Sunday, December 9, 2007

Spirit of the Law--Chanukah part 2

This halachah follows the format of the Ben Ish Chai, Parshas Vayeishev. Enjoy!

1. On the first night of Chanukah, immediately before lighting the menorah, we recite three blessings: “L’hadlik ner Chanukah—To light the Chanukah candle,” “She’asah nissim—He who did miracles,” and “Shehechiyanu—Who gave us life.”

First, we need to explain the word “berachah.” A berachah draws down blessing upon us; the word derives from the same root as the bereichah, which means a natural pool that flows with an abundance of pure water.[1] Our blessings reach the highest spheres and draw down abundant spiritual and physical blessings. The very word Baruch is an acrostic of beis for Binah, reish for Chochmah (as in the verse reishis chochmah—the head, or beginning, of wisdom), vav for Da’as (the vav means a connecting hook, and da’as always implies integrated understanding), and chaf for Kesser.

In reference to the first blessing, those who follow Nusach Ashkenaz say, “L’hadlik ner shel Chanukah,” with the addition of the preposition “shel—of.” This addition is not a problem since each person can definitely follow his custom without sacrificing the sacred intentions of the blessings.[2]

Rav Nosson writes that the light of Chanukah represents the pride that Hashem takes in every single Jew. Rebbe Nachman said that Hashem takes pride in every Jew no matter his or her level as long as that person takes pride in being a Jew. This is the light of Chanukah because tzaddikim arouse Hashem’s pride in us until this light is revealed for all to see. We see it in the tremendous providence the Jewish people experience through the miracles that secured the survival of the Jewish people throughout the ages.

The revelation of providence then gives rise to azus d’kedushah, or “holy chutzpah”—one of the main pathways to courage and joy even when things are difficult. Azus d’kedushah means I have the nerve to do what I know deep down is right even my circumstances would seem to impede me altogether. One needs to have a lot of azus, of chutzpah, to continue in the face of real adversity, because unless I really know and feel how right my goal is, human nature will instead drive me to take the easier way out and say, “Why should I bother?”

This is why it is preferable to light the Chanukah candles at night, when darkness reigns. Lighting the candles outside the house represents lighting when I feel completely distant from Hashem and vulnerable, since the public domain is an unprotected area that spiritually is the realm of the forces of negativity. The aspect of “publicizing the miracle” is brought even more into focus when lighting outside, since I show by my very actions that I am willing to do what is right even if I have to suffer the censure of hostile neighbors, and even though I am “in the dark” and without security and protection. Despite all this, I do what is right because I am a Jew who takes pride in my Jewishness, just as Hashem takes pride in me.[3]

This is the meaning of the first blessing: “…Who sanctified us with His commandments”—we take pride in the fact that Hashem chose to grant us the commandments through which we are consecrated to Him—“…and commanded us to light the Chanukah light.” We light the candles of Hashem’s pride in us by taking pride in being His chosen nation. In the merit of this pride that we take in being Jewish, Hashem’s providence is revealed and we are sent hidden and revealed miracles that sustain us through our exile.

This brings us to the second blessing: “Who did miracles for our forefathers in those days, in this time.” We feel uplifted by all that Hashem has done for us “in those days,” and it arouses us to act with true Jewish pride “in this time.”

This concept carries over to the third blessing, of Shehechiyanu—“Who gave us life…” Through the Jewish pride that reveals Hashem’s pride in us, we draw down miraculous providence. This is the source of our life in exile. We have endured so much persecution that our very survival is only in the merit of hidden and open miracles. When we contemplate this truth, we are astounded and filled with gratitude.

Even today, considering the number and power of our enemies, the survival of the Jews is a complete miracle. Nowadays, the true enemy of Judaism’s survival is the tidal wave of assimilation, immorality, and the valorization of character defects that are part and parcel of popular culture. This is especially true of Jews who were not raised in a religious environment, but it is true of all our people. Everyone has to endure formidable tests of character and is hard-pressed to be a spiritual person, to adhere to Hashem’s mitzvos, and to serve Hashem with joy. The fact that we are here studying Torah in the twentieth century is in and of itself a great miracle.

Rav Nosson explains that the three elements in the blessing “Shehechiyanu” relate to person, place, and time. There is always a barrier preventing us as individuals from connecting to Hashem and surviving physically and/or spiritually (this is “person”) because of one’s spiritual or physical “place” (the challenges presented by one’s environment), and “time” (the temptation of procrastination). All of these limitations are overcome by grabbing hold of the opportunity to perform any mitzvah, especially those mitzvos that only apply infrequently.[4]

The more holy chutzpah that we have, the more pride we show in being Jewish and the more we drawn down Hashem’s providence on us. The Chashmonaim were willing to die for the sake of Hashem’s Name. They did not expect to live. They were a handful who stood against a world-class army and were willing to die for their Judaism. This demonstrated their true Jewish pride, and it was the ultimate act of holy chutzpah that resulted in the miracle of Chanukah. The same is true for every generation. The more Jewish pride that results in holy chutzpah and the self-sacrifice it engenders, the more miracles we draw down.

After the communists came to power in Russia and it became clear that religious persecution was their goal, the Chofetz Chaim said, “When it first started, the Jewish community should have fought with a willingness to die if need be. They would have won out just as the Chashmonaim did so many years ago.” The more “l’hadlik” there is, the more “she’asa nissim,” in person, place and time. Chanukah enables us to reconnect to pride in our Jewishness and tap in to true holy chutzpah. The more we do this, the more miracles we will be privileged to witness.

[1] Rav Chaim of Volozhin, Nefesh HaChayim
[2] This is the opinion of the Arizal in Sha’ar Hakavanos, as brought in the beginning of the third section of Mishnas Chassidim and in many Siddurim.
[3] Based on Likutei Halachos, Birkas Hamazon 4:9.
[4] Based on Birkas Harei’ach 4:5.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Once again I thank you. I very much appreciate your work.

Chanukah sameach