by HaRav Moshe Meir Weiss
|It's that time of year, when we reach into our china cabinets to start cleaning the menorah. We resign ourselves to not finding all the glass inserts from last year and resolve to buy another set. The thinking person also begins to reflect. "Here we go again. Lighting little oil wicks that are so insignificant in comparison to our modern means of illumination." We begin to wonder what is so important about this candle lighting ceremony.
We can get an idea of how very important this ritual is from what the Gemara teaches us in masechta (tractate) Shabbos: "Haragil bíneir havyan lo banim talmidei chachomim" (whoever is careful with the mitzvah of the candles will be rewarded with children wise in Torah)!! Since this is the fulfillment of every Jewish parent's most fervent dreams, it is obvious that this mitzvah packs a heavy punch! The story behind the candles can be divined from a Gemara in masechta Bava Basra: "Harotzeh sheyachkim yadrim...v'simanach...u'menorah b'darom" (One who wants to become wise should pray facing south...for the menorah in the Beis Hamikdash was situated to the south). Rashi explains that the menorah is the symbol of Torah wisdom since the pasuk (verse) states, "neir mitzvah v'Torah ohr" (the mitzvahs are a lamp and the Torah is the light). The Gemara goes one step further by teaching us that one who acquires true Torah wisdom will procure for himself wealth and honor as well. The pasuk rewards the devotee to Torah with it all, as the verse states: "Orech yamim b'yeminah, b'smola osher v'kavod" (in her right hand is length of days, in her left hand is wealth and honor).
We clearly see that the menorah is the symbol of the true illumination of Judaism, namely, Torah knowledge. It is thus appropriately the centerpiece of this holiday since it was the aim of the wicked Yevonim (Greeks) "L'hashkeecham torasecha" (to make [the Jews] forget Your Torah). Torah knowledge was also the secret behind the miraculous victory of the valiant Chashmonaim (Hasmoneans), as we say in Al Hanissim, "V'zaidim b'yad oskei torosecha" (the murderous ones were given into the hands of those that toil in Your Torah)!
Now, as we go to buy a new bottle of olive oil, we can ponder how oil is gotten, through pressing the olives. Similarly, the flaxen wicks are made possible through the beating of the flax. So, too, a successful career of Torah study does not come easy! Since "Talmud Torah kneged kulam" (Torah study is equivalent to all the mitvahs), the yetzer hora (evil inclination) works overtime to thwart us from this lofty goal. We, too, must "press" ourselves to find the time for Torah study and "beat" away the multitude of distractions that always surface to frustrate our Torah aspirations.
Indeed, just like the Chashmonaim were faced with the problem of not having enough oil, many of us feel we are not wise enough, or patient enough, or young enough to succeed in the world of Torah study. We look at the massive tomes of the Talmud, the thousands of pages of Tenach (Written Torah/Bible) and shake our heads sadly, thinking, "Unfortunately this is beyond me." The message of Chanukah is to DO, even if we do not see any way how we could possibly finish our goal. Hashem (God) will bless us with the fulfillment of our Torah dreams, just as the single jar of oil miraculously completed its job of lighting for the needed eight days!
We do not make a brahca (blessing) on something that only comes about through the death of a living thing. This is why we do not make a bracha of shehechiyanu on shoes, because they are made of leather, which cannot be obtained without killing an animal. If so, how come the Torah, which is the symbol of life (eitz chaim hee; she is the Tree of Life) and the way of pleasantness (drocheha darchai noam, her ways are ways of pleasantness), can only be made by killing an animal? The Torah is written on klaf (parchment) made from the hide of an animal?! I would like to propose that this is to teach us that we can not reach Torah greatness without "killing" some of the "animal" within ourselves! As the Gemara teaches us, "ein hatorah miskayemes ella bími shemeimis atzmo aleha" (the Torah is retained only by one who "kills" himself for it). The more we say "No" to the materialistic distractions of TV, novels, etc., the more we will be able to climb the great ladder of Torah success! Just as the optimum time for lighting the candles is from when the sun begins to set until people cease to be in the streets, so too, the challenge of learning Torah manifests itself when the breadwinner comes home at the end of the day, tired and weary: Will he make it his business to open up a sefer before collapsing?!
The Kedushas Levi and the Chesed L'Avraham (Radomsk) write that Chanukah is an especially auspicious time for beginning a new campaign of Torah study. The mighty Chasam Sofer adds that on Chanukah there is a special siyata d'Shemaya (Divine assistance) in the air for those who want to thrive in Torah, for it is the time when Hashem revealed the secrets of the Torah to Moshe Rabbeinu! So let us all gird ourselves and find time everyday to grow greater in Torah study, especially during the long Friday and Motzoei Shabbos nights of winter. May we all earn the great reward of children who are wise in Torah and may we thus bring the warm brightness of Torah into our homes!
(If you are interested in receiving Rabbi Weissís tapes, please e-mail us at