Igniting the flames of the past
ברוך אתה יקוק אלקינו מלך העולם אשר קדשנו במצותיו וציונו להדליק נר (של) חנוכה…שעשה ניסים לאבותינו בימים ההם בזמן הזה
Blessed are you Hashem, our G-d, King of the Universe, who sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us to ignite the light of Chanukah…Who performed miracles for our ancestors in those days, at this time
The Sefas Emes makes an interesting observation regarding the blessing we say when we light the Chanukah candles. We say אשר קדשנו במצותיו וציונו להדליק נר (של) חנוכה, Who sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us to ignite the light of Chanukah. If we were composing the text of the blessing, what would it say? Probably something more like וציונו להדליק נרות בחנוכה, that He commanded us to light candles on Chanukah. What does it mean to ignite the light of Chanukah? It sounds like there’s some pre-existing light of the festival of Chanukah, and we’re somehow tapping into it…Another question we can ask is on the second blessing, which says that Hashem performed miracles for our ancestors in those days, at this time. Why do we end with the phrase “at this time”? What does that add to the blessing?
Continue reading “Chanukah 5782”
Snakes, Scorpions, and Chanukah Celebrations
ויאמר אלהם ראובן אל-תשפכו-דם השליכו אתו אל-הבור וגו’ למען הציל אתו מידם וגו’ ויקחהו וישלכו אתו הברה והבור רק אין בו מים
Reuven said to [his brothers]: Don’t spill blood. [Instead,] throw him into the pit…[this was] in order to save [Yosef] from their hands…They took him and threw him into the pit. The pit was empty; it didn’t have water
After sensing their brother Yosef as a threat to their family’s wellbeing and Divine mission, the sons of Yaakov sentenced him to death. They intended to kill him and hide his death from their father. Reuven, the firstborn, knew this was the wrong move. Instead, he insisted that they throw Yosef in a pit. The Torah testifies that Reuven’s intent was to save Yosef. He seemingly wanted to stall for time, with the hope that the brothers would calm down and not act rashly. Unfortunately, while he was momentarily away from his brothers, they sold Yosef as a slave to Egypt, and the rest is history.
Continue reading “Vayeishev / Chanukah 5782”
בראשית ברא אלקים את השמים ואת הארץ: והארץ היתה תהו ובהו וחשך על-פני תהום וגו’
In the beginning of G-d’s creating of the Heaven and the Earth. The land was unformed and empty, and darkness on the surface of the deep…
Our Sages teach us that it was predetermined that the Jewish people would undergo four periods of subjugation. These periods were caused by four kingdoms, all alluded to in scripture: Babylonia, Persia / Media, Greece, and Rome. The verse that describes the early process of creation says that the land was tohu (unformed), bohu (empty), and darkness on the surface of the deep. Tohu refers to Babylonia, vohu refers to Persia / Media, darkness refers to Greece, and the deep refers to Rome. Our Sages clarify that the reason that Greece is referred to as darkness because they darkened the eyes of the Jewish people with their decrees. How are the other kingdoms alluded to with these adjectives?
Continue reading “Chanukah 5781”
The festival of Chanukkos
והדליקו נרות בחצרות קדשך, וקבעו שמונת ימי חנכה אלו, להודות לשמך הגדול
They lit [the Menorah] lights in Your holy courtyards, and established these eight days of Chanukah, to give thanks to Your great name
The eight-day festival of Chanukah is commonly understood to be in commemoration of the miracle of the Menorah. The Greeks contaminated all the ritual oil which was to be used to fuel the Menorah in the Holy Temple. After their defeat, only one small jar of oil was found. It was enough to light the Menorah for one night. After lighting the Menorah, it miraculously stayed lit for eight days, enough time to finish making more oil. Thus, we celebrate eight days of Chanukah. However, what isn’t commonly known is another version of what inspired this eight-day festival.
Continue reading “Chanukah 5780”
A kiss from above
והנה אורחת ישמעאלים באה מגלעד וגמליהם נושאים נכאת וצרי ולט הולכים להוריד מצרימה
…behold an Arab caravan was coming from Gilad, and their camels were carrying spices, balm, and lotus; they were taking them to Egypt
The gemarra asks the innocent question: What was the miracle which prompted the establishment of the holiday of Chanukah? It answers that the Greeks, after they conquered the land of Israel, entered the Holy Temple and defiled all the oil that was to be found. When the Jews defeated them, they searched all around for sanctified oil to be used for the Menorah. All they could find was a single vessel that was still sealed. However, there was only enough oil in the vessel to last for one day. They used it anyways, and a miracle happened where the oil lasted for eight days. The following year they established that time of year as a season of rejoicing, with songs of praise and thanks.
Continue reading “Vayeishev and Chanukah 5779”
How the Greeks unintentionally increased Torah
כשעמדה מלכות יון הרשעה על עמך ישראל להשכיחם תורתך
When the wicked kingdom of Greece stood against Your nation of Israel, to make them forget Your Torah
What makes something unique reveals part of its inner dimension. One of the things that is unique about Chanukah is it is chronologically the last holiday to have been established in Judaism. What this tells us is Chanukah filled a void that was missing in the Jewish calendar. It filled it with something that will take us until the end of days. What this is will be explained with some background into the history behind the holiday itself.
Continue reading “Chanukah 5778”
The Secret of the Dreidel
ואת יהודה שלח לפניו אל יוסף להורות לפניו גשנה
And [Yaakov] sent Yehudah before him, to Yosef, to teach before him, to Goshen
After Yaakov found out that his son Yosef was not only alive, but that he was the viceroy in Egypt, he and his family made plans to move there. There was a worldwide famine and the only place with food was with Yosef. The verse tells us that Yaakov sent Yehudah ahead of everyone else to Yosef, in the city of Goshen. The question is why was he sent, and why specifically Yehudah. Another question is a grammatical one. The verse says Yehudah was sent גשנה, to Goshen. The normal way to write this would be לגשן. Why did the Torah choose this formulation? Chazal tell us whenever you have a ל at the beginning of a word, which means ‘to’, you can replace it with a ה at the end for the same result. While this explains how it works in the verse, it doesn’t explain why sometimes one format is chosen over another. There must be some significance.
Continue reading “Chanukah 5777”