Sunday night is the first day of Chanukah, b”H. Anyone who has been reading my material for at least a couple of years now knows that Chanukah is one of the most misunderstood and underappreciate holidays, and that it is a big deal to me.
It should be a big deal to everyone. Even though the Gemora asks, “My Chanukah?” it means, “What is Chanukah?” Chanukah belongs to all of us, so why do people only borrow it?
How do you borrow a holiday? The same way you borrow anything else. You can use it to a certain extent, but only temporarily. You have to give it back to the owner at some point, and if you damage or break it, you have to replace it.
But when you own something, it is for as long as the thing or you last. You can do whatever you want with it, and if you break or damage it, you only owe yourself. Most important of all, you become one with it, which is why the Torah is insistent that you own your lulav and esrog on the first day of Succos, and your Sin Offering if you ever need to bring one.
How does one come to own a holiday? The same way you come to own anything else: you pay for it. You can get something as a gift, but few people treat a gift with the same respect as they do something they had to work for. It’s the way we are, and the Gemora goes so far as to say that a person would prefer one kav of their own than nine kavim from someone else (Bava Metzia 38a).
This is why the Torah emphasized in last week’s parsha that Ya’akov Avinu pressured Eisav to accept his gift (Bereishis 33:11). Most people would have said, “Okay, you don’t want my gift? My lucky day…” And most people would probably get a little suspicious if someone forced their gift on them…“Is it going to explode on me or something?”
So why was Ya’akov so insistent that his brother take his gift? Because Ya’akov had gone out of his way to confront Eisav one more time. He knew that Eisav still contained some holy sparks that belonged to the Jewish people, which Eisav had backed out of. The entire “confrontation” was for that purpose, and giving the gift was part of the process of “purchasing” from Eisav’s his remaining kedushah.
Did Eisav know? Did Eisav even care? Perhaps yes, perhaps no, but the fact that Eisav dropped out of the Jewish picture from that time onward indicated that Ya’akov Avinu had been successful. He had taken what he came and paid for, and while Ya’akov went off to continue building the Jewish nation, Eisav became the basis of Christianity.
HOW DO YOU buy a holiday and make it your own? With what do you pay? With two things. The first is to have as deep an understanding of what the holiday means and offers as possible. The second is to do the mitzvos of the holiday with the full weight of that understanding.
For example, the Bnei Yissachar (Kislev) says that the Ner Shel Chanukah is one of the four places in which God has hidden the Ohr HaGanuz, the Hidden Light of Creation. This is why we light 36 candles in total over eight days, especially since the actual mitzvah for each person is only to light one candle each day. As the Gemora says, the Ohr HaGanuz, with which God literally built Creation, shone for 36 hours for Adam HaRishon before being hidden again (Yerushalmi, Brochos 8:5).
Ya’akov Avinu was away from home a total of 36 years.
Rachel Imeinu died at the age of 36, because being married to two sisters is one of the 36 forbidden relationships that the Avos avoided while living in Eretz Yisroel.
The gematria of Leah is 36.
And, according to the Maharil, it was the Ner Shel Chanukah that healed Ya’akov after the incident with the Gid HaNashe. The verse says that “the sun shone for him—lo” (Bereishis 32:32), and the gematria of lo is 36. Does that mean that Ya’akov Avinu already had a chanukiah in his time? And even if did, which he probably didn’t, how did it help with his physical injury, and so quickly?
While you’re answering that question, answer why God said this to Ya’akov after he went back across the Yabok river to fetch a small container:
“For endangering yourself for a small jar, I Myself will repay your children with a small jar to the Chashmonaim!” (Midrash Tzeidah LaDerech)
Aside from the strange connection to a future Jewish holiday, why did God specifically choose Chanukah to connect it to, which wasn’t even going to be a Torah-commanded holiday? And what was there about going back for a small jar that warranted such a historic miracle so much later in Jewish history? If you can’t answer that question, then you’ll only being “borrowing” Chanukah this year again. You need that answer to actual “purchase” the chag.
MOST TESTS ARE question and answer. Then someone came up with the idea to reverse it and make the answer the question and the question the answer. They tell you something and the contestant has to figure out which question it answers. Chanukah is not the question. It is the answer, and we just have to figure out to what.
Hah! Oddly enough, the answer to that question is in the first, rather lengthy Rashi of this week’s parsha…if you know what to look for:
Ya’akov dwelt in the land of his father’s sojournings, in the land of Canaan. (Bereishis 37:1)
The camels of a flax dealer entered [a town], laden with flax. The blacksmith wondered, “Where will all this flax go?” A clever person answered him, “One spark from your bellows can burn it all up.” Likewise, Ya’akov saw all the chieftains [of Eisav] just mentioned and wondered, “Who will conquer them all?” What is written after? “These are the generations of Ya’akov: Yosef,” only, as it says: “And the house of Ya’akov shall be fire, and the house of Yosef a flame, and the house of Eisav shall become straw” (Ovadiah 1:18). One spark will emerge from Yosef and destroy and consume them all. (Rashi)
The thing about straw is that it appears massive, but it can also quickly become nothing if it catches fire. A person can be wealthy one moment, and become poor shortly after. A person can face imminent death, and be saved from it a moment later. It is amazing, even overwhelming, how quickly huge situations can change in huge ways. One moment it looked as if Haman was going to destroy the Jewish people, and the next he was being destroyed himself. All it takes is a single spark to change everything around.
What kind of spark? To burn up flax you’ll need an actual spark. To defeat Eisav’s and Yishmael’s descendants, you’ll need a spark of a different kind, a Yosef-like spark. But we seem to be getting both warmer and colder. What is a Yosef-like spark? This:
In a culture obsessed with measuring talent and ability, we often overlook the important role of inspiration. Inspiration awakens us to new possibilities by allowing us to transcend our ordinary experiences and limitations. Inspiration propels a person from apathy to possibility, and transforms the way we perceive our own capabilities. Inspiration may sometimes be overlooked because of its elusive nature. Its history of being treated as supernatural or divine hasn’t helped the situation. But as recent research shows, inspiration can be activated, captured, and manipulated, and it has a major effect on important life outcomes. (Why Inspiration Matters, Scott Barry Kaufman, Harvard Business Review)
And if it is supernatural?
Ain Od Milvado, Part 30
MOTIVATIONAL SPEAKERS GET paid BIG money to inspire people. Courage is not defined as having no fear. It is fighting to succeed despite the fear, and nothing makes a person do that more than inspiration. Inspiration has this uncanny ability to throw fear to the wind and push people to do great and risky things. That’s what Mattisyahu and his loyal followers did when they took on the Greeks.
Inspiration is a big topic and one worth studying well. Great will be the person who can “find” inspiration and harness its incredible power to do meaningful things. An inspired person is a happy one, even when everyone else is depressed. The vast majority of the world’s population are underachievers simply because they live uninspired.
It is easy to be inspired when the situation itself is inspiring, but it is not impossible to be inspired when it’s not. The Sitra Achra would like us to believe that it is, and that was the prime goal of the Nazis during the Holocaust, to zap the Jewish people of all inspiration. It drove them nuts and infuriated them when a Jew insisted on being inspired even while living in the depths of Nazi hell.
Inspiration is divine. It really is. It is the spirit of God that He puts into a person when they prove themself worthy of the investment, like Yosef did, even in the depths of Egyptian hell. And how did he do that? Ain od Milvado:
God was with Yosef, and he was a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master. And his master saw that God was with him, and whatever he did God made prosper in his hand. (Bereishis 38:2-3)
God was with him: The name of Heaven was frequently in his mouth. (Rashi)
Not bad for someone who was sold by his own brothers into slavery. Not bad for someone who was bought as slave and worked as one. Not bad for someone in a land whose people are nothing like him. As they say, “If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.”
While the rest of the world waits for inspiration, the inspired person makes their own. In a world in which Eisav subjugates his subjects by making everything important seem too big to conquer, the inspired person does the opposite. God is constantly in their mouth because they live to channel His light, His hidden light, into this world. And when that happens then even the sky is no limit…as Chanukah comes to teach us each year, and the Ner shel Chanukah come to channel to us each of the eight days.
Good Shabbos and Chanukah Samayach,