The Light Within
Rabbi Aryeh Zvi Goldman
Chanuka 1942 - >From a room in the Warsaw Ghetto, the Piacezna Rebbe zt'l searched in the darkness to find words to inspire his people. In previous years they would joyfully celebrate Chanuka, with the brilliant candlelight radiating from their homes and the proud spark of the Maccabees in their hearts. This atmosphere carried the hope that the Jewish light would burn for eternity…and yet now the holy Piacezna Rebbe faced a very different scene. A savage war was being waged against the Jewish body and soul and had shattered the spirit of his people. This Chanuka, the Jews of the Warsaw ghetto were reliving the plight of the Chashmanaim.
The Rebbe's words pierced the hearts and ignited the flame within his Chassidim. The Rebbe asked: "When the evil Greek empire was forcing Jews to abandon the Torah, it was not only the Jews' problem; G-d was also being challenged. This being so, why do we say 'You in your mercy stood up for them'. G-d was standing up for Himself!?" 1
The Rebbe began his answer by admonishing those amongst them who had started questioning G-d. They had been asking, "Why have you forsaken us? If we are being tortured in order to bring us closer to you - then isn't the Torah and everything holy also being destroyed?" He told his followers that they must seek ways to strengthen their faith in G-d. "Faith is the foundation of everything. If the faith is chas veshalom damaged, then the person is torn and distanced from G-d." 2
The Rebbe then highlighted a teaching from the Baal HaTanya zt'l. The Tanya writes that we find even the least sincere Jew, if tested, is nevertheless prepared to give up his life for G-d. The Tanya explains that this is because when his enemies try to extinguish the "pintele Yid" (the Jewish spark of spirituality), that spark bursts into flames and grows stronger and more powerful.
The Piacezna Rebbe concluded that the Greeks of the Chashmanean era tried to force them to abandon the Torah and deviate from the mitzvos. They tortured and oppressed Israel and spread their Hellenistic culture amongst the Jews. They even had the Jews write on the horn of their oxen that they have no portion in the G-d of Israel 2. They were aware that the purpose of all the physical torture was to make them forget the Torah and stray from mitzva observance. This was the primary cause of their suffering, their faith was strengthened and G-d saved them in this merit. Therefore we read in the Al HaNissim prayer of Chanuka, "At their time of distress, You in Your great mercy stood up for them." The distress of the Jews was not because of the physical pain, but at the efforts of the Greeks to destroy G-d's Torah.
The Rebbe pleaded with his chassidim that they too should be deeply pained at what the enemy was attempting to do to the Torah and the Jewish people. "If the destruction of Yiddishkeit is what pains us, then it is this that will inspire us to strengthen our faith and we will merit redemption in the same way as the Chashmanaim."
In spite of all the suffering, the Jewish spark burned fiercely in the heart of the Piacezna Rebbe as was the case with the Kohen of Modi'in - "which inspired heroism in his sons, and the resistance of this one family rekindled the faith of the entire people." So too in the ghetto, the Rebbe taught that it is not "the courage of the Chashmanaim, nor the sword of the Maccabees that is the designation of the festival, but the lights, which are its symbol." It was the Divine light within the Jewish people that was victorious over the mighty Greek Empire. This light saved the Rebbe's followers and prepared them to sanctify their lives for G-d. It is this light that burns in the darkest of places, when all hope seems lost, and carries the Jewish people through its long and bitter exile 3.
Today the battle against the forces that attempt to loosen our grip on the holy Torah is no less important. The Rambam writes "it is natural for a person to be influenced, in sentiment and action, by his neighbours and associates and to observe the customs of his society." We look at the world and it seems inviting. The Hellenistic culture has lingered on until today and the Jew must constantly question the society in which he lives, striving to remain pure and untainted by its influences.
Whilst this may seem impossible, we have to look back to our ancestor Avraham, and his courage in standing up to the pagan society in which he lived. Avraham implanted into our spiritual genealogy the ability to go against an entire society and stand strong in our faith that G-d is one.
Rav Dessler zt'l writes, "Can you imagine the courage Avraham must have had to get up and challenge his father, his whole family and the entire world, in order to fight for the truth of G-d's oneness? We all know how hard it is to swim against the stream of society, even in an environment that is only slightly opposed to our beliefs; how much more so for a single individual who is engrossed in a society that is totally against him. This is nothing other than the determination to do good, a decision not to give up under any circumstance. Due to this strength, Avraham merited to receive the bris - a promise never to be broken, that his children will live forever."
If you visit a salmon fishery you will see a replica of a cascade, a stream flowing strongly over steps. At every level, there is food for the salmon. Once the food on one level is finished, they must jump from one level to the next, against the stream. The salmon sometimes fail in their upward leap, but they do not quit. They wait to gain more energy and try again. Likewise, we need to remain focussed on our eternal mission and not submit to the tides which thwart our progress.
For our sake and the sake of future generations, we must affirm our emuna and devotion to the Torah. We must seek out the Tzadikim, those bastions which carry the light of inspiration, and heed their call to strengthen our faith so that we too shall merit the triumphant victory when G-d in His great mercy will stand up and redeem His people.
1. "Sacred Fire" - Chanuka 1942.
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