Some Inspirational Chanukah Thoughts
Reb Shlomo ztz"l taught us in the name of the Baal Shem Tov, that on Channukah even the lowest Jew can reach to places which are higher than the holy places which can be reached by holy people on the other holidays...
The light of Channukah will reach even the furthest Jew and b’ezrat Hashem we will all come home walking upright, healthy and joyous 'l'artzeinu hakedosha, b'karov mammash, together with Mashiach tzidkeinnu" Amen.
The following is a prayer in Reb Shlomo’s words:
“Master of the World, if it is my mistakes that have kept me in darkness let this Channukah light shine into all areas of my darkness let this Channukah Light keep me from ever hating people let this Channukah Light give me so much holiness that all the darkness of the world cannot take away the love for myself and for all the beautiful people”
Surely you know that
not every Jew is holy
but every Jew is
Holy of Holies
-Reb Shlomo Carlebach ztz"l
Sweetest of The Sweet: Reb Shlomo's Torah Teachings
“Chanunkah, Chanukah a Yom Tov a Freilicher”
A Chanukah Letter from Reb Shlomo z"l
Moshav Meor Modiim, Kislev 5749
Reprinted from Cong. Kehilath Jacob News
Everybody knows that Chanukah is the culmination of the high holidays. We are accustomed to think that joy and bliss are the highest a human being can aspire to, but our holy rabbis teach us that light is even deeper. So after Simhas Torah, when we experience the greatest joy in the world, we come to Chanukah. Chanukah is the Festival of Light. Chanukah is when we initiate the Third Temple, which shall be rebuilt soon. It is the one week of Chanukah, when every Jewish home is a little bit of the Holy Temple, which gives us the strength to hold out until the Holy Temple will be here for always.
It is possible to know every word of the Torah, but if the inside light of the Torah is not shining into you out of every word, you are still an outsider.
Chanukah has two outstanding characteristics:
On every other holiday you don't need a house. On Chanukah you need a house to kindle light at the door. On Chanukah when I see someone else kindling, I also say a blessing. When do I know that I'm at home with the Torah? When do I know that the light of the Torah is really my own? If I blow my mind over everyone else's good deed and I can't control myself, I have to say a blessing over it.
It is possible to live in the same house as your wife and children and be strangers to one another. On Chanukah every person in the house is kindling light; every night the light is becoming stronger and deeper and more. Our age is the age of strangers. We're strangers in our own homes; we're strangers in our own land; we're strangers in our own religion.
Inspirational Chanukah Story
A young man named Avrumel Greenbaum lost his entire family in the Holocaust. After the war, he came to America and wanted nothing to do with Judaism. He was no longer Avrumel Greenbaum; now he was Aaron Green.* He moved to Alabama and happened to marry a Jewish woman there. The day his oldest son Jeffrey turned thirteen, they were not going to celebrate his bar mitzvah. Aaron decided to recognize the day by taking Jeffrey to the mall and buy him anything he wanted there. They went to a big electronics store and while browsing, Jeffrey's eye caught something in an antique shop across the way. He was mesmerized by it. He couldn't take his eyes off of it.
He told his father, "I don't want anything from the electronics store. I want to go across to the antique shop." When they got there, the boy pointed to an old wooden menorah and said, "That's what I want for my bar-mitzvah." His father couldn't believe it. He was letting his child buy anything he wanted in the whole mall and this is what he was choosing? Nevertheless, he couldn't talk him out of it.
Aaron asked the shop-owner the price of the menorah, but he replied "Sorry, that's not for sale." The father said, "What do you mean? This is a store." He offered a lot of money for it. The owner said, "I found out the history of this menorah. A man constructed it during the war and it took him months to gather the wood. It survived, but he did not. It's going to be a collector's item. It's not for sale."
Jeffrey kept telling his father, "That's what I want. All I want is the menorah." So Aaron Green kept offering more money until the owner finally agreed to sell. The boy was so excited. He took the menorah up to his room and played with it every day. One day the parents heard a crash from Jeffrey's room. They ran upstairs and saw the menorah shattered to pieces. The father yelled at his son for being so careless, as he paid so much money for it. Afterwards, he felt bad; he told the boy, "Let's try to glue it back together."
While holding one of the pieces, the father noticed a piece of paper wedged inside. He pulled it out and started reading. He had tears welled up in his eyes and then he fainted. His family threw water on him and revived him. "What happened?", they asked.
He replied, "Let me read you this letter." It was written in Yiddish, and it said, "To whoever finds this menorah, I want you to know, I constructed it not knowing if I would ever have the opportunity to light it. Who knows if I will live to the day to see it being kindled? In all probability, going through this war, I will not. But if Providence brings this menorah to your hands, you who are reading this letter, promise me you will light it for me and for us, my family, and those who gave their lives to serve Hashem."
Aaron Green then looked up at his family with tears in his eyes and, in a choked-up voice, said, "The letter is signed by my father."
They were all speechless. That family recognized the hashgacha of Hashem and they came back to Torah and mitzvot. The hashgacha was unbelievable, taking a menorah from Europe and bringing it back to the family in a remote mall in Alabama.
Hashem wants everybody back. Hanukah means to re-dedicate. It's a time to rededicate ourselves and come closer to Hashem.
From the Light that Unites by Rabbi Aaron Goldscheider
When each of us lights the menorah, there is another aspect of uniting. Judaism teaches that each person is endowed with a divine spark, an inner light, which God implanted in the inner depths of each one of us. As it says in the Torah verse, “this light is good” (Genesis 1:4) – there is hidden potential within the heart of each person. Chanukah reminds us of our inner light, our God given talents, and our uniqueness that we strive to reveal to the world.
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."