NOVEMBER 29-30, 2002 25 KISLEV 5763
"What is Hanukah?" (Talmud Babli Berachot 21:)
As we approach the wonderful holiday of Hanukah, we thank and praise Hashem for all of the miracles that he has brought to our people from our earlier history until today. Our existence and our ability to thank Him are only due to His miracles. The Talmud asks a question: What is Hanukah? Rashi explains the question to mean, for what miracle are we celebrating Hanukah? The Gemara continues and recounts the miracle of the flask of oil that burned for eight days instead of only one day.
We can ask another question: How did Hanukah get its name? Rabenui Nissim records an answer that goes back many years in time. Hanukah is an acronym for the Hebrew words "Hanu," they rested, on "Kah" - chaf hei, the twenty fifth day of the Jewish month of Kislev. On that famous day they rested, but what sort of rest is being referred to? Rabbi Chaim Friedlander explains that some say that it is a rest from prohibited activities like on Shabbat. While the candles are lit some have the custom not to do any work. Other Rabbis say that there is no prohibition of labor on Hanukah and the rest mentioned here refers to a rest from the war with the Greeks. However, this is unusual because when a nation wins a war and declares that day a festival, the name given expresses victory, not just the fact that the fighting stopped. In America we have VJ Day as the victory day that ends WWII. By contrast, the word Hanukah expresses passivity. The emphasis is not on the Jews winning the war but rather on the fact that the fighting stopped. Our Sages are trying to give us a message with the name.
Displaying how one's physical strength is superior to another's has nothing to do with the role of a Jew. The war against the Greeks was waged solely because they tried to interfere with our keeping of the misvot. Our only motive for victory was to be able to resume where we had left off, and this our Sages explain in the name Hanukah.
Most probably our Sages foresaw the error that so many have fallen prey to today, in seeing Hanukah as the celebration of a military victory. The very words "Hanu Chaf Hei" - they rested on the twenty-fifth day - renders such an idea null and void. Happy Hanukah! Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Reuven Semah
The Light That Stirred George Washington
The winter of 1777 was harsh, almost unbearable. The soldiers stationed in Valley Forge had no inkling of what they were doing there or what they were waiting for. In their midst was a lone soldier, different from the rest, one that was Torah-observant.
The first night of Hanukah arrived. Years had passed since our hero had left his home. It had been on Hanukah, too, back in Poland, and his father had given him a menorah saying, "When you light these candles, son, they will light the way for you."
When all of the soldiers in the tent were fast asleep, he lovingly took out his father's keepsake and lit one candle, recited the blessings, and sat down to watch the small flame dancing merrily. It fired his imagination and brought a string of memories parading before his eyes.
The General, in person, stood by his side. He looked at him and said gently, "Why are you weeping? Are you cold, my friend?"
Pain and pity were intermingled in his tender voice. It had made the Jewish soldier forget for a moment who was standing above him, but in a twinkling he leapt to his feet and saluted. Then he said quietly, "I am weeping before my Father in Heaven, sir. Everyone's fate lies in His hands; He controls the fate of His millions of creatures all over the world. I was praying for your success, General Washington. I came to this country because I was fleeing the persecution of all the tyrants who have forever oppressed my father, my townspeople and my nation. The despots will fall, sir, but you will be victorious!"
"Thank you, soldier!" The General replied heartily, and sat himself on the ground before the menorah. "And what have we here?" he asked, full of curiosity.
This is a keepsake from home. Jews all over the world are tonight lighting the first candle of our festival, Hanukah. This serves to commemorate a great miracle that occurred to our ancestors. They were only a handful compared to the massive armies, but they held out, thanks to their faith in G-d, and were granted a miracle."
The bright flame ignited a flame of hope in the weary General's eyes and he cried out joyfully, "You are a Jew? Then you are descended from a people of Prophets! And you say that we will win the war?"
"Yes, sir!" he replied confidently.
The General rose, his face glowing with renewed hope. They shook hands heartily. Washington asked the soldier for his name and address and disappeared into the night.
On the first night of Hanukah, 1778, our Jewish veteran was sitting in his home on Broome Street in New York. The first Hanukah light was burning brightly on his window sill. Suddenly, there was a knock on the door. His wife rose to open it wide. To her astonishment, there stood President Washington.
"There is that fabulous light, the Hanukah light," he cried out happily, spotting the candle by the window. "That flame, and your remarkable words, kindled a light in my heart on that dark and bitter night," he reminisced. "We were in a tight situation then, and your words encouraged me so! They spurred me on with new hope. You will soon be awarded a medal of honor from the United States of America together with all your compatriots of Valley Forge, but tonight, you will receive a personal memento from me." With these words he placed on the table a gold medal upon which was engraved a Hanukah menorah with one light burning. Upon this medal was inscribed: "As a sign of thanks for the light of your candle. George Washington." Happy holiday! Rabbi Shmuel Choueka
"And Reuben heard, and saved him from their hands" (Beresheet 37:21)
Whatever a person does has far-reaching repercussions. This idea may be derived from the words of Hazal's commentary on this pasuk. R' Yitzhak says that the Torah teaches proper rules of behavior, so that when a man performs a misvah he does it with a good heart. Had Reuben known that Hashem would write about him, "And Reuben heard it and saved him [Yosef] from their hands," he would have carried him on his shoulder and brought him to his father. This Midrash refers to the fact that Reuben intervened on behalf of Yosef; even though he did not complete his intended mission, as Yosef was already sold, he is nonetheless considered to be his savior.
According to the Midrash, had Reuben known that the Torah would eventually record his good deed, he would not have been so circumspect. Rather, he would have openly defied his brothers and rescued Yosef from their hands. In fact, he would have personally carried Yosef on his shoulders and brought him to his father.
This Midrash is intriguing. Are we to assume that had Reuben known he was "on stage," he would have responded with greater alacrity and resourcefulness? Reb Yitzhak Bunim suggests that whether Reuben's deed would be recorded in the Torah made no difference to him. He received no greater or lesser reward because his action was inscribed. Had he realized, however, that his deed would become part of the Torah, an integral aspect of the fabric of Jewish life, he would have readily done more. He would have striven to set yet a better example of moral guidance.
The reason that this incomplete humane act of kindness was preserved eternally is to teach us that when a person does a misvah he can never truly know its far-reaching consequences. Reuben did a simple thing. He dissuaded his brothers from killing Yosef. Did he dream that Yosef would, in turn, be sold to Egypt, become viceroy of that land, and ultimately be instrumental in saving them from starvation? Had he suspected the amazing effect of his words, he would have given his all for it!
A very clear message can be derived from here. When we perform a misvah, we should do it wholeheartedly. We never know if the student we help today will one day become a great scholar. The sedakah we give a school may make the difference between success and failure. The kindness we perform for a couple may save a marriage. Our small and simple good deeds can have wonderful consequences as they become woven into the tapestry of Jewish life. (Peninim on the Torah)
"And Yehudah said to his brothers, 'What profit is there in killing our brother and covering his blood'" (Beresheet 37:26)
The Kotzker Rebbe commented on this verse: When you have to cover up your behavior, that is a sign that you are doing something wrong.
Whenever you are certain that what you are doing is proper, you are willing to let others know about your actions. Even if they will disapprove, your own certainty gives you the necessary confidence to cope with their disapproval. But if you are uncertain about how proper your behavior really is, you will not want others to know what you are doing. Whenever you feel a need to hide your actions ask yourself, "Is what I am doing really the right thing to do?" (Growth through Torah)
"The Egyptian king's wine steward and baker offended their master, the king of Egypt." (Beresheet 40:1)
Once the Rabbi of Kelm found a splinter of wood in a loaf of bread that he was eating. He immediately remembered the story of the baker of Pharaoh who was eventually hanged for his "sin." The baker of this loaf of bread, however, would go unpunished. "Why such a big difference between the two cases?" he wondered. The difference, he concluded, was that the baker of Pharaoh was baking for the king and should have known to be extra cautious. How careful must each of us be when we perform a misvah to insure that there are no "splinters" in them! Even the smallest transgression within a misvah, such as performing a good deed in order to obtain personal honor or glory, is magnified in the eyes of Hashem, just as the small rock in Pharaoh's bread cost the baker his life. One must always remember who he is serving and be mindful of each facet of his deeds so as to do the misvah in the most perfect way. (Lekah Tob)
The usual haftarah reading for Parashat Vayesheb is from the prophet Amos, where it makes a reference to the sale of Yosef by his brothers. However, we read a special haftarah this week in honor of the holiday of Hanukah. This haftarah speaks of the time when the Menorah of the Second Bet Hamikdash was inaugurated. The prophet Zechariah is shown a vision of a golden Menorah, complete with a bowl of oil and two olive trees to ensure that the supply of oil will never run out. An angel explains to Zechariah that the vision symbolizes the fact that Hashem provides for all of man's needs.
"[Tamar] said, 'Identify, if you please, whose are this seal, this wrap and this staff." (Beresheet 38:25)
Tamar was faced with a difficult decision. If she would implicate Yehudah in her pregnancy, Yehudah would be greatly embarrassed by it. However, if she protected his anonymity, she risked being burned as a harlot. Still yet, she put it into Yehudah's hands to decide whether he would reveal himself or not. From this incident, our Rabbis learn that "it is better for a person to throw himself into a fiery furnace rather than embarrass his fellow man in public."
It would have been very easy for Tamar to rationalize that it was not worth it to risk her life just to prevent Yehudah from being embarrassed. Yet she understood that no matter how great the sacrifice, one must always remain objective, and do what the Torah requires of us to do.
Question: What temptation have you faced in the past, or do you presently face, which requires you to make sacrifices in order to follow the halachah? How can you make sure that you are being objective when planning your course of action?
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