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Weekly Chizuk


A Flash of Lightning To Tell You That You're Not Alone

Based on Sichos Mussar by Rav Chaim Shmeulevitz, zt"l, Rosh Yeshiva of the Mir.

The Talmud tells us that beginning with the 25th of Kislev, we observe the eight days of Chanukah, during which no eulogies are delivered, nor is fasting permitted.

The Gemara asks, What is Chanukah? [On which miracle was this holiday established? - Rashi] When the Greeks entered the Sanctuary, they defiled all the oils, and when the Hasmoneans (the Maccabees) defeated them, they searched and found only one remaining jar of oil with the seal of the Kohen Gadol (the High Priest). Although it contained only enough oil to burn for one day, a miracle occurred, and the oil burned eight days. A year later the Rabbis designated these days as Yomim Tovim (Holidays) on which praise and thanksgiving were to be said. (Shabbos 21a)

If you stop to think a moment this statement of Chazal becomes quite perplexing. The time period of the events of Chanuka was an extremely turbulent one for Klal Yisroel The Jews faced annihilation at the hands of the ruling Greek Empire. The country had been beleaguered with anti-Semitic decrees. Jews had to risk their lives in order to practice Judaism. In our tefillos we recite the Al Hanissim prayer: When the iniquitous Greek kingdom rose up against Your people Israel, to make them forget Your Torah and to turn them away from the ordinances (chukim) of Your will. Many great miracles occurred then: "You gave the mighty into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, and the impure into the hands of the pure… And You made Your Name great and holy in Your world, And for Your People, Israel, You made a great salvation and redemption as this very day."

Doesn't it make sense that the main thrust of establishing a commemoration of that time period should center around the deliverance from our enemies? The miracle of the little jar of oil which lasted for 8 days doesn't seem an appropriate focus for the tremendous salvation and redemption that the Jewish people experienced which allowed the perpetuation of the Jewish religion and the Torah for generations afterwards.

In Parshas Vayeishev we discussed the sale of Yosef to the Arabs who brought him down to Egypt. The possuk informs us, And behold! A caravan of Yishmaelites passed... carrying spices, balsam, and lotus...?(Bereishis 37:25) Rashi, quoting Chazal, comments: Why did the verse specify the merchandise the caravan was carrying? To inform about the reward of the righteous, for Arab caravans normally carried only foul-smelling goods, such as kerosene and tar, but this caravan carried fragrant spices so that Yosef would be spared from having to endure offensive odors.?

Put yourself in Yosef's shoes. He was being taken down to Egypt to be sold as a slave. A few hours ago he had been the pride of an aristocratic family. He was the apple of the eye of his exalted father Yaakov, who had taught him everything he had learned in the Yeshiva of Shem and Eiver. He was a pure Yeshiva bochur aspiring to become a great Talmid Chochom and a future gadol hador.

Suddenly he had been thrown into a pit, stripped of his clothing, and sold to a band of Arabs. He was on his way to Egypt, the most decadent country in the world at that time. Mitzrayim - sunk in the 49th level of spiritual pollution; a land whose borders were so closely guarded like a Nazi concentration camp that no slave had ever been able to escape. He was doomed. He would never be able to get out of there! And this had happened so fast he didn't have time to think and prepare himself for what was happening.

At this dark and woeful hour what difference did it make to Yosef what he smelled? Spices, gasoline, it's all the same. How could some whiff of perfume help him at this bitter moment? Was the smell of some lovely fragrance really going to lift his spirits?

But think about it. This gentle fragrance of spices had a very deep meaning. At that dark and dismal moment when his whole world seemed to come crashing down on him, Yosef was liable to sink into a deep and severe depression. Hakadosh Baruch Hu, Who had been so good to him until now, seemed to suddenly disappear and totally forget him. He was lost and forgotten, chas v'sholom. At this bleak hour, he was sent a subtle hint from Heaven that he was mistaken. Hashem was with him right at this very moment and he was still under Hashem personal supervision. He must not lose his bitachon in Hashem Yisborach. Hakadosh Baruch Hu had sent him a pleasant fragrance in a most extraordinary way as a sign that he is not "lost" or "forgotten." He was in Hashem's embrace as Hashem personally was bringing him down to Mitzrayim for some great plan benownst only to the Creator.

The gentle fragrance of spices was the clue to Yosef that there was a ray of hope that things would eventually turn around and he would eventually be lifted up from his sudden downfall. This miracle of a caravan transporting spices had a very important purpose beyond merely sparing him from the stench of kerosene. This miracle was coming to support him giving him the chizuk and encouragement to understand that even in this darkest moment of his life he had not been forsaken. Hashem was with him and loved him dearly. Hashem had sent him a scent of perfume to teach him that all the torment that was in store for him was coming from Hashem's infinite love.

We can elaborate on this with a moshol. There was a family that had lost a priceless heirloom. It was a family inheritance that had been passed down from father to son for many generations. The whole family was extremely upset and so everyone put all his effort into finding it. After much time and sweat, one of the children discovered its hiding place. Screaming with excitement he ran to his father with the precious treasure in his hands as everyone ran together to celebrate. His father leaned over and gave him a kiss on his head. The joy in the family knew no bounds. This child was ecstatic. But not merely because he had found the heirloom. He was joyous because his father had kissed him.

This is the purpose of these miracles. They are a ray of light to let us know of Hashem's boundless love for us. This was the message of the jug of oil of Chanukah. It was Hashem's way of kissing us on the head. That's why this miracle outshined everything else. This is the reason Chazal established Chanukah around this miracle more than all the others. On the surface it doesn't seem to compare the redemption and salvation of the nation of Israel. It merely allowed them to light the Menorah with pure uncontaminated oil. But in reality it was a greater miracle than all the rest. It revealed Hakadosh Baruch Hu's love for His people. It was entirely a "kiss," an expression of how dear the Jewish People are to Hashem. It was around this ray of light that Chazal saw fit to establish an 8 day holiday of praise and song.

Gut Shabbos and a Freilichen Chanuka !

© Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
4 Panim Meirot, Jerusalem 94423 Israel
Tel: 732-325-1257
Rabbi Parkoff is author of "Chizuk!" and "Trust Me!" (Feldheim Publishers), and "Mission Possible!" (Israel Book Shop Lakewood).
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