For the week ending 13 December 2014 / 21 Kislev 5775

Chanuka - Shedding New Light on Boredom

by Rabbi Peretz Segal
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I would like to clarify one thing before I begin. Chanuka is not just about miracle oil or Jewish military heroism. It is about the trial of assimilation. There was no physical threat posed to the Jewish People during the Hellenist period. Join the gym and you'd be safe and sound, and you'd probably get a free membership to boot! All the Greeks wanted was for you to chill out on your observance.

That is why the Chashmonaim went to war. They fought for the preservation of the mitzvot, not to save their skins. Nowadays it sounds a bit extreme to join a commando unit to defend Jewish observance. We are too bored by ritualistic religion to even feel the need to fight. But in truth it was no different back then. Jews were diving into the pleasures of secular life for the same reason — there was no fire left in their own religious lives. The candle of enthusiasm that should have burnt bright was extinguished or at least dimmed until its warmth and life was too weak to feel.

Yet, in the inner chambers of the Jewish heart lies a “vial of oil”, too pure to be defiled and too powerful to be extinguished. From that oil a flame would spring forth that would re-ignite the passion and the love for Torah. This fire would consume the boredom and the empty ritualistic practice of the Torah and reveal the true nature of Torah — the pulsating reality of life itself.

There is a surprising halachic leniency in regard to the wicks that may be used on Chanuka. Even those wicks which are not allowed to be used on Shabbat can be used on Chanuka. It's surprising because the reason why those wicks aren't allowed on Shabbat is because they are really bad; they go out easily and they don't hold the flame. So why would you be able to use them on Chanuka?

The Sefer “Me’or Eynaim” resolves the difficulty by introducing another seemingly quirky halacha in regard to the Chanuka menorah. Ideally it should be placed above three tefachim (approximately 30 cm) and below ten. Those measurements are symbolic. Below three tefachim is considered to be part of the ground itself. It is too close to the surface of the earth to be considered a separate entity. The symbolism is clear: if a person is too involved in "earthliness" he can't experience the spiritual light of Chanuka. The upper measurement appears difficult to understand. Ten tefachim is deemed as the lowest place that the Shechina will rest (or in our terms, the barest minimum of personality development needed to experience a spiritual connection). To get close to G-d you have to leave the earthliness behind. So why should we light below this height?

Chanuka changes this entire way of thinking. The halacha tells us to light the menorah specifically below ten tefachim as here lies the real miracle of Chanuka — to light up the uninspired and unmotivated Jew. To him the menorah beckons and says, "Light me!" The Shechina dips down below the ten tefachim line, as it were, in order to elevate and inspire that Jew who has been dulled by the onslaught of the mundane world. And when he takes the initiative to strike that match and touch it to the wick — even a second-grade wick that in general would not be able to hold the flame of Divine connection — he will light up the purity of his inner soul!

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