target as).

And from a few years back: how the present-giving orientation of the holiday threatens to usurp its purpose. Recapture the essence of the holiday.

Download the mp3 – R’ Moshe Schwerd – Chanukah and American Materialism (right click and save target as).

Chanukah – Beyond the Facade

By Yered Viders

Our homes are illuminated with the timeless Chanukah lights and the timeless message they convey. Looking at the lights, I wondered why the B’nei Binah (“Men of Insight”) — whom we acclaim in Ma’oz Tz’ur for establishing the Festival of Chanukah — selected such a mundane way of commemorating the historic miracle. Light a candle. That’s it?

Imagine Jewish leadership instituted a Festival to commemorate the recent miracles associated with the Gaza attacks. What would be a fitting, meaningful tribute? What commemorative event could really drive home the message of emunah, bitachon and Hashem’s secure watch over His People and His Land? A parade? A military re-enactment? No, I got it. Let’s turn on our living room lights at sunset and leave them on for 30 minutes!

Truth be told, while we associate candles with “special events,” in days of antiquity, candles were just a means of illumination. They were the modern-day equivalent of the 60 watt bulb that enabled our forefathers centuries ago to remain productive after the sun had set. Of all the ways of commemorating the miracles of Chanukah -– what’s so significant about the seemingly insignificant candle?

Lest the rarefied days of Chanukah be lost in a torrent of doughnuts and latkes, it behooves us to consider this point.

The answer, I believe, is to train our powers of perception to register what lies beneath the service. The symbolism. The depth. The “more than meets the eye.” As oppose to the “what you see is what you get” philosophy of the Greek regime. Yavan thinking was staunchly averse to attributing anything spiritual to nature, history or the human condition. Face value. One dimension. Reality begins and ends with what’s tangible.

To uproot this sinister mindset, our forefathers — true B’nei Binah — crafted the perfect “ritual” to highlight the centrality of what lies beneath the surface. If you want — it’s just a candle. It’s just a mundane, functional way of illuminating the home. On the other hand, if you choose, it’s so much more than just a candle. It’s a “symbol,” and if you double-click on that symbol you can tap into deep spiritual reservoirs brimming with timeless lessons of emunah, bitachon, mesiras nefesh and the Jewish People’s unique capacity to live above nature and history. Behind that flickering light you can discover all the fundamentals of faith that have sustained us throughout the centuries.

For better or for worse, we live in a non-thinking generation. Many scholars have noted that the attractive “-isms” of generations past have imploded upon themselves, leaving only a few misguided souls truly championing a particular philosophical outset. What, then, has filled the void and competes with our capacity to think deeply into matters? The media, for one. We are bombarded with advertisements and “tidbits” of information on seemingly every nook and cranny of our environment. Our human interactions are quite often at a shockingly shallow level as we jot off the next text while waiting at a light. We are a headline-society without, seemingly, the time, patience or interest for plumbing the depths. Are we under military attack? No, thankfully not; but our precious minds that have the capacity to seek emes and our Yiddishe eyes that have inherited the capacity to identify Hashem behind the opaque crust of nature and history are threatened everyday with the allure of the superficial view.

To spur us on in this fight for depth, we have a tremendous debt of gratitude to the Sages who instituted Chanukah –- not just that they saw fit to give us the enlightened days to endure the winter (and the long winter of galus) but the manner in which the B’nei Binah established the celebration: encouraging and inspiring us to retain our behind-the-scenes perception in a world where façade masquerades as the coin of the realm. Let us live up to the challenge of the Chanukah lights and may we merit to see depth in ourselves, in one another and our world at large.

Chanukah: Overcoming Our Greekness

By Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller
Dear friends:

Chanukah is here!

When you think of the victory of light over the darkness that the ancient Greeks tried to spread, you can’t help but think of the world as it is today, sit by the light and know that there is light in the darkest times.

Everything that we think of as “light,” becomes “dark” in a world in which there is no spirituality. The Greeks weren’t so different than today’s “spokesmen”. They saw the human being as the world’s center.

Everything that makes you a member of a unique people demands that you see things very differently. You didn’t emerge as a Jew out of nowhere. G-d promised the patriarchs that the traits that they developed would live in their descendants beyond their lifetimes. Their heritage is reflected in our value system.

The three most severe sins are idol worship, sexual immorality, and murder. Avraham’s dedication to chessed (kindness) gives us the fortitude to resist temptation to the sins of sexual immorality. You can’t be a giver and at the same time an exploiter; the Greeks negated this principle completely. To them, any relationship that gives gratification to the person more in power is legitimate and healthy.

Today the plague of intermarriage is the way secular humanism, an offspring of Greek thought, is still conquering us, not physically but by making our uniqueness as a people irrelevant. It feels like the most normal thing in the world.

Yitzchak’s dedication to G-d was absolute. The ultimate “idol” is human ego. The moment that Yitzchak showed his willingness to give his life to do Hashem’s will, he transmitted the ability to stand up and deny every possible form of idol worship to his descendants.

The Greeks’ obsession with defiling the Bais HaMikdash showed how completely they understood (not necessarily consciously) that it opposed everything they stood for. It was a place of miracles, awareness, depth, joy! The core of all of this was a transcendental, invisible G-d who could never be totally understood even by the greatest human minds. But the heritage that the Greeks left us is the way looking at every religious ritual as something irrelevant at best and contemptuous at worst. The only god they and their descendants still worship is human ego.

Yaakov grasped the nature of the soul and its eternal connection to G-d. He could never justify murder. By definition, murder means killing someone who is of no threat to you. That would mean somehow seeing him as “unnecessary” in the greater scheme of things. Yaakov saw other people as eternal, precious, and attached to G-d. To the Greeks, human life had only relative value. They habitually abandoned deformed infants to die of exposure on their hauntingly beautiful hillsides.

The clash between these cultures continues.

These issues are not new. The Greek exile is very much with us emotionally and sociologically. The issues are still the same.

There is a fourth issue as well, one that you have to take to heart if you want to make a change. The Haftorah (prophetic portion read after the Torah reading on Shabbos) tells us not just about the three grave sins, but also of one that is worse still. It is oppression of your fellow man. In a similar vein, the sages tell us that there are three cardinal sins, idol worship, sexual immorality, and murder, but that lashon hara parallels all of them in its gravity.

Lashon hara means saying negative or damaging things about your fellow Jew for no positive purpose. It reflects disintegration of our sense of peoplehood, and our grasp of the unique spirituality of each one of us. This is the tikkun that we face now more than ever, because “fixing” the other issues is almost impossible without an underlying sense of love and unity.

Yosef epitomizes both. His early revelation of his dreams reflected not (as people think) his ego as much as his sense of responsibility for his brothers. This comes out more when, as the later parshas reveal, he was able to put aside every normal human desire to humiliate them in return for their betrayal. His sense of their significance was based on his recognition of what it meant to be part of the Jewish people.

In Yosef’s own moment of temptation, when Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him, what saved him was seeing Yaakov’s image before his eyes. Yaakov was able to pass on to his children what the glory of being a human being is really about. The reason that Yosef resisted her (even though, as the Midrash says, she threatened to have him tortured to death), was that immorality would defile him as a human being. His esteem for his own humanity was the basis of his esteem for his brothers.

Chanukah is the time when you can look at the light of the menorah, and let it reflect the light of your soul, and the souls of the people in your life! Enjoy watching the flames, eating the latkes and/or sufganiot, and have a great holiday.

Love always,


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Chanukah: Torah and Play Do Go Together

By David Feiner

One of the more interesting and different stories related to Chanukah are those surrounding Dreidels. According to many traditional accounts, the Dreidel was used as ruse to cover up the studying of Torah when Greek soldiers would come upon groups of children with their teachers. Rather than observing Torah study, they would see a bunch of children playing with a top.

While the stories surrounding Dreidels are amusing and cute, there is a serious, yet ironic lesson that can be learned from them. The irony comes from the fact that the Greeks attempted to do away with Judaism and the study of Torah and the fact that Chanukah is generally considered to be a time when extra Torah study is encouraged and may even be considered a second Matan Torah similar to that stated by the commentaries on Megillat Esther.

However, consider the following:
There is considerable focus on succeeding in Torah learning. This pressure is mostly felt by children, who are expected to be studying all the time. In fact, several Rabbonim have said (or in some cases, had proclamations attributed to them) that it is better for children to study Torah all the time and have no time for play or to rest than to have a vacation and risk having someone go OTD. However, one could learn the exact opposite from this part of the Chanukah story – that in fact one should take breaks from learning. This is especially so since study of Torah never ceased and one could argue that the study was even more intense in the years that followed.

In addition to this, many people are shamed of their hobbies and distractions. Ba’alei Teshuva as well as FFBs are subjected to this and as a result many have feelings of guilt when it comes to taking time from learning and using it for something different, such as vacation. With this pressure and guilt, it is nearly impossible to succeed in learning on any level.

Therefore one can learn the following lesson: It is true that Torah is our life-blood and we are expected to study whenever possible, as the verse in Yehoshua states. One should absolutely be Kovea Itim. However, it is necessary to take time and relax and if necessary, do something completely unrelated to the study of Torah such as playing baseball. While it is true that the playing with the Dreidel was in a life-threatening situation, it could also be said that non-stop Torah study with no breaks can also cause a similar situation, except that the individual becomes burnt-out and loses interest.

The time will be considered well used since upon returning from a break, the mind is refreshed and can process information better, which means that learning Seder will be more productive. Consequently, this year, let us take a lesson and study Torah as best we can, but also take the time to relax when necessary.

Chanukah – the Prototypical Baal Teshuva Holiday

What’s the prototypical Baal Teshuva holiday? Perhaps it’s Rosh Hoshana with it’s new beginning. Or Yom Kippur with it’s focus on Teshuva. Or the unparalleled joy available us on Succos. Or the rediscovering of true freedom on Pesach. Or the celebration of our new found wisdom in Torah on Shavous. Or partying for the sake of Heaven on Purim.

Let’s make the case for Chanukah. The Greeks opposed Judaism because it’s G-d centered viewpoint was in direct conflict with their nature centered perspective.

Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky explains:

The Greeks believed that the only reality is the physical reality of nature, and that nature was an absolute. If there is a drought, it is the result of natural cycles, and man has to wait out these natural cycles. If calamities befall the world, we search for geopolitical, economic, social, or psychological factors to explain them. G-d has no input in the world after its creation, and it is propelled by fixed forces.

The Jews believed that there is an ongoing relationship between G-d and man, and that the laws of nature are related to a spiritual reality. These two ideas are embodied in Shabbath and in Kiddush HaChodesh, sanctification of the New Moon. Shabbath, the seventh day, imbues the six days of creation with a Kedusha, an INTERNAL spiritual reality which the Greeks denied could exist. And Shabbat embodied a Brith, a covenant, between G-d and the Jewish people, testifying to a unique relationship that existed on an ongoing basis between them. Kiddush HaChodesh manifests man’s influence over the spiritual process. Without man’s input, there are holidays with no holiness. Man can actually create (hidden) spiritual reality.

Rabbi Karlinsky explains how the miracle of the oil brings home the message that the physical is rooted in the spiritual:

The Mishkan and the Beit Hamikdash are the meeting places between infinite G-d who descends to manifest his presence in the finite world, and finite man who strives to elevate himself to the heights of an infinite G-d. It is the most tangible manifestation of the concept of “chibur elyon v’tachton,” the unification of the transcendent spiritual world with the material physical world.

But the challenge of a Jew is to reveal that unification in the ongoing functioning of the world, in nature, and in man himself.

The rising and setting sun, the rainfall, the birth of a baby, and all the daily events which we take for granted as “nature” are in fact as miraculous as a one-day quantity of oil burning for eight days. To answer the classic question of the Beit Yosef, we can understand the eight days of Chanukah as our declaration and as a revelation of the existence of Divine reality in every aspect of nature, an identity between the one day for which the oil burnt naturally and the seven days when the Menora burnt with no natural explanation. The days of miraculous burning were made possible through the recognition of that inner reality of the natural burning, a reality that truly exists only because of the unification of the Divine with physical matter. This is a reality not apparent when one looks only at the surface, limited to observable nature, represented by the number seven.

I think this is what attracts many BTs to Obsrvant Judaism. They sense that there’s something greater than the physical and when the portal of Torah introduces them to the world of the spiritual they know they’ve found the truth.

Unfortunately many ex-BTs don’t actually cross the threshold to the reality of spirituality through Torah, Tefillah and mitzvos so they retreat back into the world of the physical.

Chanukah is the prototypical holiday of the Baal Teshuva because it’s focus on the battle between the physical and the spiritual is familiar territory for us. It’s also our holiday because it keeps us aware that we need to continue to learn and progress in Torah, Tefillah and mitzvos to continue to hold on to that spiritual reality.

An Issue of Trust

An Excerpt from

An Issue of Trust

by Rabbi Noson Weisz

Parshat Mikeitz overlaps this week with the celebration of Chanukah. Interestingly, it brings up an issue that defines the very essence of the holiday — bitachon, trust in God.

But the story of Chanukah illustrates a deeper concept of bitachon as well. The victory over the Syrian Greeks that Chanukah serves to commemorate is the redemption of one of the four major exiles of Jewish history.

When the earth was astonishingly empty, with darkness upon the face of the deep (Genesis 1:2). Rabbi Shimon interpreted this verse as referring to the four kingdoms that took Israel into exile. The word “empty” refers to Babylon, as it is written, I have seen the land and behold it is empty (Jeremiah 14); “astonishingly” refers to Persia, as it is written, and they made extreme haste; and the word “darkness” refers to Greece, who darkened the eyes of Israel with their edicts, because they said to them “write on the horns of the ox that you have no share in the God of Israel…” (Genesis Rabba 2:4)

Each of the four kingdoms is distinguished by the fact that it provides an alternative organizing principle to the one offered by Israel around which human society can be organized. As humans are intelligent, they cannot live in a senseless world.

Israel explains the world as a place God created in which man can earn his reward by serving God. But the Greeks envisioned the world as a self-contained entity. God was a part of it, but Aristotle defined God as a first cause who created the world not because He chose to, but because it was in His nature to do so. Consequently, the world He created was exactly the world He was compelled to create. Man has no recourse but to come to terms with the world he lives in, for the natural world constitutes his entire reality. Greek culture rejects Judaism on the grounds of practicality.

This rejection is focused more at Torah study than at actual observance. The investment of so much effort in knowledge that does not seem to improve man’s lot by an iota seems futile to the Greek mind. All the divisions of knowledge organized by Aristotle were designed to improve man’s lot.

Jews cannot live without a close relationship with a personal God.

But perhaps it can be argued that Judaism is a practical necessity for Jews as Jews cannot live without a close relationship with a personal God. Just as one doesn’t think of one’s children in terms of practical advantages, and would never consider selling them for any kind of price, an emotional attachment to God cannot be measured in terms of its utility either.

Maharal explains that this is the proposition the Greeks were shooting down by making the Jews write on the horns of the ox. This ox is a reference to the golden calf. If the people who stood at Mount Sinai could serve an idol a mere forty days after the experience of bonding with God in such an intensive way, this amply demonstrates that Jews can manage quite well without their attachment to this God of theirs. In the post- First Temple world, Judaism is of no practical or emotional necessity, so why stubbornly cling to it?

The downside of Greek knowledge, which is fully shared by the modern secular culture (which is its great grandchild) is that it is forced to accept a pointless universe. If the universe was not created for any purpose by an intelligent God who designed it in conformity to His purpose, it just is. And, human beings, as they are a part of this pointless universe, also have purposeless lives — they live and they die and it all makes no difference.

It is precisely in this area that Torah knowledge is focused. The Torah teaches us the purpose of the universe. It explains how and why it was created, what God wanted to accomplish with it, and how the purpose of human life relates to God’s design. Man lives in a world of relationships, not in a world of practicalities. The practicalities of the world are related to its purpose and have no importance in themselves. They merely provide the venue in which the relationship between God and man can develop.


The clash of cultures that Chanukah commemorates was over the willingness of the Jewish people to live in a practical but purposeless world, or to insist to the point of self-sacrifice on leading lives of significance and meaning.

Bitachon is only rational in a word that has purpose and meaning. If this is truly such a world, than we can place our trust in God that He will never allow considerations of practicality to force us into leading meaningless lives. No matter what economic or military force may be aligned against the practice of Judaism, a Jew can always succeed in leading his life according to Torah values if he is willing to undergo some self-sacrifice.

Bitachon is the certainty that God will never demand more self-sacrifice than one is capable of. A person who approaches life with bitachon learns to expand his own self-perceived limits. He knows that, if God asks him for more self-sacrifice, then he is capable of demonstrating it.

Read the whole piece here.

Let Your Fingers Do the Mitzvos

Just Released in Time for Chanukah!

by Bracha Goetz

Published by Judaica Press, 2010

Let Your Fingers Do the Mitzvos is a new book for little children that is full of tremendous potential. It enables children to actually experience the joy of doing mitzvos while the book is being read. The two dimensional children in the book’s illustrations transform into three dimensional finger “puppets” when children put their fingers through the holes on each page – and act out each mitzva!

As we watch, our children themselves give life, not only to the cardboard boys and girls in the book – but also to the mitzvos they pretend to perform. Let Your Fingers Do the Mitzvos is ideal for children coming from observant families where they get to see these mitzvos actualized, and it is also an engaging gift to give to a young Jewish child who does not ordinarily have the opportunity to experience all these customary mitzvos.

Children love to pretend, and with this book, they can get a real taste of the pleasure that is possible in doing mitzvos such as walking in Eretz Yisroel, dancing on Simchas Torah, baking challah, giving tzedakah – and even expressing gratitude to a parent with a great big hug. Their little fingers, stuck through the holes of this sturdy and colorful board book become either arms or legs, depending upon what’s needed to take part in each mitza!

Let Your Fingers Do the Mitzvos will be enjoyed again and again by young children who can fully delight in this interactive and novel book. It can be found in local Jewish bookstores and online at Judaicapress.com.

Are You a Closet Hellenist?

By Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

The Greeks centered their opposition to the Jews on three religious laws that one the surface of things couldn’t be less threatening to them or their way of life. Why would a Greek concern himself about someone else circumcising his son? If a neighbor likes having three rather lavish meals on Saturday after attending the synagogue why let it occupy space in your mind? The most puzzling was their antagonism towards consecrating the new moon, a religious ceremony that had no observable impact other than being the basis of the Jewish calendar. Can you imagine losing any sleep over when Ramadan comes out next year?

The underlying antagonism was caused by what these commandments represent. Circumcision is a statement. It tell you that you are not born perfect, that perfection has to be earned, and that the path towards perfection requires a certain degree of sacrifice, and a certain measure of authentic submission to a force higher than your own ego. Nothing could possibly be less Greek.

Shabbos takes us even further from the Greek vision of a human centered world. What we say by keeping Shabbos is that even our creativity and our ability to dominate nature and make it our own, is not the end of the story. The highest level from our point of view is taking all of our creative energy and saying, “let go. It’s time to step back and see what God, not I, created”. When you see things from that angle, it isn’t hard to see what was so offensive about defining time through ritual instead of through human observation.

What all of this tells you is that this is the time of year that you can decide once and for all that you can finally stop being a closet Hellenist. You body, your endeavors and your sense of reality can all go beyond the limitations of the little castle called “me” and explore a new planet, one called “transcendence”. You can be bigger than your ego and your assumptions.

Let the light of the candles that reflect eternal truth give you enough light to step into the next phase of your life, into a more holy and God aware future.

Visit Rebbetzin Heller’s Website for more articles.

Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller will be speaking to women in Kew Gardens Hills,
Tonight, Thursday, November 18th at Congregation Ahavas Yisroel – 8:15 PM
147-02 73rd Ave, Flushing, NY 11367.
The topic is: “Becoming a Builder: Creating and Enriching Successful Marriages”.
Admission is free.

The Eight Neshamas Of Chanukah

There are countless Torah volumes dedicated to Chanukah, its deep meaning and ramifications. One question I have never seen addressed is the
following: We know that Hashem runs the world through Midah Kneged Midah, (the way one acts is the way Hashem reacts). Why, then, was the consequence of the Yidden going out to battle rewarded with the miracle of the oil?
What is the intrinsic connection between their actions and a miraculous flame?

To answer the question, we must understand the circumstances of the time.
It was a tragic period, one in which our nation had never before experienced. We were infused with foreign morals. A new set of values began to prevail in the hearts and minds of the precious Klal Yisroel. Mitzvos and Torah learning were discarded and ignored. The Torah and the very fabric that we clutched onto to guide and unify us was being torn away. There were many casualties. An entire movement of Jewish sympathizers emerged amongst the people. Many put their hope into a false doctrine as they fell into the lure of the culture of the times.

You probably assume that I am referring to the Greek Empire and to the time of Chanukah. I am not. I am referring to our culture and the state of Klal Yisroel today. “Bayamim hahem bazman hazeh” – In those days as in our time.

The inexperienced and courageous Yidden took arms. With relentless determination they pursued the enemy. They fought for Mitzvos, for the Torah, and for G-d. They fought for their families and their future generations. They were prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice for the Jewish people. It was a time that called for Meseras Nefesh – the giving of one’s Nefesh/soul for the cause. They rose to the challenge. I am now, referring to the time of Chanukah.

What happened to us? Where are our spears? Where is our commitment?

“Ner Hashem nishmas adam” – The flame of Hashem is the soul of man. I believe there is a reason why upon return from the battlefield, the Chashmonaim were rewarded with the Chanukah miracle. Simply, the Chashmonaim were willing to give their Neshama/flame away for the eternity of the Jewish people. In turn, they were rewarded with a miraculous flame.

That is what each light of Chanukah represents: the souls of the Jewish people. Klal Yisroel was reignited and would now rise on high in its service to its Father in heaven.

Why eight flames?

Statistically it has been calculated that if every Frum Jew would reach out to just eight unafiliated Jews, we would have assimilation licked! Eight …
could the message for us on this Chanukah be any clearer?

The word for eight is Shemonah. The Mekubalim explain that it is the same letters as Nishama.

Today we are not asking for Meseras Nefesh. For generations, we have lit the Menorah with care and love. A seemingly small gesture, but one that has ignited the bitter, dark exile. Like a flame, when one reaches out and touches another, nothing is lost. It only takes a little love, a little warmth.

The Bnai Yissaschar explains that hidden in the flames of Chanukah is the light of Moshiach. Now, is it any wonder that igniting these flames will usher in the time of our redemption?

“Bayamim hahem bazman hazeh” – In those days as in our time. May we all have the fortitude to go a bit beyond our comfort zone and reach out this Chanukah. Through the wonderful Mitzvah of Kiruv, may we all experience great light in our own lives, as well as the lives of our families and all of Klal Yisroel.

Some Questions about Chanukah?

A few questions about Chanukah:

Do most of your non-frum neighbors, friends and relatives light a Chanukah menorah?

What does Chanukah mean to you?
– Seeing the miracles in our lives.
– The need to fight against persecution.
– Understanding the limitations of a man centered society.

What actions has Chanukah inspired you to take?

Should We Distance Chanukah From Xmas?

Many families celebrate Chanukah with gift giving. Some people are concerned that this makes Chanukah look a lot like Xmas.

Should we refrain from giving gifts to distance Chanukah from Xmas?

Should we ask our relatives to eliminate or tone down the gift giving?

Should we consider our children’s disappointment in a reduced gift-giving scenario?

Are BTs more sensitive about this issue?

What major messages of Chanukah do you try to impart?

Kislev – Make a goal, (and we don’t mean the Guinness Book of World’s Record on eating latkes.)

Keshet – bow

The Jewish astrological symbol for the month of Kislev, is the bow – from the bow and arrow. While this symbol has a number of implications, one of them is to focus on a goal. An archer must aim well for the bow to do its job.
What are your goals? If they are physical, material, like $100,000, a new car, a buffed bod, then they have no potential to give you truly lasting joy. Just as the physical world is temporary, all the joy we get from it is also only temporary.

Don’t get distracted

When the baseball season is over, football, hockey, and basketball seasons get rolling. When the NHL and NBA are done its back to baseball. You can be a sports fan all year long. Watching sports can be fun, and when “your team” wins it can make you happy. But the happiness is only temporary. If you don’t access joy in spiritual things, the happiness of winning the Super Bowl is over when you come home from the game, or turn off the T.V. and you go back to lacking happiness. People who lack happiness and meaning will seek distractions. They will use a Jägerbomb or an Adam Sandler movie. There’s nothing wrong with all of these things. There’s nothing wrong with movies, sports, and alcohol. It’s what we use them for is the issue. If we’re using them for enjoyment to distress or put us in a better mood to enhance our life or allow us to serve God with more joy, then, in moderation, they can be a mitzvah. If, on the other hand, they are an escape from reality because we don’t know where to turn, if our job becomes the place and time when we long for the weekend to escape what we do the rest of the week, there’s something seriously wrong.

We need a goal

A goal directs our attention and helps us focus our efforts. And the goal needs to be spiritual. Our soul will never be satisfied with hamburgers or even tofuburgers, turkey or tofurky, duck or um..well, skip that one. We need to satisfy the soul. There is no alternative. There is no substitute. Everyone has a soul and that soul has a yearning, and that yearning is to become one with the Infinite. It’s time to get in touch with your inner mystic.

A lot with a little

One of the quirky mystical things involves the miraculous. Not the mind blowing sea splits type of miracle, just a highly unusual event where you strongly sense the hand of God. This is the symbol of Chanukah. Sure the oil lasted 8 days instead of one, but if you looked at it you couldn’t tell there was anything out of the ordinary going on. It was somewhat hidden. Only if you stared at the flame for 30 hours straight would you be witnessing a miracle. And the seats weren’t that comfortable back in those days for such a long spell. But the menorah did a lot with a little. We fought off the Greeks who were more numerous and better armed. We did a lot with a little. That’s the power of this time period. Look at your resources and your spiritual goals. Do you feel you lack what you need to accomplish what you want to accomplish? I’ll bet anyone alive at the time of Chanukah felt that way too. Until God showed them the secret. With the Almighty’s help you can do a lot with a little.


When the Jews fought the Greeks during the time of Chanukah they were fighting not for physical survival – the Greeks would have let them live as Greeks – they were fighting for spiritual survival. Ancient Greece was the embodiment of Yavan, a descendent of Noah’s son Yafes. The word Yafes in Hebrew means beauty. All of Greek thought whether its science, logic, or art, can be used to adorn spirituality, it was imbedded in the creation by God not as an end in itself, but to be subservient to spirituality. What the Greeks did was like taking the handle off a large beautiful jug and saying, “What a beautiful work of art this handle is! Let’s make a museum of handles like this.” They missed the whole point. A meteor shower should put awe of God and His creations in your heart and mind. The design of the human body should astound us with God’s intricate design.

It would seem that this is the time period to examine our lives and the world around us. Perhaps we should look for ways we can orchestrate it all in one direction, towards one goal… to be one with the Creator.

After thoughts on Chanukah….Keeping The Tree of Light Burning Bright

By Marsha Smagley

A ba’alas teshuva of only the last ten years, I have difficulty letting go of the holidays, especially Chanukah.

It is the last night of Chanukah and as I watch the glowing lights of our three menorahs, two with flames from oil and one from wax, I feel sadness at its end. I want to hold onto this night, I want to hold on to this magnificent light.

The wax candles in our menorah are slowly melting down, its flames fading into the night. The oil candles will burn longer; their light is exquisite, I want to hold onto this light. How can I still keep Hashem’s light burning bright, with the lights of Chanukah fading away? Tears fill my eyes, the very tears of the soul, imploring the gate of tears in Heaven to return the eternal light of the Shechinah.

When we gaze upon the lights of the menorah, we are basking in Hashem’s Tree of Light (Rav S.R. Hirsch describes the menorah as a “Tree of Light” in his chumash on Parshas Teruma in Shemos), the gift He gave to His beloved children of Israel, to get through the darkness of winter, and the bitter darkness of gulus. G-d’s light is hidden in the thirty six Chanukah candles. We light a total of thirty six lights during Chanukah, the same number of times the word ohr, light, is found in Torah and the same number of times neir, candle, appears in Torah. When I light the lights of Chanukah, I take comfort in being enveloped in His Divine light.

The soul is compared to a candle; trying to break free of its body of wax, yearning to touch the Heavens. As the candles’ flames seem to shuckle to and fro, I am reminded of the dance of the soul, as it strives to lead the body through life, trying to shine Hashem’s light onto this world.

A little light dispels a lot of darkness. The light of the candle slowly flickers within the recess of my mind, with the realization that we have a pintelle yid, a spark of the Divine forever burning brightly within our soul. As the light in the tent of Sarah Emeinu never went out during her life time, our pintelle yid too forever burns brightly. I take comfort in knowing that G-d’s candle is always burning within me.

“Ki neir mitzvo ve’Torah ohr,” For a commandment is a candle and the Torah is light.” (Mishlei 6:23). Each time we perform a mitzvah, we attach ourselves, like a candle’s flame to its body of wax, to His Divine will, and become an emissary of His light of Torah.

The numerical value of neir is 250, which corresponds to the 248 positive commandments and the 248 limbs of the body. The additional two needed to equal the 250 of neir, is ahavas Hashem and yiras Hashem, love of Hashem and awe of Hashem. When a Jew performs mitzvahs with the koach/strength of their entire life force, igniting the flame of the candle with ahavas Hashem and yiras Hashem, it awakens the pintelle yid within. (Sfas Emes L’Chanukah, suf reish lamed-aleph).

I take solace in knowing that when we light the lights of the menorah, the tree of light, we are reminded not only of the miracle of Chanukah, but our very calling as Jews The Jew is a wick that allows an infinite light to be manifest and that is a miracle, and through the mitzvahs, we illuminate the world with Hashem’s light of Torah, and sanctify it with His glory.

As the flames of the last candles of our menorah reach upwards, I am reminded that I too can strive to perform the mitzvahs with my entire being, and ignite the flames of the pintelle yid within, with yiras Hashem and ahavas Hashem, and keep His Tree of Light forever burning bright.

May we merit to touch the Heavens on earth, and ignite the everlasting light of redemption, speedily and with rachamim, mercy.

Marsha Smagley resides in Highland Park, Illinois, with her husband and two children. She has devoted the last ten years to studying Torah, becoming observant, guiding her family in Torah life, and recently, writing articles appearing in The Jewish Observer, Kashrus Magazine, Hamodia, Horizons, Binah Magazine, and Yated Ne’eman, which convey her heartfelt journey to Torah.

This article can not be distributed or published without the prior permission of its author.

Grampa’s Menorah

In my family, there are precious few “religious heirlooms”. In fact, other than this menorah, I can really only think of my Grandmother’s small, white, swan-shaped porcelain honey dishes used by my mother each Rosh Hashanah. This menorah is not much to look at. Although it is pure silver, it is small, a bit slanted to one side and it’s missing the shamesh. But to our family, it’s the most beautiful menorah ever.

My mother still remembers that cold winter day when my Grampa brought the menorah home. He was wearing his trademark silk and wool scarf which was easily one and a half times as long as he was tall. He entered the home, menorah in hand. No wrapping paper, no cushioning, heck, no bag. Just the menorah in his shivering hand. This menorah came with silver caps so that you could put the oil right into the cup, place the wick in the oil and thread it through the silver cap. However, by the time Grampa got home that windy evening, a few of the caps had blown away. And, so, the caps were never used. I’m not sure what happened to the shamesh but I wouldn’t be surprised if that blew away too!

Grampa Aaron was something special. He was about as close as I ever got to “the old country”. He had a heavy accent and his English was liberally spiced with Yiddish. He wore long underwear (longe gotkes) all year round including in the summer. He would cross major thoroughfares with absolute disregard for traffic signals and vehicular presence. Holding both arms straight out to his sides as a stop sign was sufficient. When frightened he would say “Oy, I almost became a hearts attack.” Grampa couldn’t understand why ice cream had pits (chocolate chips to me and you) and he, quite simply, did not hear too well. In the summer, Grampa Aaron would sit outside our bungalow in a brown chaise chair, taking in the country air and smiling. He quickly became popular with the colony kids who knew that a quick hello and a smile would yield chocolates, sucking candies and a few quarters for the pinball machine.

I’m not quite sure what it is about this menorah that makes it so special. Perhaps it’s because, like Grampa, though it may be small, old and a bit hunched to one side and though it may be missing a few pieces, beneath it all, it’s pure. And I guess it’s because this menorah is one of the few remaining links of my family’s Jewish past.

An Innocent Mistake?

By Reb Yaacov Yisroel Bar-Chaim

One of the most symbolic mistakes I’ve ever made as a newly religious Jew was the way I had been pronouncing – for YEARS! – a verse in the Hallel HaGadol. You see, I had always enjoyed flowing with this series of ki l’oilam chasdo praises for all those fabulous miracles done for our people throughout the expanse of history. From the time I began regular tfilla (praying), I felt I could resonate with the meaning of these words, in contrast to many other tfillas which took quite awhile to identify with, let alone pronounce correctly.

Thus it was that one day, as I was learning about the deeper meaning of Chanukah, I did a double-take. The drasha (exposition) was explaining how the Chanukah miracle was associated with one of the concluding lines in that prayer:

b’SHIF’Leinu zachar lanu, ki l’oilam chasdo

in our lowliness He remembered us, since His kindness is forever

“Oh WOW,” I exclaimed to myself, with an embarrassed chuckle. “I had always read this as b’SHVILeinu… (for our sakes …)!”

As I continued to learn, the depth behind this “mistake” became painfully clear. Our nation was t-o-t-a-l-l-y unworthy of the Chanukah miracle. We were so extremely shafel, wallowing in the spiritual pits, that it was below what the Creator had designated for being within the purview of His planned interventions. In contrast to Pessach, for example, we weren’t nationally hanging on to even that 1 / 50th level of purity that was the basis of meriting the Exodus. Rather, we had been forgoing circumcision, disusing our holy language and dress, forsaking Shabbos, making public declarations of atheism, etc., etc.

Similarly, I’d learn how the classic mashal (metaphor) about the nature of the feasting we do on the holy days must be modified to accommodate the two Rabbinic holydays, Purim and Chanukah. Whereas on Shabbos our souls are said to be lifted up to the King’s castle to dine with Him and on Yom Tov the experience is likened to His glory visiting our homes, on Chanukah and Purim the spiritual reality is comparable to a King who comes looking to visit His beloved son… and we’re not there! So He starts searching, hears a faint moan, follows it until peering into a deep, dark pit – Oy! There we are. “Gevalt,” the King cries. “My son, my precious son. How did you get in there? I thought I told you to stay farrrr away from these pits!”

But we had no answer.

Then and there, the mashal continues, His royal Majesty jumps into the pit, to the utter consternation of His ministers. “Finally! We’re together again,” our Creator soothingly tells us. “Now let’s work our way back up…” And so we proceed to climb out, slowly but surely. In the process, His holy garments get quite soiled and we expect to receive a giant umbrage from the royal ministers about this. Yet as we emerge, all we see is the awe they have for the King. Why? Because of the deepest love emanating from His Majesty’s eternal eyes…

So that’s the mashal (with a little embellishment!). Now you tell me: Is this about shif’leinu or shvileinu?

Personally, besides my progressive exposure to the teachings of Tsadikkim which made it crystal clear that it’s the former, my ultimate resolution came from within. I had to admit that the fact that I had been pronouncing that line as I did – for YEARS! – despite my relative Hebrew fluency, revealed a giant Freudian slip. Something within my subconscious, obviously based on my liberal, democratic education, was determined to deny any possibility of the existence of shiflus, spiritual worthlessness. Perhaps the intrapsychic term “cognitive dissonance” is more accurate. It means something like this: When the unique network of radio waves that are presently flying around within one’s mind can’t incorporate a particular broadcast of facts coming at it from without, it immediately scrambles them, as a kind of supremely self-sustaining defense mechanism.

B’shifleinu thus naturally blips into b’shvileinu.

Very nice. But surely we’re talking here about more than a natural phenomenon. The words in question are part of a divinely endowed broadcast system! So shouldn’t I assume that My Creator was communicating something through this “mistake?”

Indeed, as I thought more about it I realized that the immature religious side of me had been presuming that at LEAST Chanukah was a time when every Jew is fully appreciated for where he’s holding; at LEAST these eight days were a time for unconditional, “democratic” celebrations.

‘Tis the season to be jolly, right?


Talk about rude awakening. As much as the theory had worked nicely for the so-called Judeo-Xn value system, it simply was not authentic Judaism. That “the Shechina (Divine Presence) never dwells below ten tfachim (about 2 feet),” I’d soon learn, is a substantial principle in the Talmud (Succa 5B). It’s referring to those who indulge in earthbound pleasures. And the fact that the Chanuka Menorah CAN be lit as low as three tfachim is merely an exception to the rule. An exception for the sake of encouraging us – but NOT a reprieve. The special Divine visit we gain at this time is meant to return us to the reality of being ABOVE ten tfachim and strengthen our resolve to NEVER go back to that deep, dark pit where sensualism and atheism call the shots (Nesivos Sholom throughout his Maamarei Chanukah ; see pp. 10, 14, 45-50 for starters).


In the meantime, I’ve had a few more years to qualify my relationship with this topic and have come up with a more positive spin, based on a few questions, which I’d like to now share:

1) Why does the verse praise the Alm-ghty’s remembering our shiflus, as opposed to what we say in the post-Shma prayers, that He is magbia shfalim, uplifts the lowly? How does it help to remember us if we’re still stuck!?

2) Every single other verse in the Hallel HaGadol stresses the greatness of G-d and makes no bones about where we were holding. “To the One who performed great wonders alone… To the Splitter of the Sea into pathways… To the Guider of Israel’s passage through it… to the Knocker of great kings…” Etc. So perhaps this reference to our shiflus is not meant to put us down but just to bring out another, unique excuse for praising Him?

3) The Mishna teaches (Avos 4): Haveh meod meod shafel ruach, that we should “be of very very lowly spirit.” The Noam EliMelech (on Shmos) points out that it doesn’t state that we should mashpil rucheinu, actively degrade our spirits, just that we should accept our spiritual state as being very low. Could this be referring to a retrospective orientation; the value of accepting our lowness AFTER the fact of having fallen?

4) The Halacha (Jewish law) is that there is ktsas Mitzvah, a conditional obligation, to feast on Chanukah. Only if a concerted effort is made to imbue the evening with religious song and praises is a Jew justified in feasting then (Rma on O. Ch. 670: 2). This is comparable in the Halachic literature to a bas talmid chacham, daughter of a learned, pious Jew, who marries an Am HaAretz, a coarse, unlearned Jew. The law here as well is that while it may be a perfectly kosher marriage, those who attend should be careful not to eat unless there’s an atmosphere significantly imbued with religious songs and praises (ibid, M. Brura s”k 8, in ref. to M. Avraham in ref. to Mordechai). Now this imagery perfectly fits our discussion. For while this marriage, as far as the girl’s spiritual wherewithal is concerned, is considered shafel meod, a clear antidote is given for uplifting it. So perhaps this is also applicable to the shafel aspects of every Jew on Chanukah?

These are all rhetorical questions, of course. Undoubtedly it helps that He remembers us. As per that mashal, though He might not yet have revealed Himself above our pit, we must believe in the PROCESS the King takes to find His lost son. Similarly, the Hallel HaGadol (which by the way, tradition has it that it’s sung everyday by the angels) is most definitely all about positivity. The point of noting our lowness is not about us but about the miracle of the distance the Creator is Willing to go for Redeeming us.

Even jumping into the pits!

Finally, the idea of viewing our shiflus as retrospective merit is surely the implication of that otherwise problematic Mishna. No one should ever seek degradation, or purposely match a bas tamid chacham to an Am HaAretz. But once that’s the case we must realize that there’s a most beautiful way to gain from it all.

Songs and praises.

That’s it. Incredible! Genuine, heartfelt zmiros and shvachos on Chanukah can turn each and every Jew’s terrible experiences of shiflus into ones worth remembering… for an eternity.

As we sing in the Maoz Tzur:
naaseh nes l’shoshanim

a miracle was done for the roses

We’re the roses; those lovely flowers embedded amongst awesome amounts of thorns. The thorns are not just our external enemies. They are the b’shvileinu-mindsets that try to confuse us into believing the reason our Maker helps us out of so many holes is in order to make our lives there more comfortable. But the truth is the opposite. It’s ONLY in order to demonstrate the greatness of His love for bringing us back home…

ABOVE the allures of this world.


The Chanukah Drama

By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz

Suppose you read two reviews in competing newspapers about the same Broadway play. One went something like this: “This drama tells the coming of age story of a young Knight. Set in medieval Scotland, the hero’s dilemmas still speak to modern audiences. The dialogue was crisp but even after a thorough review of the periodic table, chemistry between Mr. Boyer and Ms. Klapholtz was nowhere to be found.” The next notice read “The stages floorboards were mahogany inlaid with spruce. The latest halogen equipment illuminated the boards causing the actors to perspire profusely. The orchestra included some moonlighting philharmonic clarinetists”. You’d probably conclude that although both reviewers witnessed the same performance the second had “missed the boat” and was not offering any real insight as to what the play was about or whether or not it was worth seeing.

Chanukah celebrates the triumph of Torah wisdom over that of the Greeks. Of all Yomim Tovim this theme seems most relevant to us. While we all acknowledge that there is brocha- worthy wisdom among the nations the issues of confluence, congruence and conflict with Torah vex us. Where does Wisdom end and Torah begin?

Perhaps one key to unlocking this enigma inheres in Chazal’s choice of the words Chochma Cheetsonis- External wisdom to describe non-Torah disciplines. Both Torah and nature are revelations of HaShems will. Yet we mustn’t forget which of the two reveals the inner essence and which uncovers the merely peripheral. Without scripts and playwrights, theaters become superfluous. “If not for my covenant day and night (Torah) I would not have set up the laws of heaven and earth (Nature)”. Torah is the Divine drama being played out in the theater, and on the stage, of nature. Uncompromising directors and producers want the lights and the sets to be “just so” as well as the script and the casting. So if it falls our lot in life to be carpenters or lighting technicians in HaShems production then we ought to do our jobs capably and with keen awareness of His will in their implementation. But, we should never confuse those chores with the play itself. If they are true theatre fans even the carpenters will spend every spare moment watching, reading and acting in plays. Imagine a lead actor voluntarily jumping into the orchestra pit to grab a fiddle! The play’s the thing!

During this thanksgiving festival our hearts should overflow with gratitude for our own personal Chanukahs, not only for the miracle of an infinite inexhaustible light, that began as a small fragile flicker, shining into our lives, but also for the miracle of our individual recognition of the primacy of the inner wisdom and the secondary, peripheral nature of the external wisdom. The underpinning of brocha (blessing) is establishing ikkar (primary) and tofel (secondary).

The bard said, “”All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players.” As such, each of us should say “Blessed are you our Lord King of the universe who chose us from among the nations and gave us his script to read and play a major role in and did not relegate us to carpentry or props.” Chanukah gave us lights… it’s time for action! The show must go on!