April 14, 2024
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Chanukah—It’s All About the Menorah

Our menorahs on Chanukah shine bright, but for what purpose? Are they just ornaments for the holiday? The Gemara in Shabbos indicates that Chanukah is all about the menorah—publicizing the miracle of the oil lamp lit from a one-day supply of pure oil, burning for eight days.

With all the emphasis on pirsumei nisa—publicizing the miracle—we can’t help but be puzzled by the halacha that if a flame goes out after one lights the candles, one is not required to re-light the candle. How can we just walk away and not be required to relight the flame so it can burn the required amount of time?

The Bnei Yissaschar teaches a very important lesson with regard to this issue, but first…a story.

There was a lady whose daughter became estranged from keeping Torah and mitzvot. The mother’s pain became almost too much to bear when her daughter decided to marry a non-Jewish man. A year later, the couple had a baby boy. The grandmother asked about a brit milah, but the daughter would not hear of it and threatened that she would have her mother locked up if she touched the baby. On the eighth day, as the mother napped, the grandmother took the baby quickly to a pre-arranged mohel. The brit was performed and the baby was quietly returned to the crib. When the daughter awoke, she saw what happened, called the authorities and somehow managed to get her mother committed to an institution (obviously, an extreme situation). Years later, this boy traveled to Eretz Yisrael and started to discover his roots, gradually taking on Torah and mitzvot. When he came back to the U.S., he tracked down his grandmother in an institution. After re-uniting, the boy let his grandmother know about his journey in life. She started crying and said, “I knew it! I waited all these years for you to be connected to Torah and mitzvot. It was worth all the time I spent locked up in here.”

The Bnei Yissaschar now explains why we are not required to relight an extinguished oil lamp: First let’s take a look at the lighting of the Menorah in the Beit Hamikdash. The Ran in Shabbos says the menorah we light for Chanukah corresponds to the Menorah that was lit in the Beit Hamikdash. In Parshat Behaalotecha, Hashem instructs Aharon to light the Menorah opposite the Menorah and that seven oil lamps shall burn. And the verse concludes, “Vaya’as ken Aharon,” and so Aharon did.

Two questions are raised by this verse: (1) There was only one Menorah in the Beit Hamikdash, so why does the verse refer to the “Menorah opposite the Menorah”? Where did the second menorah come from? (2) Why does the verse say… “And so Aharon did”? Why was it necessary to indicate Aharon’s compliance—of course he would follow Hashem’s instructions! The Bnei Yissachar answers both questions as follows: There is a heavenly Menorah in shamayim corresponding to the physical Menorah in the Beit Hamikdash. Aharon was instructed to light the physical Menorah with heavenly mystical intentions that would align the Menorahs in a spiritual realm. This instruction by Hashem was high praise of Aharon’s abilities. Aharon thought to himself that he could not possibly muster all the kavanah (heavenly intentions) needed to accomplish the proper lighting of this mystical heavenly Menorah. However, Aharon realized that since Hashem instructed him to light the Menorah, he should not second-guess Hashem with his own concerns and he proceeded to light the Menorah. The verse therefore indicates … “And so Aharon did,” to praise him for lighting the “spiritual” Menorah despite his self-doubts.

Going back to our original question about not having to relight an oil lamp that was extinguished, we see that the same concept applies. All one is required to do is obey the mitzvah and light the menorah’s oil lamps. If they are extinguished, there is no need to relight. We already did our part in obeying Hashem’s will.

A major tactic of the Yetzer Hara is to try to make us despair of successfully accomplishing our avodat Hashem: doing mitzvot, learning Torah, davening. Many times, we try to do these mitzvot but things happen…we don’t succeed. Sometimes we make an attempt to set up a shidduch, try a new piece of learning, give someone advice or attempt to connect a friend for a job, but our efforts aren’t successful. That is when the Yetzer Hara comes in and whispers to us, “Don’t bother next time.” Whether it’s not immediately succeeding in our personal efforts, or feeling unappreciated for nice things we do, it’s never time to give up. Any time we veer away from the true path of Torah, it’s the Yetzer Hara winning us over.

The grandmother in the story did whatever was in her power to help ensure that her grandson had a connection to Yiddishkeit, but her action seemed unsuccessful. She was locked up for years and lost all connection to her precious grandson, but she never gave up faith. In the end, her efforts bore fruit.

Similarly, with our issue of the oil lamp that was extinguished, the mitzvah is to take the action of lighting the oil lamps. Once we have taken that required action, we have completed the mitzvah—we have done what we were required to do. We are therefore not responsible to re-light a lamp that was extinguished.

The story of the grandmother and the halacha regarding an extinguished oil lamp both illustrate that in any situation we face, we should always do what is right—that is what Hashem expects of us. Once we have taken the correct action, we should not despair if the results don’t appear to be as we intended; our duty to ourselves and to Hashem is complete.

The Rokeach points out that we light 36 candles in total on Chanukah. This corresponds to the special light Hashem created on the first day of creation. It shone for 36 hours until Hashem hid it away for the benefit of tzadikim, to help them achieve clarity in achieving Hashem’s will. This action by Hashem seems to have had no benefit to most of us—what’s the point of creating the light if it is hidden away only for a very limited group? However, this hidden light was not removed from us forever; it comes back during Chanukah and shines forth in a spiritual dimension from the Chanukah candles. This demonstrates that even when an action seems fruitless, Hashem will make the fruits come at a different time, as long as we do what we have to do.

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch. PTI has attracted people from all over northern New Jersey, including Teaneck, Bergenfield, Paramus, Rockaway and Fair Lawn. He initiated and continues to lead a full multi-level Gemara learning program in the evenings, gives Halacha and hashkafa shiurim on Shabbos and, more recently, has spread out beyond PTI to begin a weekly Beis Medrash program with in-depth chavrusa learning in both Livingston and Springfield, New Jersey.

By Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim

 

 

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