Some Inspirational Chanukah Thoughts
From the Light that Unites by Rabbi Aaron Goldscheider
The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, would greet thousands of people, one by one, each Sunday morning in his Crown Heights shul in New York. He would offer them blessings as well as a dollar for tzedakah. During the days of Chanukah, a woman who came to visit stepped up and wished the Rebbe a happy Chanukah. The Rebbe responded with the following blessing: “Your home should become a light that illuminates the entire street and community. Make sure you are sharing your lights with others. They are not meant for yourself. Give your light to others.”
A maxim often attributed to the great physicist Albert Einstein posits: "There are two ways to live your life. One, as if nothing is a miracle. The other, as if everything is a miracle."
In Yiddish there is an idiom, a 'tzaddik in peltz', 'a righteous person in a fur coat.' There are two ways one can have warmth in frigid weather. One can wear a warm coat, or one can build a fire that radiates heat. The first way provides warmth only for oneself, while the second method provides warmth for others as well.
The 'tzaddik in peltz' is one who seeks his own salvation, while allowing others to remain cold. Lighting a fire is a means of sharing one’s blessing with others.
The Chassidic tradition places special emphasis on the moments following the lighting. For example, the beloved Chassidic Rebbe Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev (c. 1740–1810) teaches that Chanukah is a holiday that celebrates the Torah. The Syrian Greeks sought to eradicate the Jewish people’s unique devotion to Torah and its study. God brought about miracles to ensure its preservation.
Therefore, it is most fitting that Chanukah should be filled with words of Torah, as we demonstrate our love and appreciation for the Torah and for its salvation.
When we light the Chanukah candles, there is, of course, the mechanical act of lighting. This, however, is merely a physical act. Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik (1903–1993) taught that if this is all we do, then our lighting lacks the fullest expression of the mitzvah.
What does one need to do in order to celebrate Chanukah fully?
Above all we must internalize the feeling of gratitude. This is the genuine fulfillment of the commandment: thanking and extolling God for the miracle and for our ability to perform the mitzvah. Ideally, we do so with profound appreciation for God’s protection, His care, His concern, and the miracles that God provided in days past and in our day.
There are several ways that one may fulfill the mitzvah of lighting the Hanukkah menorah. While one may certainly use wax candles, beeswax candles, paraffin, and an assortment of oils, the preferred way of lighting the menorah is with olive oil.
Why olive oil? Importantly, this is the oil that the Jewish people used to light the Menorah in the Holy Temple, and it was with olive oil that the miracle occurred. Today, when we light our menorahs using olive oil, we closely mirror the way the kohanim lit the Menorah in Jerusalem.
Yet, there are other reasons why olive oil is significant and contains special symbolism, especially on Hanukkah. For the Greeks, everything that was externally beautiful was good; to the Jew, everything that is inwardly good is beautiful.
The victory of Hanukkah was the victory of an inner essence over external appearance, of light over darkness. The olive is an appropriate symbol of this victory, for the light of the menorah comes from the oil of the olive. Although the olive seems to be just a small and undistinguished fruit, its outer appearance is misleading. There is actually so much more to the olive than meets the eye.
Inside this tiny fruit is the oil that can light an entire room. While the olive appears to be just a small and simple food, when transformed into oil, this simple fruit turns out to have contained light. Seeing the light that emanates from the olive’s oil, we are awakened to the possibilities of light hidden in other places, light packed into the simplest of physical things — waiting to be revealed through our usage and understanding. We are also reminded that if we look beyond the superficialities of this world, beyond the mask of darkness, we can perceive light.
At Hanukkah time the olives on the trees are late in their season and have been darkening from green to black. It is the black olives that contain the most oil. The blacker the olive, the more light it contains. Sometimes we need to wait, to bide our time, in order to have greater understanding.
The lighting of the menorah by the Maccabees was the victory of this patient understanding that there is so much more to the world than meets the eye. Hassidic tradition teaches that the word hashemen (הָשֶֽׁמֶן), “the oil,” has the same letters as neshamah (נשָׁמָה), “soul.” The oil is the hidden essence of the olive; the soul is the hidden essence of man.
Yaakov Klein writes
An excerpt from my upcoming book, "The Story of Our Lives" b'nogeiah to Chanukah. That's make sure we do this right!
[Be"H, upon this book's release, we will be launching an umbrella organization called "The Lost Princess Initiative" to continue to spread the Ba'al Shem Tov's message to our generation through publications, social media content, events, and other programming be"H. Stay tuned for more info! We are living in exciting times!]
"R' Shlomo Carlebach would often contrast the candle lighting of two Jews on the first night of Chanukah to illustrate the difference between an avodas Hashem filled with the presence of the princess and its uninspired counterpart.
The first Jew comes home from kollel or the workplace a few minutes before it is time to light. He hastily puts together his menorah, making sure his lighting will fulfill all of the halachos regarding the placement of the menorah, the menorah itself, the wicks etc. – all in the choicest manner, mehadrin min hamehadrin. As his wife is gathering the children together, the phone rings, his great-aunt Hilda calling from overseas. It has been so long since they have spoken! Excitedly, he begins catching up with his great aunt, holding phone to ear with his shoulder as he finishes setting up his menorah. Soon, he is ready to light. With the menorah beautifully arranged and his children surrounding him, he asks his aunt to stay on the line for a moment. Phone in one hand, candle in the other, he proceeds to recite the berachos, light, and sing a hasty "haneiros hallalu" and "maoz tzur". When he has finished, he is back on the phone, walking into a different room so he can hear his great-aunt's voice over his children's excitement. "So, how is uncle Shmuel?"
The second Jew has been preparing for this exalted chag for a month, learning everything he can get his hands on regarding the inner soul of Chanukah and the awesome nature of the spiritual energy revealed during these eight glorious days – particularly during the lighting of the Menorah. By the time Chanukah peeks over the horizon, this Jew is bursting with the most unbearable excitement for the yom tov. His heart could melt from the heat of his desire. What an honor, what a privilege to be able to kindle these holy lights and reveal Hashem's presence in the depths! As the week before Chanuka approaches, he can no longer contain his yearning. Although the chag is still a few days away, he lovingly sets up his menorah, taking care to ensure that his lighting will fulfill all of the halachos which he understands to be overflowing with spiritual meaning and personal relevance. Finally, it is erev Chanuka. This Jew makes a special effort to go the mikvah to prepare for this glorious avodah. The deep thirst for a relationship with Hashem engulfs his soul in flames of excitement. A half-hour before the lighting begins, he sits and says all of the tefillos penned by the tzaddikim in preparation for the lighting. Each "L'shem Yichud" activates another facet of his soul, and they rise above to bask in the light of his holy desire. Finally, at long last, the time has arrived. Heart overflowing, he stands with his children before the menorah – the same menorah lit by the generations before him in the most unimaginable circumstances. The gravity of the moment overwhelms him, moving him to tears. Candle in one hand, his youngest child's hand in the other, he recites the blessing slowly, with the deepest intention and feeling born of the intensity of his anticipation. He savors each word as if it were a cold glass of water in an endless desert. After lighting, he spends an hour by the holy candles, singing sweet songs, reciting various tefillos, and simply looking at the candles – allowing their illumination to enter his soul and shine Hashem's light into his essence.
On the level of the six sons, quantity, and halacha observance alone, both Jews accomplished the same exact thing. Both lightings fulfilled the identical halachic requirements – the avodah of the first Jew impacts all of creation just the same . But it is plainly clear that these two scenarios are not identical. On the level of quality, the difference between them is unimaginable. While the first Jew will most certainly receive his portion in Gan Eden, it is the Gan Eden in this world he is missing . Instead of piercing his soul and satisfying him in the deepest way, filling his life and the lives of his family members with the glorious spirit of Chanuka, the absence of the princess in his mitzvah robs his service of the joy that is rightfully his."