2017-12-06 / Voice at the Shore

Chanukah laws light the way to greater wisdom

of Congregation Rodef Sholom, Atlantic City

On Shabbat Chanukah the Torah portion of Miketz is read. The parsha tells the story of Pharaoh’s dream of robust cows that were devoured by lean cows. This is an allusion to the miracle of Chanukah and a prayer called “Al Hanissim,” recited each day of the festival of Chanukah, mentioning “Giborim b’yad chalashim”— the weaker Jews overpowering the stronger Greeks.

Many laws relating to Chanukah are codified in the Shulchan Aruch, the Code of Jewish Law. These laws are unique in that they also imply moral and ethical lessons. For example, if you have a precise amount of oil for yourself, but not enough for your friendly neighbor, it is better to minimize your kindling and be frugal with your oil in order to share with your buddy. One may ask, “Why can’t my friend get his own oil?” Because that is not the Torah way! “Kol Yisrael aravim zeh ba zeh.” Better to give up your hiddur (enhancement and beautification) mitzvah so that another Jew can also, even minimally, fulfill the mitzvah.

Never leave another Jew in the dark! Share your oil and illuminate his or her life as well!

The law dictates that enough oil must be placed in the menorah from the beginning of the kindling, and that the menorah should not be placed in a windy area. The lesson here is: For proper Jewish education and outreach, make sure you have enough power, enthusiasm and exuberance to ignite the masses. Strength in kiruv assures that winds of society will not be able to overpower and extinguish the light of one’s efforts to influence others.

The menorah is to be lit in the doorway, towards the outside. The lesson here: Let us not worry about just ourselves, we should think outside the box and concern ourselves with others.

When is the proper time to light Chanukah candles? When the warm sun sets, during the time of darkness. The symbolic meaning here: When we are in a period of moral and spiritual decadence, causing the spread of coldness, heartlessness, and hedonism, it is imperative for us to try to dispel this dark gloom and illuminate the world through the light of Torah.

Jewish law dictates that we can light the candles up until the time passersby and pedestrians stop walking in the marketplaces. This teaches us to ease up on staying late at the workplace. Rid yourself of the mindset that the job is more important than the family. Return home early, before the late business hours. Light candles with your family and celebrate this festival with the joy and contentment that is the hallmark of Jewish family life.

A story is told in the Talmud (Taanis 25A) of Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa, whose daughter, on an Erev Shabbat, was very sad because the oil that was intended for the Sabbath lights was substituted with vinegar, which would not burn. Her father told her that Hashem, who makes oil burn, can decree that the vinegar shall burn. A miracle did occur and the vinegar did ignite and lasted until Havdalah.

The Ethicists say that oil is the symbol of the Maccabees, who were Torah-observant Jews. The vinegar is the symbol of assimilated, Hellenistic Jews. We believe that it is not only religious Jews who will illuminate the world like oil, but the day may come, very soon, that even the “vinegar Jews,” who are totally removed and not knowledgeable in Torah, will be influenced and turned on to Judaism…until Havdalah, when we know the difference between Kodesh and Chol, holy and mundane, light and darkness.

Let us do our best to be the lamplighters. Follow the laws and customs of kindling the flames properly, and let us remember the underlying object lessons for each action that perhaps will inspire our neighbors, elevate our souls, illuminate the world and banish the darkness.

Chag Orim Samayach. 

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