Parshas Vayeishev - In the Spotlight

By Rabbi Zvi Teichman
Posted on 12/07/23

We approach this Chanukah with conflicting emotions.

On the one hand we identify with the battle of light against darkness, as the Chashmonaim fought against an enemy that sought our spiritual destruction. We face an adversary that not only denies our values but seeks our utter destruction. So as our brothers and sisters are waging a fierce and courageous war with a vile enemy, the victories of the past certainly inspire our troops to risk life and limb to preserve our tradition and destiny, waiting for a glorious victory in the image of our ancestors.

A dear friend, Rabbi Akiva Fox, shared an anecdote regarding a student of his who finds expression in art and music rather than words. In preparation for Chanukah, he devised a Menorah from a spent machine gun cartridge, gluing nine bullet casings — four on the right, four on the left, with a shamash in the middle. The images of the heroes of the past merged in his mind, with the brave soldiers of today, in a common battle against an enemy of G-d, hoping for similar miracles and victory for our people in these days.

My friend was prodded by this creative project to consider what he might have fashioned his Menorah from. His immediate thought was a Menorah comprised of eight Yahrtzeit candles, with a tall seven-day candle serving as the shamash. The unimaginable grief of well over a thousand families who are mourning their loved ones, many who died cruelly in front of their eyes, is certainly a pervasive thought for anyone with a heart, that would warrant expression. Identifying with these families, especially during a time when others are celebrating together with their families intact, is the appropriate response in these troubling times.

Yet, no matter what, we must each still attempt to recite that joyous blessing, שהחיינו וקימנו והגיענו לזמן הזה — expressing gratitude to G-d, Who has kept us alive, and has sustained us, and has brought us to this season.

How do we juggle these contradictory emotions and find a clear direction in balancing them?

The Shulchan Aruch states that one cannot use the light of the Menorah to recite the blessing on Motzei Shabbos of Borei Meorei HaAish. This is due to fact that we hold like the opinion in the Talmud that says one may not have personal benefit from the Chanuka candles. Since the blessing over the creation of fire requires of one to specifically derive pleasure from it, Chanukah candles are excluded.

The great Chassidic scholar, Rav S.Y. Zevin, wondered why the Shulchan Aruch needed this reason to exclude Chanukah candles. The halacha asserts that a נר נשמה — aYahrtzeit candle which is lit as a sign of honor to commemorate the anniversary of the death of a dear departed relative is also excluded from being a candidate for this blessing on fire since it was lit as an honor, not for its light. If so, then even if we were to hold like the opinion who permits deriving benefit from the Chanukah candles it should still be excluded since we light it for the purpose of fulfilling the mitzvah, not for its light?

The Tolna Rebbe answers that the premise is incorrect. Although one may not derive personal use from the light of the Chanukah candles, nevertheless it was certainly lit for the purpose of illumination. A Yahrzteit candle can be placed out of sight, and accomplish the tribute to the departed soul, but the Chanukah lights must be visible for all to see.

Rebbe Chaim of Ottenyia, a descendant of the Vishnitzer dynasty whose life spanned the latter part of the 19th century and passed away in 1932, would often ponder why one doesn't recite a Shehecheyanu prior to departing this world before one's entry to most joyous place of Gan Eden. We recite this blessing with great fervor every year when Yom Kippur returns, rejoicing over the gift of repentance and an opportunity to connect with the Almighty unlike any other day. So, wouldn't it be expected that upon transferring from this troubled world to the afterworld, a place of the 'ultimate' delight,a once in a lifetime opportunity, we should recite the Shehecheyanu for having finally reached that milestone?

Despite his frustration, he would often share that he would somehow find a solution to fulfill this wish.

As destiny would have it, the Rebbe took ill prior to Chanukah, which fell out that year on the night of Shabbos. As his health was waning, he beckoned for his Menorah summoning up all the strength left within him to light the Menorah with enthusiasm, and with a special zeal he uttered out loud the Shehecheyanu, with his last breath departing as he concluded the words לזמן הזה — to this time, fulfilling his life wish to express gratitude to Hashem upon his entry to the glorious עולם האמת — World of Truth.

The lights of Chanukah all stem from the original light of creation, the אור הגנוז — the Hidden Light, that lasted from creation until the end of the first Shabbos, stored away until the Moshiach will restore it.

It is a multi-faceted light.

It finds its expression in this World of Concealment, within the souls of those who literally sacrifice their lives for Torah and the Jewish people.

The term we use to describe the human lifeforce is נפש — soul. It is a contraction of the words used to describe the physical components that produce light. The נר — the receptacle that contains the fuel, שמן — oil, that is drawn by the פתילה — wick, that is lit and continues to burn brightly.

Those who have sacrificed their physical bodies — their נר, fueled by their powerful energy — their שמן, prodded by their conscience — their פתילה — the flaming instrument which illuminates all that we aspire for — infuses their very being with a vision of the Hidden Light unto which they are drawn, toward the place of the ultimate delight.  

They embody the exquisite light of creation, illuminating us all in its brilliance. Indeed, an experience well deserving of the Shehecheyanu blessing.

But to those of us privileged to survive, we light the Menorah with a sense of duty and pride knowing that this light of creation was meant to shine specifically on 'me', placing me in the spotlight so that all may see the radiance of my soul that reflects the light of the divine. That joy must enthuse every interaction with others; in every challenge that we face; at every juncture over our day, empowered by the realization that we are placed here 'to be seen' and illuminate the world revealing a glimpse of the Hidden Light that is waiting eagerly to the moment it will fill the world with its magnificent message of clarity and utter joy!

א ליכטיגער חנוכה


צבי יהודה טייכמאן