Chanukah @ Shemayisrael

Chanukah: The Reward Of Sacrificing For Torah

by Rabbi Yisroel Pesach Feinhandler

"For the miracles, for the redemption, for the bravery, for the salvation, and for the wars, that You have performed for our fathers, in those days at this time."
(Al HaNisim, liturgical addition to Chanukah)
Rabbi Simcha Zisel of Kelm and Rabbi Eliezer Shulevitz of Lomza were once traveling together. When they came near an inn in a certain village, they saw that the proprietress had found out about their planned arrival, and was announcing loudly, "The rabbis have come!"

When they entered the inn, the proprietress set the table for them and served them tasty dishes very generously and politely. During the meal, she began telling them about her cows and calves, her geese and chickens, her potatoes and onions, and the like—common conversation among village inhabitants. Rabbi Eliezer did not pay attention to her uninteresting descriptions, and so continued to study Torah from a sefer (book) he had with him. Rabbi Simcha Zisel, on the other hand, listened attentively, and even offered his opinion on several matters.

When they were ready to leave, they asked the proprietress how much they owed her, as they wanted to settle the bill. The proprietress answered, "I will not hear a word about paying me anything at all! The fact that I had the merit to feed such great rabbis gives me satisfaction that is much greater than any monetary reward!"

After travelling on the road a while, Rabbi Simcha Zisel turned to Rabbi Eliezer and said, "Don't you think that you transgressed the sin of stealing? You ate and drank to your heart's content, and yet you did not pay anything."

The astonished Rabbi Eliezer replied, "We offered the proprietress full payment, but she adamantly refused to accept anything."

Rabbi Simcha Zisel said to him, "That is true, but you saw how much she enjoyed telling us about all her concerns, and that was what she felt was her compensation for her food and service. But you did not pay attention to what she said. Therefore you ate the meal without making any compensation."

When Rabbi Eliezer told this story many years later he added, "I am sure that Rabbi Simcha Zisel was thinking in Torah when he was listening to the proprietress. This was clear from the fact that he once mixed up the price of cows with the price of chickens. Nevertheless, he felt that he had to show her his appreciation for the wonderful meal that he had received" (Hizaharu B'mamon Chavreichem).

Rabbi Simcha Zisel knew that doing chesed (kindness) means listening and paying attention, even though the conversation may not interest you. We must do at least this much in marriage since we are obligated to do chesed for our spouses.

"And You in Your great mercy, sto
(Al HaNisim)
Why do we say "the many into the hands of the few," when we have already said "the mighty into the hands of the weak?" Why do we say "the impure into the hands of the pure," "the wicked into the hands of tzaddikim," and "the evil people into the hands of those that toil in Your Torah" when these seem to be mere repetitions of the same thought?

The weak being victorious over the strong could be an amazing triumph or it could merely be the consequence of numerical supremacy. If wave after wave of weak soldiers arrives on a battlefront, the weak may overpower the mighty, by surrounding and wearing them down simply because they outnumber them. Therefore, our Sages tell us that in fact "the many [fell] into the hands of the few" so that we should know that the reason for our victory over the mighty Greeks was not because we had more soldiers. Rather, even though we were both weak and few in number, we were victorious, despite overwhelming odds. This was only possible since God intervened on our behalf and dicted that the outcome be in our favor.

The mention of "the impure into the hands of the pure" further explains the surprising victory. The decisive factor was not the strength or the number of soldiers on the opposing sides, but rather who was pure and worthy. The Jewish people, through their adherence to the ways of Torah, had made themselves pure. In contrast, the Greeks indulged indiscriminately in the gamut of bodily pleasures and were consequently contaminated by all kinds of impure physical and spiritual forces.

The descriptions of "the wicked into the hands of tzaddikim" and "the evil people into the hands of those that toil in Your Torah" are not mere repetitions of the idea that the Jews had a higher level of purity than the Greeks. Rather, our Sages are here revealing that the success over the Greeks is to be attributed to two distinct components of the Jews' purity. One was the Jews' great righteousness which earned them the title "tzaddikim." This title came through their self-sacrifice and courage in refusing to forfeit their efforts to fulfill the mitzvahs. They could have claimed that their lives were in jeopardy, and consequently had no obligation to keep the mitzvahs. Nonetheless, they went beyond the call of duty because doing mitzvahs was so precious in their eyes. They were even willing to go to war and sacrifice their lives in order to fulfill them!

The second factor which contributed to the Jews' purity was their toiling in Torah. The learning of Torah protects a person from sin, as it is written in the Talmud: "Torah protects a person both at the time that he is learning and at the time that he is not learning." We can understand from this that learning enables a person to cling to the Torah always, and that it gives him the power to overcome his yetzer hara (evil inclination), thus raising his level of spiritual purity.

The Talmud relates that soldiers are successful in war because of the people that are sitting and learning Torah in the gates of Jerusalem. It is the power of Torah that causes the armies of the Jewish people to be victorious over the armies of the gentiles. The outcome of a war is not determined by the quality of the weapons or the training of the soldiers, but rather by who has superior spiritual strength—who has toiled in Torah.

The Chanukah candles are symbolically equivalent to Torah. Our Sages say that any house that does not have Torah in it at night, will end up being burned. When we light the Chanukah candles it can serve to remind us of not only of the miracle of finding the pure oil in the Beis HaMikdash (Holy Temple), but also that the power of Torah brought about our victory over the Greeks. This will inspire us to learn Torah at night.

A Man is Measured by How He Treats His Wife

A man's righteousness is measured by the way he treats his wife. If he is kind and considerate, he can be considered a tzaddik. If he is not, then he is lacking in chesed, and consequently, lacking in Torah. Our Sages say that Torah must go together with chesed. The reason for this is that the whole purpose of studying Torah is to make ourselves into more complete persons. When a fundamental trait, such as doing chesed for our fellow human beings, is missing, then something essential is lacking in our Torah learning.

Chesed starts at home. Where do you have a greater opportunity to do chesed than with your wife whom you see every day and who is so sensitive to your every word and gesture? You can do so much chesed with your wife just by saying a kind word, being considerate, or paying attention to her. Other people may not care or even notice what you say to them, but your spouse takes to heart every word you say.

Our Sages say that there are four things which need to be constantly strengthened. They are: Torah, good deeds, prayer, and derech eretz (proper manners and conduct). The Chofetz Chaim explains that good deeds means doing chesed for other people. If doing chesed for other people constantly needs to be strengthened, how much more so must doing chesed for one's own spouse, with whom one is likely to become overly casual and towards whom one may forget that he has an obligation to always be kind, need strengthening? When you encounter someone only once in a while, you are usually on your best behavior, but this is not so when you see the same person every day. Being kind and considerate to the person closest to you, since it does not come naturally, requires great effort and must be worked on constantly.

Doing chesed is what God wants from us, as it is written, "[He] tells you, O man, what is good and what God wants from you: to be righteous in judgment and to love chesed." The prophet teaches us here that part of the essence of Torah is the love of chesed. It is therefore implicit that performing acts of chesed is a fundamental way we can fulfill Hashem's (God's) will.

Part of "to love chesed" means that doing chesed should always be on your mind. You should always be thinking of ways to give benefit to other people. This is so much more true when it comes to our spouses, since without self-correcting thought a person takes everything for granted and may find himself far from doing chesed. Only a person who loves chesed will be alert enough to always remember to do it for his spouse.

If Chanukah is a holiday of Torah, then it is also a holiday of chesed, since they go hand in hand. There is no better time to start practicing chesed than on Chanukah, when a person is usually at home more than at other times of the year. And there is no more important person to do chesed with than your spouse.

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