April 13, 2024
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April 13, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

As the Rav of Brisk and later in the holy city of Yerushalayim, Rav Yehoshua Leib Diskin, known as the Maharil, zt”l, was known as a fiery gaon in Torah and man of great chesed. In 1881, after years of fostering needy children, and in the face of great suffering and poverty, the Maharil and his family opened an orphanage in the Old City.

When his son, Rav Yitchak Yeruchem assumed leadership of the orphanage there was a group of young orphan girls there, who for a short period had been lovingly cared for in Rav Yitzchak and the rebbetzin’s own home. Rav Yitzchak Yeruchem noticed that every night one of the little girls would cry after her bath and asked his wife what the reason might be. “Maybe she is cold?” the rav gently suggested. Pausing to consider, the rebbetzin replied, “I’m not sure; I do wrap her well as soon as she is out of the water…” “Perhaps the soap irritates her eyes?” guessed the rav. “I don’t think so, I am very careful to not get soap in her eyes when washing her face and hair….”

That evening, while tucking the children in and saying the Shema with them, Rav Yitzchak Yeruchem sat down next to the girl’s bed. Softly, he asked her, “Darling child, is there something that makes you uncomfortable or upsets you after your bath? Is there something that we can do better?”

With sadness in her eyes, the child assured the Rav that she felt loved and was well taken care of. “And on the contrary,” she said, “the rebbetzin is so kind and gentle, and washes me even better than my mother used to.” Her voice trembling, she continued, “But after taking me out and wrapping me in a towel, my mother would always kiss me on the head… And it is her kiss that I miss so much.”

~

Throughout the special days of Chanukah, much of our attention has been focused on the miraculous events surrounding the pach shemen, the lone flask of pure oil, found in the Mikdash that burned for eight days and nights. Who is not moved by the powerful, soul stirring imagery of a little bit of oil lighting up the darkness of exile. Our Sages state clearly that this miracle is the core reason and foundation of these wondrous days of hoda’ah and hallel, the celebration of Chag HaUrim, the Festival of Lights. (Gemara Shabbos, 21b).

Perhaps a bit lost in the shuffle is the other core reason for Chanukah: the brave Maccabean revolt and the astounding military victory of a handful of yeshiva students and kohanim over the mighty Greeks. While in our liturgy we do mention the “deliverance of the many into the hands of the few,” many commentators have addressed the frequent seeming omission, in our thought and commemoration, of the miracle of our physical survival and our strong emphasis on the victory of the spirit.

Rav Chaim Shmulevitz, zt”l, rosh Yeshivas Mir and author of Sichos Mussar develops this question and expounds on the different categories of miracles and the underlying message they represent. The Maccabean military victory was a miracle of necessity: to ensure our survival in face of threat and existential harm. The Ribbono shel Olam had a “duty” to save us from physical annihilation. However, the nes pach shemen, the miracle of the oil, is of a completely different nature. The menorah had not been lit in the Bais Hamikdash for some time, and Halacha explicitly states that טומאה הותרה בציבור, impure oil would have been acceptable to be used under those circumstances. Any oil would have fulfilled the requirements, and our reconsecration of the Temple would still have been a cause for celebration and joy. Therefore, beyond ensuring our basic need of survival, the miracle of our finding shemen zayit zach, pure oil, that lasted eight nights, was like a kiss from our loving Father in Heaven, an expression of love and connection above and beyond all concepts of “duty.”

Rav Shmuel Silber, shlit’a, the inspiring mara d’asra of Yeshivas Toras Chaim of Suburban Baltimore, extends this concept further, and draws out a powerful message relevant to our current parshios:

When Yosef is betrayed by his brothers and eventually sold to a caravan of Yishmaelim, the Torah points out, with seemingly extraneous detail, who these merchants were: “…a caravan of Yishmaelim coming from Gilead, their camels bearing gum, balm, and ladanum to be taken to Egypt (Bereishis, 37:25).

Rashi explains the lesson in detailing the merchandise: להודיע מתן שכרן של צדיקים, “It is to teach us the reward of the righteous.” Generally, these types of caravans carried naphtha and tar, which were foul-smelling. Through His hashgacha pratis, a small miracle was arranged by God for the benefit of Yosef so he would not suffer additional discomfort from noxious fumes.

Rav Zeidel Epstein, zt”l, the sagacious mashgiach ruchani of Torah Ohr, pointed out that while Yosef was made to suffer terribly, and being surrounded by sweet smelling herbs and spices certainly did not make everything all better. Rather, the fragrance was an expression of Divine love, akin to a kiss from Hashem, a sign to Yosef that he was not alone.

The first three letters of the name of Chanukah’s holy protagonist, Matisyahu Kohen Gadol, מתת, mean “gift.” The second half of his name is formed by three letters that spell one of Hashem’s names, י-ה-ו. Therefore, explains Rebbe Tzvi Elimelech of Dinov, the Bnei Yissaschar, even the name of Matisyahu was a sign to us: “a gift from Hashem.”

May Chanukah draw to a close with a resounding and miraculous military victory and revealed good. May we be blessed to receive a great gift of salvation from the Ribbono Shel Olam—a gift sealed with a kiss.


Rav Judah Mischel is executive director of Camp HASC, the Hebrew Academy for Special Children. He is the mashpiah of OU-NCSY, founder of Tzama Nafshi and the author of “Baderech: Along the Path of Teshuva.” Rav Judah lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh with his wife.

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