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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Mikeitz

Parshat Mikeitz

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter

Parashat Mikeitz/ Chanukah                                                             Print Version
30th of Kislev, 5779 | December 8, 2018

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky 
An Extraordinary Life

When it comes to the lighting of the Menorah, the custom accepted by Klal Yisroel is to light mehadrin min ha’mehadrin, in the most optimal way. The source of the obligation to light the Menorah can be found in the Gemara (Shabbos 21b):

תנו רבנן מצות חנוכה נר איש וביתו והמהדרין נר לכל אחד ואחד והמהדרין מן המהדרין...בית הלל אומרים יום ראשון מדליק אחת מכאן ואילך מוסיף והולך

Our Rabbis taught: The basic mitzvah of Chanukah is to light one candle per household. For those who enhance the mitzvah, each family member lights one candle per night. Those who go above and beyond in performance of the mitzvah…Beis Hillel says, for every passing night an additional candle is lit.

As explained by the Gemara, lighting the Menorah in the most ideal fashion –mehadrin min ha’mehadrin –dictates that with each passing night of Chanukah, another candle is lit. On day four, for instance, four candles will be lit. And indeed, it is hard to imagine walking into the home of a Jewish family on the fourth night of Chanukah and seeing only one candle.

Why exactly on Chanukah do we go above and beyond and practice the mitzvah in the most ideal way?

The reason is because Chanukah is a time when we are forced to confront a very important question: what type of life would we like to lead? The truth of the matter is that deep down we all want to live exceptional lives. We do not want to lead lives which we will be embarrassed to be remembered by. Even a mafia hit man would like people to say of him at his funeral, “Vinney was a good friend; Vinney was loyal; Vinney was good to his mother.” He would want them to find something good to say because ultimately that is what we all want. We want to be remembered as living exceptional lives.

On Chanukah, we are reminded of this message as we stare at the letters on the Dreidel, which stand for “Neis gadol hayah sham” –“A great miracle happened there.” While such a phrase was coined by those living outside the Land of Israel in reference to those who experienced the miracle in Israel, a deeper lesson is embedded within these words. The miracle of Chanukah took place because people were not content to live “poh,” here, but they wanted to live “sham,” there. Their goal was not to live average lives, but to live exceptional lives. They desired to be great and accomplish something in the world. It is this message which the Dreidel sends with the phrase “Neis gadol hayah sham” –“A great miracle happened there.” The miracle of life is “there.” If you are going somewhere, then you are on your way towards an extraordinary life.

It is not coincidental that the first Jew, Avraham Avinu, is not introduced in the Torah when he throws himself into a fiery furnace or when he discovers Hashem. He is introduced with the words “Lech lecha” –“Go for yourself.” You are going sham; you are not staying poh. You are on a journey and are going somewhere. Likewise, the Maharal writes that this world is represented by the number six, and the point in the middle which brings them together is seven. Anything which is outside of this world, however, is shemonah, eight. It is, so to speak, “over there;” it is some place else. The eight candles of Chanukah represent exactly that: we are heading some place above and beyond.

When Chanukah comes our way and we light the menorah, as most people do, a little water is added along with oil. Looking closely, it is possible to discern how the oil and wick float above the water. And just above the oil rests a burning flame. The candle is sham, over there. And whenever you see the flame pointing upwards, you think to yourself, “That is me. I have the potential to achieve greatness in this world.”

It cannot go unnoticed that the word sham appears quite often throughout Chanukah: shemonah (eight), Chashmonaim (the Maccabees), shemen (oil). In fact, altering the pronunciation, the word sham can also be read as sheim, meaning name. R’ Yeshaya Horowitz, known as the Shelah, writes that a person should recite a Pasuk which includes the first and last letters of his or her name at the conclusion of Shemonah Esrei because otherwise when one gets up to heaven, they will forget their name. Imagine the scene: “Next! What’s your name?” “Oh, wait a second. I used to know this. Hold on a second. Happy birthday to …. Happy birthday…” And for the rest of eternity they will sit on a bench saying, “Phil? No. Bob? No. Harry? No.”

How many us realize that part of our name is a Pasuk in Tanach? That means that our name is not just a name, but is essential to the entire creation. Why would a person therefore be content to live a mediocre life when Hakadosh Baruch Hu put him in the Torah?

But the question then becomes who we really are. What is our real “name”? “Well,” we say, “I am somebody’s brother and sister and father and mother. I work here and live there; I have this house and drive that car.” But that only answers what we do; it does not define our true essence.

Years ago there was a Doctor Pepper commercial which went along the lines: “I drink Doctor Pepper and I’m proud; I used to feel alone in a crowd. Now if you look around these days, there seems to be a Doctor Pepper craze. Oh I’m a Pepper, he’s a Pepper, she’s a Pepper, he’s a Pepper, we’re a Pepper; wouldn’t you like to be a Pepper too?” People used to have these little pins which said, “I’m a Pepper.” Basically, they were saying that their identity is dependent on what soft drink they consume. I’m a Pepper. How about you? I’m a Coke. Hi Coke? I’m a Pepper. Who’s that guy over there? I’m a Mountain Dew! But that is not your real identity. Who are you really if everything would be stripped away and there is nothing left but your core essence? A neshama. And when you arrive in heaven after one hundred and twenty years, Hashem will take out a replay of your life and you will get to watch it. You, your parents, your grandparents and your great-grandparents along with Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov will together watch the life you lead.

And then another movie will be shown to you. It is the life you could have lead had you actualized your potential. You will not recognize it, but the truth is that such is the life you could have created for yourself. That is what your life could have been and the greatness you could have achieved.

The first Shabbaton I headed was in Big Bear, California in 1978 where I lead a beginner’s minyan. Amongst those who attended were two boys who noticeably stood out from the rest of the crowd. They were clearly serious about skiing in the snow considering that they were clothed in army gear. At some point during Shabbos I mentioned how man was created from the dust of the earth and Hashem breathed into him a spirit of life. In essence then, a person is half G-d and half dirt. Considering this, a person has to decide what direction he is going to take in life.

Six months later I was in a yeshiva and a man dressed in respectable yeshiva clothing approached me. “Rabbi Orlofsky, how are you? You don’t remember me, but I am the boy who came for that ski weekend of yours in Big Bear.” I said, “Really, you’re the guy with the army gear? What are you doing here?” “I thought about what you said at that beginner’s minyan,” he began to say. “When I came back home after the weekend, I looked myself in the mirror and said, “I can be G-d or I can be dirt. Am I dirt? I’m not dirt. If there is G-d inside of me, then I’m going to find it.’” And the next thing you know, he enrolled in a yeshiva.

The truth of the matter is that many people hear inspirational stories but never feel that it relates to them personally. Let me tell you though what happened one time. A woman came over to me after a lecture and said, “You know Rabbi Orlofsky, I hear what you are saying and I want to change the world.” I said to her, “Listen, you have three little children and a husband and a home to take care of. You have plenty of things to keep you busy with. You are fine.” “No,” she said, “I want to change the world.” I repeated again, “Listen, the Jewish people are as strong as each individual home. What you are doing right now is great.” “No! I want to change the world,” she insisted. “Alright, what is your degree in? “I don’t have a degree; I never got a higher education.” “Okay, what special talents and abilities do you have?” “I don’t have any special talents or abilities.” “Is there anything you do which is exceptional?” I finally asked. I was hoping she would come up with some kind of answer. “I bake,” she said. “Fine. Let’s talk tomorrow and figure out how you are going to ‘bake’ the world into a better place.”

She called me the next day and said, “I figured it out. There is a school for special children in my neighborhood and I am going to bake cupcakes for them on Rosh Chodesh. For fifty kids, I’ll make fifty cupcakes. I make good cupcakes with filling and frosting.” It sounded like a good idea. The day after Rosh Chodesh I got a call. It was her and she was flying. She told me, “The principal of the school called me up and said, ‘You don’t know what you did. These are kids who don’t see very well, hear very well or move very well. The one thing that works well for everyone, though, is their sense of taste. And you made them very happy.’”

A few months later I was talking with the same woman and asked her how everything was going. “Good, I am setting up a website.” “Okay,” I replied. “I am not that technically savvy, but don’t you bake cupcakes? Why do you need a website? You can’t email them.” “Well,” she said, “after a couple months of baking cupcakes for this one school, I started getting calls from schools all around Yerushalayim. They asked me, “Do you think you can bake cupcakes for our children too? They would also like a special treat.” Being that I couldn’t bake a thousand cupcakes, I gathered some friends together who could help. One of them said she would do it twice a year, another every other month, and a third friend every three months. I am now setting up a website to coordinate the schools with the women and if anything falls short I will make sure it gets covered.”

As I hung up the phone, I was tremendously moved. Every so often you hear about stories of people who start organizations and build great movements. And then you say to yourself, “I know I may not be able to do anything like that, but I know I can bake cupcakes.” And we all have something special we can do. This was an ordinary person with no superpowers or extraordinary abilities. She was just a person who cared. And she turned around and did something that changed the world. She took hundreds and hundreds of children whose lives were very lonely and made them a little sweeter and a little brighter only because she was not content to live poh. She wanted to live sham. She didn’t want to live a life that was baseline; she wanted to live a life that was mehadrin min ha’mehadrin.

As we light the candles on Chanukah, we are meant to look at the flames and say to ourselves, “I want to live an exceptional life. I want to know that when I turn around at the end of my life I will be able to say, “I lived the best life I could have lived.”

Rabbi Label Lam 
Illuminating Candles

As we approach Chanukah, our Sages (Shabbos 23b) inform us of the following insight:

הרגיל בנר הויין לו בנים תלמידי חכמים

One who is accustomed to lighting a candle will have children who are Torah scholars

Rashi explains that the candles referred to here are that of Shabbos and Chanukah. Considering this, meriting children who develop into Torah scholars should be an easy feat to accomplish. You do not need to be a genius or talented to light candles. Yet, we see people who light Shabbos and Chanukah candles and seemingly do not see the fulfillment of this blessing. What then does the Gemara mean?

The story is told of a New Yorker who developed an odd friendship with an American Indian. Inviting him to the reservation, the man complies to make the visit. After a long day strolling through the rustling leaves and woodsy terrain, the New Yorker heads back home. It is now his turn to reciprocate to the Indian.

And so, one day he invites his Indian friend to the big city. Taking him all around from the subway down below to the Empire State building up high, this man and his friend catch a glimpse of all sorts of magnificent sights. As the sun sets, they find themselves in the middle of Times Square. Lights are flashing, the subway is rumbling and horns are honking as the rush hour traffic is bumper to bumper. Amidst this cacophony of noises, it is hard to hear anything else.

But then, all of a sudden, the Indian’s eyes begin to glance in all four directions. His New York friend figures, “He probably has sensory overload. It has been a lot for one day. Maybe we should take it easy.” But then the Indian whispers, “Shh, shh…I think I detect the sound of a yellow-bellied warbler.” Being told that the sound of some little bird could be heard amidst the heavy traffic and loud surrounding noises, the New Yorker is quite amazed. “You must have supersonic hearing?” “Shh, shh… look over there” the Indian repeats as he points to the window on the third floor of a building. “You see that yellow-bellied warbler?” “It’s probably a pigeon,” replies the New Yorker, “we have a lot of them here. Let me take a look.”

Peering over to where the Indian pointed, lo and behold, there sits a yellow-bellied warbler. “That’s amazing! How did you hear the sound of a bird amid all this noise?” “To tell you the truth,” replies the Indian, “I do not have supersonic hearing. If I did, I would have heard everything amplified as well. But let me show you something.”

Walking over to a bus stop where a number of people are waiting, the Indian reaches into his pocket and takes out a handful of change. He then tosses it to the ground. As the money begins to roll all over the ground, the heads of those standing around immediately begin to bob this way and that way, eagerly on the look to grab a few coins.

Returning to his friend, he asks, “Did you see that? How did everyone hear the sound of the change on the sidewalk despite all the noise? It is because their ears are tuned into the sound of falling change. They came to New York looking to make successful business deals and now they are heading home after a long day with the sound of clinking change in their ears. When they hear the money rolling on the floor, they immediately recognize that familiar sound.”

“I grew up on the reservation,” continues the Indian. “I lived amongst the birds and grew accustomed to their different sounds and moods. I know the nuances of a bird’s life for every season. I tuned in so much during my early years of childhood that even if I find myself in a confusing and swirling mass of noise, I can still pick up on the sound of those little birds.”

With this anecdote in mind, perhaps we can answer our original question: in what way does lighting the Shabbos and Chanukah candles guarantee that our children will grow up to be respectable Torah scholars?

As is the custom in many homes when lighting Shabbos candles, an extra candle is lit for every child in the family. Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski once mentioned in relation to this practice that a child grows up understanding that because of him or her there is an extra light in the world. Similar to the Indian who attuned his ear to recognizing the sounds of the birds, a child tunes into the fact that his or her neshama (soul) embodies the light of Hashem, reminiscent of Shlomo Hamelech’s teaching, “נר אלקים נשמת אדם” –“The candle of G-d is man’s soul” (Mishlei 20:27). Such a thought becomes a reality etched into the psyche of the child. They learn to understand that every candle represents a neshama which came into this world to shed G-d’s light.

The same is true of the Chanukah candles. For eight consecutive days we light candles and recite the passage –

הנרות הללו קודש הם ואין לנו רשות להשתמש בהם אלא לראותם בלבד כדי להודות ולהלל לשמך הגדול

“These candles are holy and we have no permission to make use of them except to look at them in order to give thanks and praise Your great name.”

We declare that the Chanukah lights are holy and we have no permission to use them for our own purposes. What is the function of lighting candles and deriving no benefit from them? We can all remember our parents reminding us not to keep the lights on needlessly. Why would we therefore light candles and not use them?

The answer is that we are lighting non-usable candles and investing oil because it is a mitzvah. We tell our children, “You know what is important in life? Mitzvos.” We spend money purchasing candles and oil because we are performing a mitzvah. As Shlomo Hamelech further writes, “כי נר מצוה ותורה אור” –“For a candle is a mitzvah and Torah is a light” (Ibid., 6:23). The candle represents a mitzvah, and, as above, represents one’s neshama. Carrying out mitzvos and caring for our neshamos are the most important purposes in life.

A Torah scholar is not defined as one who is the smartest child in the class and knows how to weave his way through life with cleverness. It is the person who is motivated and driven to fulfill mitzvos. He always wishes to learn more because he wants to perform the mitzvos with greater refinement. He always asks, “What does Hashem want from me? What can I do to better my relationship with Hashem?”

We can now fully understand what it means that one who is accustomed to lighting Shabbos and Chanukah candles will have his children grow up to be Torah scholars. Children who grow up in the environs of a Jewish home and see such candles will be impressed most indelibly by the sight. When they see the flickering lights and are educated that one’s beautiful neshama is here to carry out Hashem’s mitzvos, he or she will be equipped with the tools to scale to great heights of spirituality and connection to Torah. And even if Chanukah is but eight days, a profound impression will remain. The children who see these eights candles will forever be changed and inspired to remind themselves, “I know what is important –my neshama and mitzvos.”

As for the Indian in Times Square, he was able to pinpoint the hum of the yellow-bellied warbler; and for our children amid a noisy world, they will be able to tune in to what is most important in life and grow up to be dedicated Jews. With such an enlightening perspective in place, even one who enters into a confusing world with many challenges and noises will be able to remain focused on that little, familiar sound – his or her neshamaand mitzvos.

A Short Message From 
Mrs. Chana Krasny

As the Torah tells us, after Hashem breathed life into man, he became a “Ruach me’malelah,” a speaking spirit. More than anything else, our power of speech is proof that we are a composite of both spiritual and physical elements. Speech takes physical parts of our body – lips, tongue, teeth, vocal cords – and transmits messages which are spiritual, emotional and intangible. This, in fact, is why we articulate ourselves with speech in prayer. Tefillah involves taking our physical and material needs and channeling them towards spirituality and G-dliness. And what other way can we do so besides through speech, which serves as the bridge and synthesis between the spiritual and physical.

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