"Baruch haba (Welcome)", says the mohel in a booming voice and the atmosphere in the shul turns into one of quiet expectancy. A new boy born to Klal Yisroel (the Jewish people) will be welcomed into the covenant of Avraham Avinu (our patriarch) and receive his name. There is joy. There are blessings. A festive meal is served. We look forward to his future and his contribution to the Jewish people.|
However, just over two thousand years ago, on the top of the outer wall of Yerushalayim (Jerusalem), there were different Jewish babies who were welcomed into the covenant of Avraham Avinu under very different circumstances. In full view of the Greek soldiers who were to execute those performing a ritual circumcision, brave Jewish mothers said the appropriate blessings, circumcised their sons and jumped to their deaths, in order to sanctify the name of Hashem (God). Better to die for the sake of the mitzvah than to live a life based on lies.
The kallah (bride) stands under the chupah (wedding canopy), glowing with joy in anticipation of her entrance into married life. What greater celebration is there among Jewish people than a chatunah (wedding), the building of a new home in Klal Yisroel? A new mikdash me'at, miniature sanctuary, for the Divine Presence is being born.
However, just over two thousand years ago, the Greeks made a decree. The day before her chatunah a bride had to first appear before the local miltary governor. One day, Yehudis, a stunningly beautiful Jewish widow, approached the military base of the Greek general Holofernes, carrying with her salty cheese and wine. She was taken prisoner and brought to Holofernes. He asked her why she had come to his camp. She told him that she had come to predict his victory and to celebrate with him. Taken by her good looks and good news Holofernes gladly agreed to dine with her. Yehudis fed Holofernes the salty cheese she had prepared so that he would become thirsty. When he asked for drink she gave him wine. He got drowsy and fell asleep. When he did, Yehudis drew his sword and cut off his head. She hoisted it on the point of the sword, carried it outside and raised it high. When his soldiers saw her marching with his head, they fled in terror. The purity of young Jewish brides was no longer threatened.
Chanukah. We sit in our homes, kindle the lights, eat latkes, sing songs, get together with friends. Let's have a party! What are we celebrating?! What was won?!
Chazal (our Sages of blessed memory) tell us, that the lights of the Chanukah menorah are more precious to HaShem than the sun, moon and the stars combined. The lights of the Chanukah menorah represent the utter purity and mesirus nefesh (self-sacrifice) that a minority of Jews during an era of inter-marriage and rampant assimilation. The one jar of oil that the cohanim found when cleaning the Beit HaMikdash (Holy Temple) after the war had been won was extraordinarily kosher (Rabbi Meir Horowitz). It represented the victory of light over darkness, the recognition that the human body is the chariot for the soul, that Hashem runs the world, that there is no such thing as "natural". Even nature is a miracle from Hashem. It was the initial mesiras nefesh of the women that blazed a path in the hearts of the men for teshuvah (repentance) and victory. Time after time throughout history we Jewish women have been the inspiration for monumental deliverance.
Chanukah is a time for going in, for reflection on the chinuch (training) of our inner beings and to see how we can, like the light of the menorah, positively influence those around us. In this generation, we suffer more from inner persecution than from outer persecution. We have lived so long in a golus laden with materialism and foreign concepts that we often cannot distinguish between kosher and non-kosher. Western values are dressed up in Torah outfits so that we unknowingly persecute ourselves and drive ourselves away from truth.
The spiritual strength of Chanukah helps us to return to that essential purity of our inner soul—purity in thought, speech, action, and relationships with others. Throughout history the Jewish woman has been the inner fortress of the purity of Klal Yisroel.
This Chanukah, as we gaze at the menorah's lights, let us search within our own hearts for that flask of totally pure oil. Let us kindle it and bear it so that the fire of Torah and mitzvos will enlighten our homes, hastening, speedily in our days, the final redemption.
The menorah is lit opposite the mezuzah. Let us dedicate ourselves to making sure that whatever enters our home be pure. Alternatively, the menorah may be placed by a window overlooking the street. We want to influence others in a positive way, through means of holiness and purity (Rabbi Zev Leff, Outlooks and Insights, p. 48).