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During the Second Temple, the Greek empire reigned (over Israel),1 and they (the Greeks) passed decrees against the Jews and (tried) to erase their religion, and did not allow them to carry out Torah (study) or the commandments. They put their hands on their property and their daughters. They entered the Temple, destroyed and made the pure unclean. The Jews were in great distress because of them and were much oppressed, until the G-d of their fathers had mercy on them, delivering them from their hands and saving them. Then overcame, the sons of the Hasmonean High Priest, (the Greeks) and killed them and saved the Jews from their hands. They appointed a king from the Priests, and the kingdom of Israel was restored for more than 200 years until the destruction of (the) second (Temple). When the Jews overcame their enemies and destroyed them, it was the 25th of Kislev2 when they entered the Sanctuary (inner room) and did not find pure (olive) oil in the Temple, except one jar sealed with seal of the High Priest, and it did not contain enough to light except for one day only. But they lit from it the lamps of the Menorah3 for eight days, until they could crush olives and produce a (new quantity) of pure oil. For these reasons, decreed the Sages of that generation that these eight days that begin on the 25th Kislev, will be days of joy and praise. One lights on them lamps at evening at the entrance to the houses, every evening of the eight nights to show off and demonstrate the miracle. These days are called ''Hanukah'' that is to say ''they rested'' (chanu) on the ''25'' ('th of the month) because on the 25th they rested from their enemies. and also because of those days they (re)-dedicated the house (Temple) which their foes had defiled. Also some say that it is a commandment to increase slightly the festive meals on Hanukah. Another reason is because the work of (building) the Sanctuary (in the desert) was completed in these days. One should tell one's children the story of the miracles that were done for our fore-fathers in those days, (see Josephus) However, these meals are not considered as part of the commandment unless one says at the meal songs of praise. One should increase charity in these Hanukah days, for this can help mend any defects in our souls. This charity, should be given particularly to poor Torah scholars. (KSA 139:1)
1) 352 BCE until 70 CE
2) 139 BCE
3) The Menorah was made of gold and had seven branches.
[Ed. Note] Out of the respect and recognition of the impact made by longtime BJL friend and contributor, Reb Shaya Gross, z’l, we will maintain a living memoriam to Shaya through the sweet words and thoughtful insights of his Divrei Torah. BJL readers will remember his weekly column on the Parsha and on various Torah ideas and concepts. These meaningful words will help us remember this special young man who will be sorely missed and for those who did not merit to know him, this will be the most appropriate way for them to become familiar with who he was.
As is our custom on Rosh Hashana night, we dip the apple into honey as a merit to have a sweet new year. The Avnei Nezer explains that the reason we use honey is because honey comes from bees that sting us and cause us pain.
The obvious question is that if we are trying to signify something sweet, why should we choose something which is acquired with such pain? In order to get the honey out of the beehive, a person has to cover himself up as much as possible and then take the honeycombs out of the hive. The bees are not happy and find a way to get under his protective clothing and sting him. It is a lot of work and causes him tremendous pain. Why should this be the symbol of a sweet new year?
Rabbi Yisroel Reisman explains that something which is easily sweet is just not sweet, it is not the sweetness that human beings experience. Sweetness is something which comes with hard work. Something which comes with a few bee stings attached to it. Life and success in life comes about with sacrifice. That is why we use honey from bees to symbolize that just as honey is acquired through suffering and hard work but ends up being sweet, so too, the pain and suffering that we endured this past year will be the sweetness of our future.
A second thought: I heard a beautiful thought from Rabbi Yosef Berger (a Rav in Baltimore). Rabbi Berger said that when Rosh Hashana is approaching, people will often reflect on all the bad things that happened in the past year to themselves or to people they know. They think about all the people who died or experienced sickness etc. But they neglect to think about all the good that Hashem has bestowed on them as well. The countless births, marriages of young and older singles, simchos, parnasah, etc. He said that we have to keep in mind all the good things that happen to us and that if we would think about how much good Hashem does for us on a daily basis, we would feel indebted to Hashem and act differently.
May we all use these precious upcoming days to get closer to Hashem and daven for all the things we need and to recognize that Hashem is our King and can do anything and through that merit, the ultimate Geulah with the coming of Moshiach speedily in our days!
Ksivah Vchasimah Tovah!