Everyone in the neighborhood knew Motte’le, he was labeled with many titles, his mother called him ‘the delinquent with no hope’, the children called him ‘the wild one’, even the teacher in cheder defined him ‘a creature the like of which I’ve never seen.’ Without a doubt it could be said that these titles and the many others were suitable to him, it is as if they were created specifically for him. He was the paradigm of “his hand against everyone” (Beraishis 16,12). If one heard the sound of fighting and screaming he could be sure that Motte’le was at it again. He also had a very good mind, although not too involved in what they taught him in cheder. In the hour that his classmates where involved in sugya (Talmudic topic) Motte’le was hard at work conjuring up ingenious new ways to cause mischief, the likes of which one couldn’t even imagine. His mother’s Tehillim book was already completely soaked in tears. They had tried everything with him, endless efforts, promises, punishments, what else was there. The best mechanchim (educators) had tried to get through to him, hoping to implant in him some seriousness and responsibility, some sense. Motte’le made them understand very quickly that they where wasting their time, no educational tactics where going to work on him. With time Motte’le became a figure that no one wanted to get too close to. People tried to keep their distance from him as much as possible, their glances of disdain and wonder were the only things that accompanied him.
This is how things continued until that one day when a new figure appeared in the neighborhood, an avreich with a ray of light in his eyes. No one could explain what Motte’le found in that refined young man that made him cling to him like a student to his Rebbe. When Motte’le was in his presence it was as if he had been possessed by something, his eyes that were so dim began to shine, and in place of the arrogance and brazenness an aura of humility enveloped him. There was no hidden secret to the success of that avreich, no patented or unique ‘method’. He was simply the first person who related to Motte’le as a person. It was from him that he heard for the first time in years, a word of praise, that he felt any pride of holiness, he was the first person that allowed him to feel like he had any true value. And so it was that Motte’le started to make his journey back to the light and began to climb the ladder of meaningful growth.
The question of all questions that bewilders the mind of every person is, how is it possible to change? How is possible to begin to educate ourselves, to change our bad habits and to acquire proper and good middos (character traits)? The answer to this is provided by the Chanukah candles. A little spark of light, the small flicker of a candle, is able to consume and destroy all evil.
Is this really true, does this really apply to each and every person in whatever circumstance he may be, even to one who has fallen tremendously low and has drowned in the darkness of ‘chochmah Yevanis’ (Greek philosophy)? To one who has managed to forget the sweetness of a daf Gemarah (page of Talmud), to one who has lost all connection to Emunah and da’as (holy awareness) and into whose heart have foreign values and outlooks taken root?
Greek philosophy is similar to quicksand; it deceives a person into thinking that it is permissible but when one sets in one foot it sucks in one’s entire being, swallowing the mind and the heart together, hurling on a person heaviness and toil, consuming one’s every limb with the pursuit of money and with bad habits. The chains of the imagination entrap the weak souls, luring them to the depths of fantasy; their blinded eyes leave them groping in the dark, unable to differentiate between good and evil.
That was and still is the ‘the evil kingdom Yaavan (Greece)’- quicksand of evil. The Greeks exerted themselves to destroy and eradicate every trace of Judaism from the world and when there was only one way left to draw Emes (truth) and Rachamim (mercy) into the world, they strengthened themselves to nullify that too. The one remaining point of truth fell into their filthy and impure hands. They managed to implant confusion, doubt and bewilderment everywhere; they made sure that no path of finding true eitzah (guidance) remained.
This is the nature of the long Gallus (exile) in which we still remain – a cloudy and tangible darkness. Do we have a chance to escape such a concealment of Hashem’s presence and to rise up from such a great downfall?
“The Eternal One of Israel does not lie” (Shmuel 15,29). There surely is a way to arise from every downfall, to throw off the burdensome weight of the kingdom of evil. For even in our gallus Hashem has not abandoned us. At the very time that the chochmos chitzoniyos (external wisdoms) began to spread through the world, those same chochmos that strengthen themselves anew in every generation, that fill the chambers of the heart and mind with empty illusions and try to deter us from thoughts of Emunah and da’as; at that very time of such a tremendous downfall and such terrible decrees one after the other to the extent that it seemed as if God forbid the Torah would be forgotten from the Jews, just then was revealed the awesome way in which we too can exit the gallus and engender in ourselves true change for the better.
Within the very depth of the gallus burst forth a spark of light to uplift our souls. The Greeks breached the Walls of the Beis Hamikdash and defiled the Holy of Holies; they defiled the holiness of da’as and prevented all ways of drawing Rachamim (mercy) into the world. Just then when it seemed as if all hope was lost, Hashem, in His great mercy, did wonders and forged for us a completely new path, a wondrous way that draws awesome levels of mercy down to the very place in which we are. If we only connect ourselves to the holiness of the Tzaddikim – the Chashmona’im, a spark of the light of truth will be drawn down and shone upon us, a spark that can remove and eradicate all the forces of evil and impurity.
When we stand before the Chanukah candles, which shine upon us the light of chein (grace) of Kedusha, at that moment we draw upon ourselves an influx of tremendous mercy which has the power to rectify everything. This is the spark that brings Motte’le closer and draws him the loving-kindness to begin again and reinitiate himself into Kedusha. (In Hebrew the word for initiation is chinuch which comes from the same root as Chanukah). This spark is what ignites our souls afresh with love for Hashem, warms our hearts with the memory of how dear we are to Him and how valued and special we are to Him. This was the entire purpose of the miracle of Chanukah, for in truth the miracle was not necessary since it became permissible to use oil even if it was impure (Chiddushei ha’Pnei Yehoshua Shabbos 21). The miracle took place only to show us how dear we are to Hashem. This was Hashem’s will – to shine upon us a spark of His desire for us – from the very source of truth and from the attributes of mercy – so that we should see with our own eyes what true chein and Kedusha are, so that a ruach chayim (spirit of life) be renewed within us – one that has the power to destroy all illusion and uplift us from the quicksand of Yaavan in which we are sunk until the neck.
This is a power that radiates and arouses the fear of Heaven within our hearts and reveals the glory of Hashem to all, so that every person can see how Hashem’s name is uplifted and made precious by him too. From within this, we will find the gateway to a form of fear of Heaven that should bring us only to joy and liveliness, to reinitiate ourselves and to always remember Hashem through finding our good points and knowing that the main pleasure in Heaven is generated by us, even when we are truly below.
There always exists an illumination of the light of the Tzaddikim who shine upon us Emunah and da’as. All that we have to do is arouse ourselves to light the Chanukah candles with hischadshus (renewal) and with connection to the Tzaddikim that shine truth into the world, until we too are ignited with its light. For this reason the days of Chanukah always fall out at the time that we read about Yosef Ha’tzaddik, for the concept of the Tzaddik has become hidden and we must search for it like the hidden light of the Chanukah candles that were hidden.
When we too arouse ourselves to recognize the importance and the greatness of the Tzaddikim, we will become incorporated in the aspect of ‘Chashmonayim’.
The recognition of the importance of truth is a powerful point and a beginning that has the strength to change nature, to shine Rachamim to a place which they could never have reached. This is the power of Chanukah, to change the natural order and create for us a way to be healed.
The light of Chanukah is drawn from a very lofty place, from the very root of the attributes of mercy, down to our lowly place to enlighten our path to return to Hashem from every downfall and distance.
Each day we light an additional candle – we take it step by step and become accustomed to initiating ourselves into avodas Hashem at the right pace. And so, slowly, slowly, we will abandon that past, become pure, and in our hearts we will begin to burn a fire of true yearning and desire for holiness. We will learn to wait, to anticipate and yearn for Hashem’s salvation until the point where even if the light is extinguished we will just light it anew. We will learn to always look at the good points and little by little to build up our da’as – another holy thought, another good deed.
And so we will progress from day to day with yearning and desire until we merit the full illumination of da’as and begin to thank and praise Hashem with all our heart and soul.