Sunday, December 21, 2008

Spirit of the Law: Chanukah #14

(Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 139:14) “One may not derive practical benefit from the candles during the entire half-hour period when it is a mitzvah for them to stay lit.”

It is only a mitzvah to see the Chanukah lights, but not to use them—as we say in the song HaNeiros Halalu after candlelighting: “And we have no right to make use of them, rather only to look upon them.” In a deeper analysis of this halachah, Reb Nosson of Breslov writes in his Likutei Halachos, zt”l, that first thing one must realize is how far he is from holiness. Once a person is aware of how far he has to go, he won’t get so off-kilter when he finds himself experiencing the natural ups-and-downs of spiritual growth.
Even when we are sometimes gifted with a feeling of spiritual illumination, this is not proof positive of our actually being on the level to deserve such light. Rather, it is an expression of Hashem’s kindness that we feel uplifted.
On the other hand, awareness of one’s distance from Hashem should not make a person feel insignificant. On the contrary, he can transform all his worry and anguish into joy when he realizes how precious and wondrous every bit of spiritual attainment is. One comes to appreciate all of the many opportunities for holiness that come along—every change to perform an act of kindness, to make a blessing, to learn or pray. One feels privileged with the opportunity to put on his tefillin, and the undeserved gift of being able to light the Shabbos candles in his home. We should feel encouraged by the light of Chanukah that fills our homes, despite our imperfections. It demonstrates that Hashem is with us at all times, and gives us reason to rejoice. With this awareness, we can be happy at all times—we long to praise Hashem for the gifts of His many opportunities for closeness—and this is the root of our Hallel prayer on Chanukah. With the right perspective, we can transform anguish and despair into joy!

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