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Fragile Soul

B”H

Aseret B’Teves – the tenth of Teves

a minor fast day on the Hebrew calendar

Yearning for a connection, beyond the panorama of my assimilated life, so unlike my ancestors from Europe, many who grew up in the shtetl. An insulated environment, sheltered from the influence of the surrounding peoples, who eventually turned, for the most part, against their fellow neighbors – the divide between Jew and gentile, during the antisemitic climate that reached its peak during WW2. The Shoah, also known as the Holocaust, was the tipping point between right and wrong, good and evil, friend and foe, exposing the hidden intentions of the hearts of millions.

My forebearers clung to G-d, Torah, and their sense of yiddishkeit (things Jewish). How can I walk in their shoes? Modern values clash with the sense of propriety that is still honored amongst Orthodox Jews around the world. The television, Internet, and Hollywood compete with the instititions, traditions, and way of life of a Jew. There is a tenuous line that is drawn in the sands of time across the generations. How shall I walk?

How I occupied my time in my younger years is no longer kosher (fit). Like clothes out grown, favorite pastimes are cast aside, in favor of time-honored traditions that are the building blocks of a life of sanctity. Yet, the call to a high set of morals is still met with wavering and hesitation on my part, even fifteen years after I began this journey. A journey back in time to the shtetls of my great grand parents, and great great grand parents. That is where I find solace.

The Waning Hours

B”H

It seems as if I am being put to the test; not only me, of course, I wouldn’t be so prideful to assume so. However, I am feeling a part of this collective nisyanos (challenge) for K’lal Yisrael, “All of Israel.” As for the scourge of antisemitism, the most proficient response, in addition to practical measures, is prayer. Prayer is universal, immediately accessible, and potentially more effective than any other measure taken. As the teaching goes, the more trust placed in G-d, the greater our security will be.

As the eighth day draws to a close, I commit to preserving the light of Chanukah through prayer, study and gemilut chasadim (acts of lovingkindness). How appropos, as the new year begins on the Gregorian calendar to make such a resolution. May others be inspired. And, “Let’s hope it’s a good one, without any fear” (John Lennon, War Is Over). For fear resides in the heart of man, unless squelched by faith, love, and hope, despite whatever the circumstances may be in a person’s life or the condition of his environment. Transcend the darkness with light, until the perfect dawn.

Light Will Prevail

B”H

erev 2 Teves 5780

– eighth night of Chanukah

Light will transcend the darkness in our lives when we cast our gaze towards the flame of truth, the eish tamid (eternal light) that is symbolized by Chanukah. The light of the Menorah in the temple, lit by the small cruze of oil found amidst the debris in the Temple, is the light of hope and renewal.

A little known midrash connects that small cruze of oil to the renewal of mankind, creation, and the earth itself, after the Mavul (Flood). When the dove brought back an olive branch in it’s mouth, according to the midrash, Noah pressed enough olive oil to place inside a small container. This cruze of oil was passed down to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. When Jacob returned to Beth El, he anointed the foundation stone with this oil. Then, according to the midrash, he hid the small cruze of precious olive oil.

This Place (HaMakom) was none other than Mt. Moriah, where the Temple was eventually established. Yes; because of the miracle of light that lasted for eight days from this precious oil, we celebrate Chanukah today. Midrash is not always meant to be taken literally; therefore, a symbolic viewpoint may be rendered from this particular midrash. The message of hope will be like a small flame illuminating the darkness, despite whatever circumstances may cast a shadow over our lives.

Yehi ratzon. May it be His will that the light of hope and renewal throughout the ages will always prevail over darkness. Amein.

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

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.