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Chanukah lights

B”H

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Each day of the eight days of Chanukah, a candle is lit, successively, so that on the first day – one candle is lit, then two candles on the eve of the second day, and so on. Yet, if you look at a menorah designed for Chanukah, there are nine candle holders. (Unless the menorah uses oil with tiny wicks, then there are nine repositories for the oil). The reason for a total of nine, is to have a place, usually in the center of the menorah, for the shamash (servant) candle, that is used to light all of the other candles. This candle is lit first; then, it shares its light with the other candles.

The tradition is reminiscent of the pasuk (verse), “In Thy light do we see light” (Psalm 36:10, JPS 1917 Tanach). H’Shem is the source of life, that bestows light upon us; we are connected, even dependent upon Him for every breathe we take. “For Thou dost light my lamp; the L-RD my G-d doth lighten my darkness” (Psalm 18:29, JPS). At the darkest time of the year, may we hope to be enlightened by H’Shem, by way of His emes (truth), and chesed (mercy), two key components of Chanukah; for His truth led us in the darkness against our enemies; and, through His mercy the few were able to defeat the many.

the Spirit of Chanukah

B”H

27 Kislev 5780

by Tzvi Schnee

“Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit, saith the L-RD of hosts.”

– Zechariah 4:6, JPS 1917 Tanach

The miracle of the oil that lasted eight days, giving light to the Menorah inside of the Temple, not the military victory of the Maccabees (a small group of pious Jewish fighters) over the Syrians is emphasized, as per the ruling of the Sages. We celebrate Chanukah in recognition of G-d’s Spirit enabling us to defeat our enemies, not by our own strength or strategical prowess in battle.

Likewise, in recognition of G-d’s hand in our lives, we may bravely face the day, with Him on our side; yet, at the same time, humbling ourselves before Him, inclusive of accepting His plans for us, replete with an acknowledgment of His guidance. He will not lead us astray; rather, he will lead us into victory time and time again. May we be able to conquer our inner battles, with a little help from Above.

Day Two of Chanukah

B”H

26 Kislev 5780

December 24, 2019

by Tzvi Schnee

On the first night of Chanukah, the shamash (servant) candle is lit first; then, the shamash candle is used to light the first candle, symbolic of the first day of Chanukah. On the second night of Chanukah, the shamash lights two candles. After these have been fully burned, there is a total of five candles, including two shamash candles, that have been lit so far. There are fourty-four candles in a box; so, there should be thirty-nine candles left for the succeeding days of Chanukah.

Who’s counting? I imagine that all serious seekers of meaning in every moment, as well as in all the details of the eight days of Chanukah are counting. The impression of the candles upon the mind’s eye; this remembrance fosters the imprint of the holiday throughout the eight days. Making all of our days count in the eyes of G-d is what matters. A holy remembrance of each day in the book of our lives.

“Then they that feared the L-RD spoke one with another; and the L-RD hearkened, and heard, and a book of remembrance was written before Him, for them that feared the L-RD, and that thought upon His name.”

– Malachi 3:16, JPS 1917 Tanach

What is meaningful in life will be of lasting value. What may be looked back upon at the end of the day, as something of importance, will not recede readily into the past. Making the most of our time in the morning, before the day’s tasks become a blur, a whirlwind of hectic running from one place to another. A few hours quietly spent in reflection, before the day imposes its burdens upon us. Carefully chosen words, gemilut chasadim (acts of loving kindness), and a constant focus on G-d. “I am ever mindful of the L-rd’s presence” (Psalm 16:8).

“Thou has counted my wanderings; put Thou my tears into Thy bottle; are they not in Thy book?”

– Psalm 56:9, JPS 1917 Tanach

Day One of Chanukah

B”H

25 Kislev 5780

December 23, 2019

by Tzvi Schnee

Last night, the eight-candled menorah was lit; two candles, the shamash (servant candle), and the first candle symbolic of the first day of the eight-day miracle. It is as if the light of the seven-candled Menorah in the Beis HaMikdash (Temple), over two thousand years ago, when the second Temple was redeadicated, still burns all over the world in the homes of millions of Jewish people for eight days.

May the inner spiritual light of Chanukah also burn in our heart of hearts, lighting up the way within the darkness of our lives. When the future looked bleak, we triumphed over the enemy. May the same be true today, especially, in regard to the challenges in our lives.

erev Chanukah (1st night)

B”H

Historically, Chanukah commemorates the victory of the Macabbees, a small group of pious Jews, who defeated the invading Syrian army. Yet, the Sages deliberately emphasized the miracle of the oil, instead of the military might of the Macabbees. Apropos of reframing the emphasis of the holiday, the Sages brought forth this pasuk (verse) as a reminder of the help the Jewish people received from G-d, when defending themselves against an army much greater than them: “Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit, saith the L-RD of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6, JPS 1917 Tanach).

The miracle of the oil, has to do with the pure olive oil that was used in the Temple to light the seven-candled menorah that rested in the sanctuary. After cleaning up the Temple, that had been ransacked by the Syrian army, only one cruze of this pure oil was found. Regular olive oil could not be used for such a holy purpose as lighting this menorah inside of the sanctuary. Because the cruze of oil was only enough for one day, there would not have been enough time to prepare more oil, to keep the menorah burning on successive days. Yet, a miracle occurred: the single cruze of oil lasted for eight days. That is the reason we light candles for eight days on Chanukah.

Vayeishev – Judah’s Teshuvah

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Torah Insight for parashas Vayeishev 5780

Judah, the first ba’al teshuvah (penitent),
by Tzvi Schnee (21 Kislev 5780)

Yes, he was the first to leave the derech (path), and the first to return: as is written, “Judah went down from his brothers,” depicting his spiritual descent when he left the company of his brethren; consequently, he went into a business partnership with an Adulamite. Being within those circles of influence that pertain to the commonalities of one’s profession with other’s of similar interest, he thereby became enamoured of the daughter of a prominent merchant. The result bring that he married her, who in all likelihood was a Cananite. Note that Abraham had not permitted Eliezer to take a wife for his son Isaac, from amongst the Canaanites.

Yet, this did not turn out well for Judah. His first son was evil, and died. His second son refused to honor his Levirite marriage to his deceased brother’s wife. H’Shem did not approve; so, Judah’s second son also died. Out of superstition, Judah delayed to give his third son to Tamar, the woman in question, after both her husbands died. Yet, justice prevailed for the sake of Tamar’s reputation, who took matters into her own hand. In fact, it is noted in the Zohar, that she had a prophetic vision, concerning Moshiach. She envisioned that he would descend from her offspring; for that higher reason, she disguised herself as a harlot, and enticed Judah. Incidentaly, Judah’s wife had already passed away; this should, at least, be noted in regard to his cohorting with a harlot, who he did not realize was his daughter-in-law, Tamar. Regardless, his conduct may still be seen as morally reprehensible by some. Yet, G-d can bring light out of darkness. “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?” (Job 14:4, JPS 1917 Tanach).

Judah’s repentance occurs when he admits in front of many that the staff, cord, and signet that Tamar presented was his own, given to Tamar, who he thought was a harlot, as a pledge of payment due, namely, a goat from his flock. Judah’s acknowledgment of sin, regards not giving his third son to Tamar. “And Judah acknowledged them, and said: ‘She is more righteous than I; forasmuch as I gave her not to Shelah my son.’ And he knew her again no more” Genesis 38:26, JPS 1917 Tanach). The progression of Judah’s spiritual descent, having run away from his past involvement in selling his brother, Joseph as a slave to Midianites, includes his assimilation, and eventual humiliation, wherein he admitted his culpability. As for Tamar, she bore twins: Perez and Zerah (Genesis 38:27-30). From her son, Perez, the royal line descended (see Ruth 4:18-22).

Introspection

B”H

motzei Shabbos – after Shabbat

 Hasgacha peratis (divine guidance), is bestowed upon all human beings; yet, to the degree of awareness that is developed over time, some people may be less aware than others of H’Shem’s individual attention. Nevertheless, this awareness may be developed by all, by way of setting aside time for heshbon hanefesh (literally, an accounting of the soul). Daily reflection upon our thoughts, speech and actions should bring us towards a greater awareness of the consequences being brought into our lives as recompense.

The refinement of the soul, with the help of H’Shem, occurs through this constant focus on introspection, as one gains insight into the way our lives our being shaped by Him. In doing so, it is important to pay attention to the events in our lives, whether positive or negative, in order to begin to notice any patterns that could enlighten us as to how the tapestry of our lives is being woven from Above. In this manner, we may begin to “connect the dots,” so to speak, between our actions and the events in our lives. 

There is a connection between the blessings and curses (the positive and negative events in life) and G-d’s response to our obedience or lack thereof. “I have set before thee life and death, the blessing and the curse; therefore choose life ” (Deuteronomy 30:19, JPS 1917 Tanach). Therefore, when we remind ourselves of this connection, we may notice the consequences of our behavior, as well as our speech, and even our thoughts as well. H’Shem’s intent is to steer us in the right direction, despite our failures to live up to His expectations of us.

Clarion Call

B”H

The sanctification of our lives is predicated upon separation from sin (Leviticus 19:2). Predominantly, in the modern world, outside of religious spheres, the notion of sin is not part of the everyday mentality of the common person. A call to cease from sin, when made amongst the general population would in all likelihood fall upon deaf ears. The word, sin is simply not a part of most people’s vocabulary today. To the extent that it may be recognized, it is often relegated to the “other,” or reframed within the larger context of questions of morality, that are more theoretical than actual. Yet, Torah is clear, in regard to sanctifying oneself through becoming aware of what constitutes sin, and making a sincere effort to change one’s ways.

Therefore, other than sanctifying time and space, as mentioned previously, the main avodah (service to G-d) is the sanctification of our very lives. This is the question that religion aspires to address: how to transcend the mundane, in order to perfect oneself for the sake of pleasing G-d, who only wants the best for us. It is not enough to conform to the ethical norms of society; G-d’s standards are higher. “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, saith the L-RD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9, JPS 1917 Tanach).

On the Road

B”H

parashas Vayeitzei highlight

by Tzvi Schnee

Did Jacob need a reminder in regard to his mission? His father, Isaac had given him a berachah (blessing), before he left Beer Sheba: “And G-d Almighty bless thee, and make thee fruitful, and multiply thee, that thou mayest be a congregation of peoples; and give thee the blessing of Abraham, to thee, and to thy seed with thee; that thou mayest inherit the land of thy sojournings, which G-d gave unto Abraham” (Genesis 28:3-4, JPS 1917 Tanach).

Yet, according to the midrash, H’Shem’s benevolence may be measured by the extraordinary means through which He endeavored to arrange for Jacob a means to an encounter with G-d at hamakom (the place). Regarding the words, “he lighted upon the place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set,” the midrash relates that H’Shem caused the sun to set early that evening, so that Jacob would rest at the very place that served as a gateway to Shomayim (Heaven).

And, Jacob encountered H’Shem at hamakom, while he dreamed. And, H’Shem spoke to him in a vision, reassuring him that his descendants would inherit the land. “And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee whithersoever thou goest, and will bring you back into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of” (Genesis 28:15, JPS).

Perhaps, the confirmation of his mission, as well as the reassurance of G-d’s protection is what compelled him to stay on the derech (path), outside of the Land, where there is less kedushah (holiness), as he journeyed to Haran to find the next matriarch(s). During the ordeal that ensued, over a twenty year period of time in Haran, when he was beset with tsoros (troubles), the vision must have served as inspiration, so that he was strengthened time and time again. This may serve as a reminder for us, during the current Galus (Exile).

“In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them; in His love and in His pity He redeemed them; and He bore them, and carried them all the days of old.” – Isaiah 63:9, JPS 1917 Tanach

the Gate of Heaven

B”H

highlight from parashas Vayeitzei

by Tzvi Schnee

“And he was afraid, and said: ‘How full of awe is this place! this is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’”

– Genesis 28:17, JPS 1917 Tanach

Jacob gathered some stones together, placed them around his head, and went to sleep for the evening; during the night he dreamed: “Behold a ladder set up on earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold the angels of G-d ascending and descending on it” (Genesis 28:12). When he awoke, he exclaimed, “this is the gate of heaven” (see above). According to Sforno, “The ladder signified that it was from that place that prayers ascend to heaven” (sefaria.org).

This place (hamakom) was where the Temple was later constructed, serving as a conduit between heaven and earth; additionaly, the Heavenly Temple rests above this location in Shomayim (Heaven). The importance of a gate, where a connection exists between heaven and earth serves as an inspiration for us to know that our prayers have the opportunity to ascend to G-d. Many people pray at the Western Wall, in Jerusalem, where the Temple once stood; yet, we are not limited in the efficacy of our prayers, when praying outside of Jerusalem.

The Talmud speaks of H’Shem’s immanence and transcendance: He may hear the whispered prayer of a person praying in a small sanctuary in the countries where the Jewish people are dispersed (Ezekekiel 11:16). So, we should take heart in knowing that G-d will hear our prayers, whether communal or individual prayers, even though He is sitting on His throne in Seventh Heaven (Talmud).