May 25, 2024
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May 25, 2024
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Finding the Eternal Spark This Festival of Lights

There is something incredibly alluring about Chanukah for Jews of all ages. I’m not referring to the gelt, the sufganiyot, the dreidels or the gifts. We don’t call it the Festival of Lights for nothing, after all. We enjoy neirot each week when we light Shabbos candles. The light of the neirot Chanukah, however, is different.

We learn as children that there is a minhag to stay by the candles for at least 30 minutes after lighting. Each night when I gaze into the flames, each night the light of the menorah is stronger and more powerful than the night before, and I feel a deeper and deeper sense of spiritual and emotional healing and restoration. What is it about the ohr of the menorah that gives it this unique quality?

Although two miracles occurred over Chanukah, winning the war against the Greeks and the miracle of the pach shemen (jug of oil), our Sages clarify that it is for the miracle of the oil that Chanukah was established and is celebrated throughout galut. We are familiar with the story recounted in the Gemara: We won back the Temple only to discover that everything was destroyed and contaminated by the Greeks. Miraculously, one pach shemen was found with the kohen gadol’s seal intact. Although there was only enough oil for one day, the oil burned for eight full days.

The Netivot Shalom points out that if the essential nes of Chanukah is the oil, the beginning of the miracle surely has its own significance worthy of exploration. The event that set the Chanukah miracle in motion was the discovery of the pach shemen. The Netivot Shalom compares the pach shemen to the kernel of a seed, which, if intact, enables a plant to regenerate and grow even after the plant has died. However, if that seed is destroyed completely, rebirth and renewal is impossible. This comparison sheds light on our understanding of the miracle of Chanukah. While the Persians attempted to wipe us out physically, the Greeks attempted to destroy us spiritually. So thorough was their attempt to wipe out all traces of our Yiddishkeit, they even contaminated every vessel of oil. They destroyed everything ruchani they could find. Except for one pach shemen, referred to Kabbalistically as “kusta d’chayuta,” or, the “eternal spark. When the last pach shemen was discovered, it was that only remaining shred of purity. Against all odds, and defying literally the laws of nature, from that small pach, from that small spark, began the journey of rebirth and renewal.

Chanukah is the last chag that was established l’dorot to be observed throughout exile until the coming of Mashiach. Chazal was sending us a powerful message. Anytime we as a people find ourselves on the brink of destruction where the end seems certain, it is within us to remember and believe that God is our Protector. God always leaves us with a small spark, the “kusta d’chayuta,” from which we will again grow, rebuild and be renewed.

This is the lesson of the pach shemen, and that which we can take with us this year when we light neirot Chanukah.

When we light the neirot we follow the custom of Beit Hillel, adding an additional flame each night, just like the spark, which starts out small and is barely visible, but grows and gets steadily stronger. Rambam refers to the mitzvah of ner Chanukah as “beloved, more than any other, chaviva hee ad meod,” an attribute that he gives to no other mitzvah. The Netivot Shalom explains that the mitzvah of ner Chanukah is of course deserving of this description: the ner and ohr of Chanukah is the source of our unique strength. Whenever we find ourselves in a period of darkness, whether as a nation or as individuals, we still have within us the eternal spark from which we can rebuild and be reborn anew.

This message of renewal, the message of the kusta d’chayuta, the eternal spark that each and every Jew has within them, is the message in the nes of Chanukah, whose start was in the discovery of the single pach shemen.

It is from this eternal spark found within each of us that we can experience rebirth and renewal no matter how dark our current circumstances may appear to be. When we understand that the driving force behind our eternal spark is our emunah, our uncertain and unwavering belief in God’s eternal love and support, we realize that we have the strength within us to sustain and overcome any and all of life’s challenges, big or small. As long as we have even a shred of emunah, or our eternal spark, we will discover the strength within ourselves and we will prevail.

May we each connect with the kusta d’chayutsa that lives within each of us when we light the neirot this year. Wishing you and yours a Chanukah sameach.


Alanna Apfel is the founder and patient advocate at AA Insurance Advocacy, which helps therapy patients, individuals, couples and children, save thousands of dollars annually on their out-of-network mental health therapy bills. In the months that AA Insurance Advocacy has been advocating on behalf of patients, clients have collected anywhere from $5,000 to

$45,000 a year in reimbursements, depending on the cost and frequency of therapy. If your preferred therapist doesn’t take your health insurance, we can help negotiate with your plan to cover your out-of-pocket therapy costs. For further information, please contact [email protected].

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