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A Chanukah Gift

By Rabbi Ephraim D. Becker

Permit me to share with you my paraphrase of a Chanukah thought expressed best by the legendary Mirer Rosh Yeshiva (Dean of the Mir Torah Academy, transplanted from Lithuania to Jerusalem and NY) Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz (1902-1978) in his collection of discourses entitled Sichos Mussar.

The Jewish People were physical endangered during the Second Temple period, but more prominently they faced spiritual annihilation at the hands of the Assyrian Greeks and their assimilated Jewish accomplices. In a miraculous turnaround the Macabees, giants of the spirit but hardly bearing great military prowess, were granted a stunning victory over the Greek armies and the Jews were spared the impending spiritual doom. In conjunction with that victory the Temple was rededicated from its defilement at the hands of our mortal spiritual enemies and a flask of uncontaminated oil was found which sufficed, again miraculously, to kindle the candelabrum (Menorah) in the Temple for eight days.

Given the magnitude of the existential threat to the Jewish People it is therefore surprising that the smaller and seemingly incidental miracle of the oil became the halachically required manner for marking the events of Chanukah. Surely the miraculous victory of the Macabees warrants far greater attention than the miraculous flask of oil.

We might even intensify the question by pointing out that due to a technicality in Jewish law we did not actually need the ritually pure oil that was found and lasted. When everything in the Temple is impure, then the standard for ritual purity is lowered and that would have been the case in the defiled Temple. We desperately needed the miracle of the Macabean victory and we hardly needed the miracle of the flask at all. Again, why is the smaller miracle central to Chanukah?

The answer can be best understood by imagining a family in which an heirloom gem had been passed through the generations. The priceless gem was misplaced; somehow it got lost. Obviously the family went into a state of emergency and the search commenced. After great efforts a young child in the family came upon the gem. When presenting it to his father he was rewarded with a kiss on his head from his father. Now this child celebrated the finding of the stone together with the rest his family, but he had something else; he had a kiss from his father.

A gift expresses additional intimacy when it is over and above one’s essential needs. Indeed, once one’s basic needs are met it is fair to say the following formula: The less a gift is needed the more intimacy it carries. We needed the salvation of the Macabean victory; we did not need the flask. That was a pure kiss. The intimacy that we enjoy with our Creator and Master was manifest in that small flask and it is that intimacy that colors the celebration of Chanukah.

I hope that you’ll pause to consider and experience the warmth and intimacy with the A-lmighty to be found in those little candles as you light and view them.

Rabbi Becker conducts Mussar-oriented counseling through his private practice in Jerusalem. He is also a popular lecturer in Israel and abroad. You can read more of his writings at his site



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