Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz – Chanukah Lights

A Menorah (ou.org).

Operation Inspiration


Most of the time when I sit down to write this column, I have an idea in mind. It’s either something that I noticed, or something I thought of because I noticed something else. This time is different. You see, this time, I have a task ahead of me and I’m simply starting to work on it. It’s Chanukah and I need to share some words of wisdom that will light up the nights for my readers everywhere.

The problem is, I’m not “that guy.” I don’t have all the answers and insights and wisdom of the Torah harking back to thousands of years of Mesorah from generations of great people. I’m not the well-learned Talmid Chacham who can share kabbalistic secrets of the sefiros and the numerical values of each candle and the words of Maoz Tzur. No, I’m just a simple person, doing his best to do his best in a world that seems crazier each year.

But you know what? That’s OK. Because if Chanukah teaches us anything, it’s that you don’t need to be the greatest person around to make a difference. Sure, the original Maccabees were the family of Matisyahu ben Yochanan who was the Kohain Gadol, unless you hold of the opinion that Yehuda Maccabee and his brothers were not sons of Matisyahu but of a fellow named Chashmonai, but that doesn’t matter. They may have started the movement but they were joined by plenty of average Josephuses in the battle.

What was the miracle of Chanuka? You’ll probably tell me that there was a war and the small guerilla teams of the Jews succeeded in kicking the Greeks out of Yerushalayim and when they took back the Bais HaMikdash a miracle occurred and the oil they lit which was enough for only one day burned for eight. Well that’s TWO miracles. Or maybe it’s just one…

When we say Al HaNisim, we speak of the miraculous victory over the Greeks, giving praise to Hashem, Who we know is the source of all our salvation. In the Gemara, it speaks of the miracle of the oil burning longer than it normally should have, and of course the fact that they found some uncontaminated oil which was sealed with the Kohain Gadol’s seal. This was not normal practice, by the way. They didn’t seal the bottles since they used so much oil on a regular basis. It’s not like you went to the Bais HaMikdash gift shop and picked up a sealed jug of oil to take home and they found this souvenir flask. It was unusual.

So what, in my humble opinion, is the true miracle of Chanukah? The fact that people tried. The numbers didn’t work for taking on a massive army. What do you do? Fight anyway. Come up with unique strategies that accentuate your abilities. Do whatever you can and let Hashem worry about the odds.

What happened in the Bais HaMikdash? The place was trashed. They could have thrown their hands up in despair. But they didn’t. They did their best to clean everything up. They were allowed to use oil that was not pure, but they didn’t want to. They tried to find some that had not been defiled.

They found a small jug, not enough for what they would need. Why bother lighting it in purity tonight if tomorrow we’ll be stuck without pure oil and the Menorah will be contaminated anyway? They bothered. They did what they could and Hashem did the rest.

To me, THAT is the miracle of Chanukah. The fact that we, as Jews, can find ourselves in the most difficult of situations, but we can still find the bright spot, and BE the bright spot. We don’t give up and throw in the towel. We do what we can and leave the rest to Hashem.

The main Mitzvah of Chanukah is ‘ner ish u’baiso,’ one candle per home, a lone beacon in the night. But what does that one candle do? It pushes away a lot of darkness. You wonder, what can a small individual do? The answer is that the light they exude will drive away many shadows even if the flame stands alone.

Mehadrin is a candle for each person, so we reflect on the fact that each of us has our own light to share. It’s so miraculous that none of us are powerless. We count, and if we try to achieve something, it doesn’t matter if the odds are against us, Hashem can finish the job.

Mehadrin min HaMehadrin is when we increase the number we light each night. That’s when we really shine. When we realize that we can do more and more, going beyond what we thought were our limits, then we’ve internalized the miracle of Chanukah.

Each of us is able to push away the darkness and if we light the spark, Hashem will let the light spread across the world. Happy Chanukah!


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