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Chanukah (5764)

This week's Torah section is read each year in connection with Chanukah. One obvious connection is that just as Yosef, the star of our section, was victorious over the superpower Egypt so also a handful of Maccabees (thirteen according to Rashi Deut. 33:11) defeated the entire Greek army to begin the miracle of Chanukah.

At first glance this is very strange.

Why did G-d make such trouble for the Jews? Why such impossible odds? Couldn't G-d have given Yosef and the Maccabees what they wanted without such problems?

And when the Maccabees won why didn't they take advantage of it? Why didn't they replace their enemies and rule the world themselves?! And even today, why is the main emphasis on the oil that lit for eight days? Why not more about the victory???

To answer this here is a story.

Rabbi Avraham Greenwald first saw the Lubavitcher Rebbe when he attended the Rebbe's wedding at the age of thirteen in Warsaw in 1929.

He had been orphaned at a young age and was brought up by his mother's cousin, the famous Torah giant Rabbi Menachem Zamba. When Rabbi Zamba attended the wedding, along with hundreds of other Torah figures, Avraham went along.

The day after the wedding Rabbi Zamba and the boy went to the Rebbe's hotel room to personally wish him Mazal Tov. The Rebbe received them warmly and as they were about to leave after a friendly and lively Torah conversation, the Rebbe turned to Avraham and asked, "Do you know why it is a custom by many Chassidim to make a special celebration on the fifth night of Chanukah?"

Neither of them answered...so the Rebbe continued,

"The purpose of the Chanukah lights is to illuminate the spiritual darkness of the mundane world. The fifth night of Chanuka is the darkest because it is the only night of the holiday that can never fall on Shabbat. And this is the job and ability of every Jew, whether in Warsaw or in London, to illuminate even the darkest places."

Time passed. Avraham Tzvi got rabbinical ordination, married and had five beautiful children. But Poland wasn't the best place for Jews in the early nineteen forties.

The Germans conquered Poland and, together with the anti-Semitic Polish population, systematically and ruthlessly plundered and murdered millions of them. And Rabbi Avraham was no exception. He suffered years of hell in several concentration camps and saw his wife and children slaughtered before his very eyes. But despite it all he miraculously was still alive when the war ended, a shadow of a man, broken in mind, body and spirit.

An uncle of his, Rabbi Moshe Greenwald who lived in America, upon hearing that Rav Avraham was still alive offered to buy him plane tickets and finally managed to convince him to come to America.

Then after a year or so, in 1948 he introduced Rav Avraham to a woman who also had lost everything in the holocaust and they agreed to marry. But before the wedding the woman's mentor, Rabbi Kopel Shvarts of Toronto who was an admirer of the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe took Rav Avraham to New York to receive a blessing.

The Previous Rebbe wept like a baby when he heard of Rav Avraham's tribulations. He blessed him and suggested that since he had been at his son-in-law's wedding (the Rebbe was the Previous Rebbe's son-in-law) he should go to him as well and say hello.

When they entered the Rebbe's room the Rebbe recognized him immediately and began to ask regarding the death Rabbi Zamba at the hands of the cursed Nazis. He concluded by saying,

"Since the Rebbe, my father in law, sent you to me I will say a Torah idea about Chanukah, since we are in the month of Kislev. It is known that there is custom by those who follow the Baal Shem Tov to make a special holiday on the fifth night of Chanuka. Why? Because that night never can fall on Shabbos which is the greatest darkness. That is the power and novelty of the lights of Chanuka and the duty of every Jew, no matter where he is, whether in New York or in London, to illuminate the darkest spiritual situations."

Rabbi Avraham was amazed that the Rebbe repeated exactly what he had said twenty years ago in Warsaw. And perplexed as to why he again included London. He didn't dream of the importance it would have to him one day.

Eventually, after his wedding, Rabbi Avraham settled in Toronto working with Satmar Chassidim as a Rabbi and teacher and there were born his children, two boys and a girl.

For the uninitiated reader, Satmar are sworn enemies of many other groups the foremost of which is Chabad (mainly because of their attitude toward non-observant Jews). So although Rabbi Avraham and his children never spoke against the Rebbe, nevertheless they were surrounded by a constant bombardment of hatred and discord.

His children grew and eventually his son, Moshe Chiam, met a nice girl and they became engaged. Rabbi Avraham decided to take him to the Rebbe for a blessing before his wedding as was done to himself years ago.

A month before the wedding in 1969 he again was standing before the Rebbe's door (the Previous Rebbe had already passed away in 1950), but this time with his own son.

As soon as they entered the Rebbe immediately recognized him and said "Well, it's about time, after a twenty year break!" Rabbi Avraham was astounded but after a few seconds he came to himself sufficiently to give the Rebbe a small page upon which he wrote all his requests.

The Rebbe looked at the page and gave a long string of blessings the last of which was 'Just as you rejoiced at my wedding may you merit to rejoice at the wedding of your grandchildren'.

When Rav Avraham saw how friendly and open the Rebbe was he decided to unburden his mind.

"Rebbe, may I ask a question?" The Rebbe shook his head in agreement and he continued. "I have many neighbors that speak against the Rebbe and against Chabad. I know they are wrong but I simply don't know what to tell them. I'm afraid I'll say the wrong thing. What should I say? They say the Rebbe is wrong for befriending every Jew, even big sinners, when the Torah says that G-d Himself hates them (Psalms 139:21) and it is forbidden to help them. What should I answer?"

The Rebbe looked sternly and immediately answered. "That same 'super-religious' Jew would also agree that if it was his daughter that left Judaism it would be different...because on one's family it says 'From your flesh don't turn away' (Isaiah 58:7).

"Well, in G-d's eyes every Jew is dear like an only son…. and in my Father-in-law, the Rebbe's, eyes EVERY Jew is 'From your own flesh don't turn away!!"

Then the Rebbe smiled and concluded, "Let us finish with a blessing... The reason that many Chassidim make a special celebration on the fifth night of Chanukah is that that night represents the greatest darkness because it can never coincide with Shabbos...and nevertheless the lights of Chanukah illuminate it. That is the job of every Jew whether in Toronto or London. Every Jew is a portion of G-d, HaShem's only child. And when we light that soul with a flame of holiness it can bring it from the furthest and darkest place."

Ten years later in 1979 it became time for Rabbi Avraham to marry his second son. This time the marriage was to be in London and, for some reason he did not have time to enter to the Rebbe for a blessing.

But before he left for England his next door neighbor, a close friend and one of the most important Chassidim in Satmar came to him in tears with a desperate and urgently secret request.

His daughter had run away from home with a non-Jew and was living somewhere in the huge city of London. At first she hid it from them but when they found out, it was too late.. and now she was gone. He apologized to Rav Avraham over and over again for the trouble but he was at his wits end. Perhaps there was something he could do in London after the wedding?

Rabbi Avraham was stunned and broken by the terrible news, promised he would do what he could and rushed off to catch his plane. But in his heart he knew he could do nothing.

The problem weighed heavily on his heart, he simply couldn't get it off his mind. Several days after the wedding, when his in-laws asked him what was wrong, he told them.

They answered that if anyone could do it it was Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Glick. He was a Chabad Chassid that had a reputation as one who the Rebbe gave much responsibility and who had saved several Jewish girls from similar plights. They called him, explained the terrible situation and Rabbi Glick promised that he would contact the girl's parents for more details and then do what he could.

Ten days later Rabbi Glick called Rabbi Avraham back and told him to take a taxi and come to his home urgently.

Moments later Rav Avraham arrived, and there sitting on the sofa crying profusely, was his neighbor's lost daughter! "It’s a miracle of Chanukah!" said Rabbi Glick as he pointed at the Chanuka lights. "A true miracle!"

Rabbi Avraham was stunned. There were five lights in the Menora!

Tonight was the fifth night of Chanukah! Those five lights succeeded in awakening a Jewish soul that had wandered into the ultimate darkness! Suddenly he understood the Rebbe's repetition of the city 'London' each time he mentioned the fifth candle.

This is the message of our section, the same message of Chanukah. Often adversity is the ONLY way to bring out the truth; just as an olive only puts out its illuminating oil when pressed.

But in order to have such positive results it is necessary, even when under pressure, to concentrate ONLY on the positive; to always have ONLY the goal in mind and not be overcome. And the goal is to improve the world. To put meaning and joy in every moment and everything we do by connecting it to the Creator and His Torah.

Just a Yosef did in the end of this week's section. Although he had been in prison for ten years with no chance of getting out he didn't become sad. He still had a good word for the ministers of wine and bread which eventually brought his release, and saved the entire world from famine! Exactly what the Maccabees did in saving the holiness of the Holy Temple. They saved the entire world!

That is why they had no desire to replace the Greeks and why we make such little mention of the military victory of Chanukah.

May we all transform the challenge and darkness of our present, confusing golos (exile) into joyous, meaningful redemption; both personal and universal.

We wish our readers a Happy and Healthy Chanuka with Moshiach NOW!!

Copyright © 1999-2014 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.

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