Taking the Light of Chanukah With Us by Eve Levy
The Chanukah menorah is packed away for another year. It was wonderful! We lit those candles, we spun that dreidel, we ate those foods that were not on the diet plan (but worth every bite). We partied night after night, and most importantly we created wonderful memories for ourselves and our families. Chanukah filled us up with light and joy and now, just like that, it is gone. Back to the grind. Back to the dark winter afternoons, to the bitter cold evenings. Back to the jingle bells on the radio and Santa in the Mall. The next Jewish holiday (Tu B’shvat) is 6 weeks away. What will get us through the dark weeks ahead? What glimmer of light can we hold on to?
During Chanukah, I shared a powerful true story. The message was so potent that it will definitely carry me through the long weeks ahead. I hope you too can be inspired by it’s message.
Here is the story:
There is a powerful true story told of the Blusherabe Rebbe in the Bergen Belsen Concentration Camp. It was a few weeks till Chanukah and the inmates in the barracks were gathering together scraps they needed: an old shoe, some butter, some threads to use as wicks in order to be able to do the Mitzvah of lighting the Chanukah candles. Chanukah came and the Blusherabe Rebbe stood in the barrack, after a long day of back breaking labor, with the materials they had collected for weeks. Hundreds of inmates gathered around him. The rebbe lit the makeshift candle and said the Bracha, “Baruch ata Hashem…asher kidishanu bemitzvotav v’zivanu l’hadlik ner shel Chanukah.” He can hear the hundreds of whispered Amen’s around him. He then went on to say the second blessing: “She’asa Nissim l’avoteinu bayamim Hahem Bazman Hazeh." He could feel the emotion and tears of all the inmates around him as they prayed to G-d to make miracles happen with them too, just as G-d did in the times of the story of Chanukah. Before he goes on to the Shehechiyanu blessing he stops. Everyone is quiet and waiting. He turns behind him as if he is searching for something. He keeps looking and looking around him. No one is sure what he was looking for. Was he scared a guard was coming? Finally, he turns back to the candles, he smiles, and with a strong voice he sings the Blessing “Shehechiyanu Vekiyamanu vehigiyanu lazman hazeh!” “Thank you Hashem for keeping us alive and bringing us to this moment!” Everyone answers Amen. There is this unbelievable feeling of sacrifice in the air being that they were able to fulfill the mitzvah of lighting the chanukah candles. One Jew speaks up. He said to the Rebbe, “can I ask you a question?” the Rebbe said “sure my son, ask!” He said, “Rebbe, I understand you made a blessing to light the candles, you were able to fulfill the Mitzvah. And I understand you made the blessing “Al Hanissim." Every one of us sees miracles every day in this hell! Just the fact that we are alive is a miracle! But Rebbe? She’hechiyanu? How can we bless Hashem for bringing us to this moment?” The Rebbe looks at the man and sais, “My son, I asked myself that same question. I was not sure if it was the right thing to say that blessing. I was looking around the room for the Kloisenberger Rebbe to ask him that very question. I could not find him in the crowd but what I did see were hundreds of eyes peering at me. Those eyes were filled with such excitement. I realized right then and there that a Jew, no-matter how low he has fallen, no-matter how difficult his situation, if he can find the excitement in doing a Mitzvah, then we can say the blessing Shehechiyanu.
As I sit in my comfortable home and complain about my first world problems I ponder where those Jews got that strength? This story did not take place hundreds of years ago but only a mere 75 years ago. That in the middle of a living hell, people found the desire to fulfill a Mitzvah?!
When the Rebbe came to America after the war he said, “There is no place in the world like America where it is so easy to be a Jew! We have every freedom! But there is no place like America where it is so hard to want to be a Jew!”
The same Mitzvot that our ancestors did with such sacrifice, are so difficult for us to even want to do nowadays, even though it is relatively easy.
How do we get to feel that excitement that we used to feel for performing a Mitzvah? Where is our deep desire and passion and how do we do a mitzvah with all our heart and soul like we used to do?
We celebrated a wonderful Chanukah. Yay! We won over the Greeks. Or did we? The Greeks didn’t want to kill us, they just wanted to slightly disconnect us from our true inner passions. Chanukah is over but we need to ask ourselves: What is my pulse? What is in my heart? What are my innermost desires?
We shouldn’t have to rely on the situation we find ourselves in to create the excitement.
No holiday? No problem! We have Shabbat to connect to, chessed projects to get involved in, Torah learning in which to delve deeper. So much is accessible for you. All you need to do is want it. We need to find that spark deep within and keep fanning it, expanding it, and renewing it.
I wish you all a warm winter ahead filled with love, joy, growth, pride, and true passion for your Jewish heritage.