Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Spirit of the Law: Chanukah V

Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, Hilchos Chanukah 139:5:
“If one lights in an earthen vessel, it becomes ‘old’ [after a single use]. Since it is blackened and disgusting, it may not be used for another night. Therefore, one must have a menorah of metal [since less porous substances like glass or metal can be cleaned if they get full of soot and oil].”
The Shulchan Aruch explains that one has two options if an earthen vessel is the only one available. One can either use a new one each day of Chanukah, or put the blackened vessel into the oven and reconstitute it into a new vessel through the agency of high heat which will burn away the accumulated filth.
The Mekor Chaim, zt”l, defines a vessel as an object that is designed to hold something else. Our limbs are the vessels that hold the nefesh, our souls. An earthen vessel represents a limb that is imperfect. Pottery cannot be koshered and it porosity makes it absorb more of what cooks in it than other vessels. This represents the part of a person that still requires a lot of refinement. This might be the tongue of the slanderer, the heart of the cruel person, or the hand of the one who strikes his friend. This can also refer to a particular organ that serves as the “abode” of a negative character trait.
For example, anger is said to be “seated” in the liver and depression in the spleen. The present halachah regarding the use of an earthen vessel parallels the situation of a person who tries to correct a fault by paying attention to how damaging the trait is and praying for help to uproot it. We “illuminate” the limb by working on the particular problem which is aroused by that limb or which that limb enables. However, this only works for a while—which parallels the fact that the earthen vessel can only be used once. After a while, this form of spiritual work tends to get stale. It is somewhat discouraging to work on a particular area for a time and to still feel as though one is getting—which parallels the blackened and repulsive state of the earthen vessel after having been lit for a night.
In such a case, one has two choices. The first is to work on a different area that requires attention. Since my realization of the damage this other trait does is fresh for me I don’t feel discouraged working on this new trait for a new period of time. Such “switching” is represented by the use of a fresh vessel for the next night’s lighting. The other choice is to place the new trait “in the oven.” That means “firing oneself up” about how important it is to change and receiving a new injection of energy by realizing every effort made to change a bad trait is very precious to Hashem. In this way, one “reconstitutes” the vessel and renews it, so that it is possible to continue the spiritual work without feeling “blackened” and disgusted with oneself.
The Vilna Gaon, zt”l, said about the hardest traits to overcome: “One who is stubborn will succeed!”


Shorty said...

i think this has been my favorite so far!

thank you!

Micha Golshevsky said...

B'simcha rabbah! Thank you for the encouragement!