Sfas Emes, Zechuso Tagein Aleinu, Chanuka, 5th Candle, 5631
The Sfas Emes begins this ma’amar with a quote from his Grandfather. The Chidushei HaRim, in turn, is commenting on a statement in the Gemara (Maseches Shabbos, 23b). As you will soon see, that statement cries out for explanation ‘ for it comes across as a total non-sequitur. Thus: ‘Ha’ragil be’neir…” (“If a person takes the lighting of candles — for Chanuka or for Shabbos — as a regular feature of his life, his sons will be talmidei chachamin. “).
To say the least, this statement is puzzling. Why? Because no connection is apparent between lighting candles regularly and having one’s sons develop as talmidei chachamim. How did the Chidushei HaRim handle the puzzle? He pointed out that lighting candles in a context of mitzvos can convey a vital message to one’s children (and to oneself!). That message is: even in a setting of hergeil (habait, routine), one can rise in one’s Avoda. How? By bringing to bear the elucidation (he’ara) and freshness (hischadshus) that newly lit candles symbolize. Thus shielded from the deadening power of hergeil, a person (and his progeny) can reach higher levels of ruchniyus. As noted, the message can help the potential talmidei chachamim in two ways — either via its impact on the sons directly. or indirectly, via its impact on the potential facilitators, the parents.
Mention of the word “hergeil” leads the Sfas Emes to another phrase where – – if one looks with eyes inspired by the Sfas Emes — one can also find the word “hergeil”. But to understand what comes next, we must go back to first principles.
The reason why we light candles on Chanuka is : ‘pirsu’mei nisa’. (That is: to broadcast news of the miracle that we experienced on the first Chanuka). We attempt to achieve persumei nisa by lighting candles which passers-by can see, and remind themselves of the miracle. Accordingly, the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim, 672,b) tells us that Chanuka candles may be lit: “ad she’tikaleh ha’regel min ha’shuk”. In a non-literal translation: “until traffic in the market-place stops”. In a more-or-less literal translation: “until the feet [of passers-by] are no longer in the market-place”.
So much for the plain, simple meaning of the phrase: “ad she’tikahleh ha’regel”. The Sfas Emes leads us forward now to another dimension of meaning. The word ha’regel means “the foot”. But working with allusion (remez), the Sfas Emes reads the word as “hergeil” — habit, routine. Thus the Sfas Emes is telling us that we light the Chanuka candles to bring renewal and remove habit from our Avodah.
Doing mitzvos as a matter of unthinking routine is a constant threat to the active, conscious way in which we should strive to live our relationship with HaShem. The Sfas Emes is telling us to let the Chanuka candles remind us to focus our mind and our emotions on our actions when we do mitzvos. “Hergeil” (routine; habit) is the enemy We should be aware of what we are doing rather than live our Yiddishkeit as unthinking creatures of habit .
Clearly, the Sfas Emes considered hergeil to be a very serious problem for our Avodah.. Thus,. he felt it necessary to add two more non-pshats that speak well of living on the edge , and speak ill of life submerged in habit. The Sfas Emes quotes the pasuk ( Bereishis, 42: 31 ) where the shevatim– Yosef’s ten brothersâ??say : ‘Keinim anachnu…” (. ArtScroll : :” We are truthful men…” ) By contrast, the Sfas Emes shows us another way to read the word “keinim” : namely, as coming from the same root as “:hachana”â??preparation.. This reading shows us the shevatim as ‘muchanim”–i,e., alert and ready to go forward in their Avodah., The same thought comes through when the shevatim end the sentence just quoted Thus, we hear: them saying :’ Lo hayinu meRaGLim” That is, we do not do our Avodah in a mode of regilus ( habit, routine ).
In deference to the Sfas Emes, who has called our attention.to a potential problem.that threatens every shomeir Torah u’mitzvos, we say once more : “Ad she’tikaleh hergeil min hashuk!”
Text Copyright © 2004 by Rabbi Dr. Nosson Chayim Leff and Torah.org.