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By Rabbi Eli Scheller

ת”ר מצות נר חנוכה נר איש וביתו והמהדרין נר לכל אחד ואחד והמהדרין מן המהדרין יום ראשון מדליק אחת מכאן ואילך מוסיף והולך.

There are three levels at which one can perform the mitzvah of lighting neiros chanuka. The basic mitzvah is to light one ner per household every night. The next level, the mehadrin (scrupulous individuals), light one ner for each member of the household every night. The third level, the mehadrin min hamehadrin (the most meticulous ones), light an additional ner each night for each member of the household.

In practice we follow the third level.

 

 

When I buy gas I’m not too picky and I usually choose the lower grade of the 3 options. When I buy my esrog I usually choose one from somewhere in the middle. Why must I choose the premium option for Chanukah?

 

The Talmud states (Shabbos 21b) that on the 25th of Kislev when the Chashmonaim entered the Bais Hamikdash to light the menorah they saw that all the oil had become impure from the Greeks. In truth, the halacha permits using contaminated oil if pure oil is not available. However, the kohanim, determined to use only the best oil, kept looking and found one jug of oil which still had the seal of the Kohen Gadol on it. A seal from the Kohen Gadol was not required for the menorah oil since a regular kohen was qualified to light it. Why did this jug have the seal of the Kohen Gadol?

 

This jug was originally intended for the minchas chavitin. Twice daily, the Kohen Gadol was obligated to offer a mincha called the “minchas chavitin”. It was prepared by mixing oil and flour. He brought half in the morning and half in the afternoon.

 

Like all korbanos, lower grade oil was acceptable for the minchas chavitin. Whereas the menorah needed to be lit from the purest oil – only the first drop squeezed from the olive, the subsequent drops that come from the olive are acceptable for korbanos. How then could the kohanim use this found jug for the menorah if it didn’t contain the purest oil? The answer is, they knew the Kohen Gadol was meticulous and used only the purest oil for his korban even where a lower grade was acceptable.

 

Thus, the Jews were determined to use only the finest oil even though technically impure oil in this case would have been fine. In addition, they found the oil of a Kohen Gadol who only wanted to use the best oil even though lower grade oil was acceptable. It was this mehadrin min hamehadrin. that led to the Chanuka miracle. So, while I’ll stick with regular gas for my car, and with a mid-ranged price esrog, our family will be fulfilling the mitzva of Chanukah at the premium level.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Connecting the Pipes

 

 

בבית שני כשמלכו אנטיוכסים הרשעים גזרו גזירות על ישראל ובטלו דתם הקדושה ולא הניחו אותם לעסוק בתורה ובמצות, עד שריחם ה’ והושיעם מידם והצילם על ידי בני חשמונאים הקדושים הכהנים הגדולים מתתיהו ובניו שנלחמו עם אנטיוכס ויכלו לו.

In the times of the second Bais Hamikdash Antiochus made decrees against the Jews and did not allow them to study Torah and do mitzvos, until Hashem had mercy upon them and saved them through a family of kohanim gedolim – Mattisyahu and his sons. They fought with Antiochus and won. (Aruch Hashulchan 670)

 

There was once a family feud between an aunt and nephew. The aunts name was Caroline and her nephew was William. They both designed hotels and were exceptional at their craft. William, motivated by a dispute with his aunt, built his hotel right next door to his aunt’s hotel – only double the size. This malicious move destroyed his aunt’s business and only worsened the feud. His aunt gathered money from an inheritance and did renovations to outdo William. The fighting continued back and forth – hurting both sides substantially.

 

The hotel manager, frustrated by the petty fighting, sat down one day with William and Caroline. He looked at both of them and said, “You are both so talented, and successful at what you do. Both of you have nice hotels. Why don’t you put your differences to the side and join together to build one magnificent hotel?!” William and Caroline looked at each other strangely – that idea had never occurred to them. They were too focused on destroying each other instead of building themselves. They decided to merge their hotels together and they built a magnificent hotel. Indeed, this became one of the nicest hotels in the world, located in NYC. As for the name of the hotel, William used his last name, ‘Waldorf’ and Caroline used her’s ‘Astoria’; aka ‘The Waldorf-Astoria’.

 

When families fight with each other it destroys both parties significantly. When they work in unity blessing flows through them and inspires everyone around them.

 

This is similar to pipes. The way water gets to your sink from the street through a series of pipes. If the pipes were all slightly misaligned most of the water would leak out and only several drops would make it to your faucet. Hashem has a bounty of blessing to give and sends it through pipes. These pipes are people. When a family is strongly connected and there is shalom, blessing flows through the pipes. If the pipes are not aligned or blocked it impedes the blessing. The verse states (Psalms 133) הנה מה טוב ומה נעים שבת אחים גם יחד, How good and pleasant is the dwelling of brothers especially in unity. When Jews are united in brotherhood, Hashem’s blessing will flow like a stream from Mount Chermon in the north down to every nook and cranny of the land.

 

The Chashmonaim were one family and with unity they were able to beat the Greeks. Because of this many families have a custom of getting together on Chanukah and reinforcing their plumbing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. A Must or a Should

 

בימי  מתתיהו… מסרת גבורים ביד חלשים, ורבים ביד מעטים

In the days of Mattisyahu… You delivered the strong into the hands of the weak and the many into the hands of the few.

 

A long while ago, a great warrior faced a situation which made it necessary for him to make a drastic decision which might insure his success on the battlefield. He was about to send his armies against a powerful foe, whose men outnumbered his own. He loaded his soldiers into boats, sailed to the enemy’s country, unloaded soldiers and equipment, then gave order to burn the ships that had carried them to the foreign land. Addressing his men before the first battle, he said, “You see the boats going up in smoke. That means that we cannot leave the shores alive unless we win! We now have no choice – we win – or we perish!” They won.

 

The Chanukah victory of the few over the many seemed to be impossible. However, the Chashmonaim knew the secret to victory. They decided that they weren’t going to bend to the Hellenist Greeks ideologies, this meant they had no other choice besides to fight. They put their lives on the line, cut off all sources of retreat, and fought a guerilla war against a well-trained army. Thus they merited Divine assistance above the natural order of events and won.

 

The word decision comes from the Latin term that means, “to cut off.” Making a decision is about “cutting off” choices – eliminating all other options. When you decide that something is a must, it will get done. Something that ‘should’ get done on the other hand usually remains ‘should’ for a while. The secret in gaining victory over the ‘shoulds’ is deciding that they have changed to ‘musts’. The Chashmonaim prevailed because they decided keeping the Torah and Mitzvos to the highest degree was a must.

 

What are your musts?

 

If you don’t choose your musts they will be chosen for you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. The Love for Competition

 

על הנסים ועל הפרקן ועל הגבורות ועל התשועות ועל הנפלאות ועל הנחמות ועל המלחמות שעשית לאבותינו בימים ההם בזמן הזה.

[We thank You] for the miracles, and for the salvation, and for the mighty deeds, and for the victories, and for the wonders, and for the consolations, and for the battles which you performed for our forefathers in those days, at this time.

 

 

We can understand why in Al Hanissim we thank Hashem for helping us win the battle, but why are we thanking Him for bringing us to battle – ועל המלחמות, and for the battles?

Answer #1

 

Competition, and the love for winning is something inborn in humans. If someone is running as fast as he could but then he sees someone running a bit faster suddenly he finds the ability to go even quicker. This is why people love watching an intense football game, boxing match or even a political debate. Why would Hashem create us with this trait? The answer is that we need it to be able to overcome our instincts. Our body naturally pushes us to eat more, sleep more and procrastinate. Our soul does not want to do those things. It’s a battle! If the soul wins the person gets intense pleasure of beating the toughest enemy, and will prepare to battle again. If the soul loses it feels jailed in a prison by the body.

 

Like all character traits, the drive to compete will not lie dormant rather it will be expressed one way or other. A person who continuously loses his battle within is not engaging the competing qualities that Hashem gifted him with. He won’t feel satisfied and will generally seek other avenues of competition via sports or even pick fights with others. Whereas someone who is winning battles will feel like a warrior within. His satisfaction wont be dependent on sharing the news with others.

 

Instead of being influenced by the Greeks and their form of competing against one another, the Chashmonaim used their drive for fighting to keep the Torah and mitzvos. Thus we thank Hashem for helping us use our inborn trait of battle for positive things.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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  1. The Power of Adversity

 

על הנסים ועל הפרקן ועל הגבורות ועל התשועות ועל הנפלאות ועל הנחמות ועל המלחמות שעשית לאבותינו בימים ההם בזמן הזה.

[We thank You] for the miracles, and for the salvation, and for the mighty deeds, and for the victories, and for the wonders, and for the consolations, and for the battles which you performed for our forefathers in those days, at this time.

 

 

 

In Al Hanissim we thank Hashem for helping us win the battle. We can understand this. But why are we thanking Him for bringing us to battle – ועל המלחמות, and for the battles?

Answer #2

When one lives in a place where the people around him act inappropriately and are morally beneath his standards one of two things will likely happen. Either he will get used to their behavior and slowly be influenced to imitate their conduct, or, he will be disgusted by their appalling behavior and he will be motivated him to act in the opposite manner.

The Jewish people lived amongst the Greeks. The Greek exile was likened to darkness. The Greeks darkened the eyes of the Jews by attempting to destroy their religion. They did not allow the Jews to study Torah or to do mitzvos. They took the Jews’ money as well as their daughters and defiled the Jewish temple. The Greeks subjected the Jews to great hardships and pressured them immensely. Jews known as Hellenists were influenced by this darkness and bought into the Greek culture.

However there were a group of Jews led by Mattisyahu (the patriarch of the priestly Chashmonaim family) and his sons who, because of the darkness, grew even stronger. They willingly martyred themselves before the face of imposed apostasy. They risked their lives to do the avodah to the highest degree. They kept shining their light and eventually overpowered the darkness.

We thank Hashem for the war and for the adversity which strengthened the Chashmonaim, thus revealing their light and inspiring Jews with their story for generations to come.

When there’s a blackout the emergency lights usually go on. These lights are usually not noticed under regular circumstances. If your life becomes enclosed in darkness don’t give in, rather search for the light inside yourself to illuminate your path.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. The Box of Rugelach

 

 

 

מצות נר חנוכה מצות חביבה היא עד מאד וצריך אדם להזהר בה כדי להודיע הנס ולהוסיף בשבח הקל והודיה לו על הנסים שעשה לנו.

The mitzva of lighting the menorah is a very beloved mitzva and everyone should be careful to perform it. It is to remind people of the miracle He did for us, and praise Him for the miracles He continues to do. (Rambam 4:12)

 

 

Chanukah is the only Yom Tov that requires its mitzva to be visible to others. Why does the mitzva of the menora necessitate a public display?

 

Shuki grabbed a box from the IDF campground and entered a jeep awaiting to take him and 12 soldiers to the Gaza border. It was 2014 and Israel was at war once again with its neighbors. Shuki’s unit was called in to detect tunnels dug by terrorists to infiltrate into Israel and wreak havoc. To comfort these young soldiers braving the front lines of battle, people from around the world sent packages. The package Shuki took was a box of rugelach (chocolate pastries) which he knew would come in handy.

 

After 36 hours of successfully demolishing dozens of tunnels the soldiers were near collapse. They barely ate nor slept. They found a deserted house and hid inside awaiting further instruction. Shuki remembered the box of rugelach. He retrieved the box, popped it open but then stopped when he found this letter inside:

 

“אני יודע שאתה שומר עלי זו הערכה שלי עליך אני עוד קטן אבל רק בקשה אחת יש לי שתברך לפני שאתה אוכל הממתק שלי”

“I know you’re protecting me. This (box of rugelach) is my appreciation to you. I am still a young child but I have one request: make a blessing before you eat my treats”

 

Shuki was not a religious Jew and he did not know what a blessing was. However, he understood that this young boy was gracious enough to send him this box and he therefore must fulfill his request. There was only one soldier in the group who wore a kippa; he was at the opposite side of the room. They were all in a crouched position to avoid being seen so Shuki crawled to the other corner of the room where the dati soldier was and begged for his help.

 

BOOM!

 

An RPG rocket struck the house. The sound was deafening as glass shattered and the room filled up with smoke. It was a miracle no one was hit. Shuki called for emergency backup and the soldiers quickly left the premises. Shuki ran back in to retrieve the box and what he saw made his stomach drop. The rocket hit the exact spot where he was sitting – before he went to find out the blessing for the rugelach. Shuki’s eyes filled with tears. He had never before come face to face with a miracle.

 

Chanukah is the last of Yomim Tovim that was decreed by the rabbis. It is the last time we witnessed an open miracle as a nation. However, miracles are happening all the time. The objective of the menorah is to remind us in the darkness of exile that Hashem performs miracles for us. Once a year for eight days we demonstrate to each other the miracle that G-d did for us back in the times of the Greeks and we are reminded of the miracles constantly happening. Keep your eyes open.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Living with Passion

 

בחנוכה עיקר הגזירה היתה על שהתרשלו בעבודה ועל כן היתה הגזירה לבטל מהם העבודה. וכשחזרו בתשובה למסור נפשם על העבודה הושיעם ה’ על ידי כהנים עובדי העבודה.

At the time of the Chanukah story, the Jews were lax in performing the avodah. The decree was therefore to take away the avodah from them. When they repented and risked their lives for the Avodah, Hashem saved them through the Kohanim who are the ones who perform the Avodah. (Bach siman 670)

 

 

Laziness describes the condition when a person is able to carry out some activity that he ought to carry out, but is disinclined to do so because of the effort involved. His motivation to spare himself effort wins over his motivation to do the right thing or what’s expected of him.

 

On Chanukah the main reason there was a decree of punishment was because the Jewish people were lax in their service of God in the Temple. There were many Jews who chose to assimilate with the Greeks and adopted their culture of dress and behavior. They became Hellenists. They put pressure on the rest of the Jewish people to become more modern and sophisticated and be part of ‘the real world’. Many of the Kohanim became Hellenists, allowing the Hellenists to gain control of the Bais Hamikdash. Accordingly, the Heavenly Decree was to take away the Temple Service from them.

 

The Talmud states (Shabbos 130a) that every mitzvah which the Jewish people sacrificed their lives for is still observed to the present day, such as distancing themselves from idol worship and performing circumcision. This is because all spiritual accomplishments can only be achieved through hard work – even to the point of self-sacrifice. When the Jewish people showed they’re willing to carry out the avodah despite the effort involved, Hashem returned the Temple to them.

 

The message that we get from Purim is that when problems seem insurmountable Hashem is there, behind the scenes, for us. The message we get from Chanukah is that we need to roll up our sleeves and work hard to achieve spiritual accomplishments. When we’re passionate about performing mitzvos Hashem gives us the opportunity for more and performs miracles for us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Building a Career from an Embarrassing Moment

 

שכשנכסו יוונים בהיכל טמאו כל השמנים… לשנה אחרת קבעום ועשאום שמנה ימים בהלל ובהודאה

 

When the Greeks entered the Bais Hamikdash they defiled all the oil… the following year they established an eight-day festival to sing praises and give thanks.

(Shabbos 21b)

 

Chanukah was established to give ‘thanks’ and ‘praise’ to Hashem. What is the difference between the two?

 

Shalom was a nice sweet boy who had trouble following rules. He wasn’t evil or rebellious, he just loved to have fun. Being that he was the youngest of five, he did not grow up with too many rules. One summer Friday night in camp some staff members, including Shalom, decided to make a break-off minyan from the regular camp minyan. These counselors worked only during the week so Shabbos was their off day. Nevertheless, they were still required to daven with the rest of the camp.

 

The break-off minyan had just begun the Kaballas Shabbos services when the head counselor stormed into the room and grabbed the tallis off the chazan – who happened to be Shalom. The head counselor was visibly upset and he said in a stern voice, “Get back into the main shul immediately, and make sure you’re really quiet – there is a visiting Rav who is scheduled to speak.” He then marched out of the room.

 

The counselors all filed back into the main shul without saying a word. Shalom, who was still recovering from the rebuke, entered last. By that time most seats had been taken. He bent down and whispered to a boy on a bench to please move over so he could squeeze in. Shalom sat down and lowered his head – too embarrassed to look up. The head counselor stood up, interrupted the Rav, and shrieked in a loud deafening tone in Shalom’s direction, “GET OUT!”

 

That was a first, Shalom thought. In this 1000 plus person camp shul Shalom had never witnessed someone getting thrown out. Especially in the presence of a special guest lecturer.

 

His thoughts were interrupted by another shriek, “GET OUT NOW!”

 

Shalom felt sorry for the victim. “This has got to be the most embarrassing thing for a camper,” he thought. Did the camper really do something that terrible to deserve this suffering? His thoughts were interrupted by a yank on his arm. It was the head counselor.

 

He pulled up Shalom from his seat and practically dragged him out as 1000 pairs of eyes pierced holes through Shalom’s heart. Shalom felt the lower than he had ever felt before. He didn’t know how he would face anyone in the camp again.

 

Shalom’s self esteem was in pieces and he struggled mightily after that. With time and a few caring Rebbeim Shalom was finally able to move past his humiliating experience. He studied in a well-respected yeshiva. Every year on the anniversary of his humiliation Shalom made a party with his close friends and relatives and thanked Hashem profusely for delivering him from that experience.

 

A few months later Shalom was part of a choir that was scheduled to give the biggest performance of the year in front of 1000 people. The night before the concert many of the boys were so nervous they did not sleep well. Some even got sick. Not Shalom. At the event many boys sang with a bit of nervousness; not Shalom. He received the highest congratulations from the choir director. None of the other boys knew why Shalom was so calm and confident. Shalom, however, knew it was not his first time in front of such a large crowd. Shalom had nothing to fear; even if he sang poorly nothing could be as humiliating as the previous time he was in spotlight. Since that concert Shalom makes a party and thanks Hashem for delivering him from that humiliating disaster and for putting him through that same disaster.

 

We “thank” G-d for delivering us from a threat to our physical or spiritual security. However, we also “praise” Hashem for providing us with that threat. If most people are given a chance between danger followed by deliverance or an absence of danger, the natural reaction is to choose the latter. Such a choice, however, is the product of shortsightedness. Every hardship can build a person and give him valuable skills. Only when one is exposed to danger and sees the hand of G-d coming to his rescue does he develop an intense awareness of Providence. It is insufficient to thank Hashem for the victory over the Greeks. We must also praise Him for having exposed us to such danger.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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