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    As we get ready
    for the very sweet
    festival of Chanukah,
    it behooves us to
    brush-up on its
    spiritual messages.
    In this way, we can
    ensure that it doesn’t
    become a mere
    season of gastronomic delight such as
    latkas and sufgoniot (jelly doughnuts)
    nor will we fall into the trap of allowing
    Chanukah to become, chas v’shalom, an
    Xmas look-alike.
    A common thread that runs through
    most of the amazing events of Chanukah
    is the element of mesiras nefesh, selfsacrifice, of the valorous Jews during
    the memorable era of the Chashmanoim.
    Whether it was the rabim b’yad m’atim,
    the many in the hands of the few, giborim
    b’yad chaloshim, the mighty in the hands
    of the weak, the heroic self-sacrifice of
    the brave Macabees to defend the Holy
    Temple and the lives of their brethren
    from the wicked Syrian-Greeks, whether
    it was the legendary Chanah and her
    seven sons who, with amazing courage,
    chose death rather than bow down to
    Antiochus haRasha’s idol, or the zealous
    search of the Kohanim to find a single jar
    of oil with the seal of the Kohein Gadol,
    a search that can be compared to looking
    for a needle in a haystack when the could
    have allowed themselves the Talmudic
    heter, allowance, of tumah hutra b’tzibor,
    that when the entire congregation is
    contaminated, one can use even defiled
    oil, but they demonstrated amazing
    mesiras nefesh in passionately wanting
    to fulfill the mitzvah in its best possible
    way. Or, the amazing valor of the
    daughter of the Kohein Gadol who,
    instead of succumbing to the wickedness
    of the Syrian-Greek governor, protected
    her Jewish modesty with an incredible
    act of bravery, killing the wicked official
    and jump-starting the Jewish conquest.
    Chanukah therefore is a time to take
    stock in whether we have this element
    of mesiras nefesh in our spiritual lives.
    When we are tired, do we still push
    ourselves to get up early to make minyan
    – or do we succumb to temptation and
    say our prayers quickly at home before
    dashing off to work? Do we exercise
    self-sacrifice in pushing ourselves to
    attend a shiur after a hard days work –
    or do we cave in to our physical laziness
    and just go home and read the paper?
    In this area, Chanukah should jog us to
    make a reality check. Is there an element
    of mesiras nefesh in our relationships
    with our children? Do we find the
    time – although there is never enough
    time – to take interest in our children’s
    learning, in their character development,
    in their personal happiness? All of these
    objectives are mitzvahs of the highest
    priority, since if we, their parents don’t
    attend to these needs, who will?
    Do we have the spiritual bounce our
    steps to use a Sunday or any day off to
    provide pleasure for our spouse – thereby
    ensuring the Shechina will permeate our
    homes? Mesiras nefesh doesn’t only
    mean putting your life on the line for
    your spiritual beliefs. Rather, anytime
    we push ourselves beyond our natural
    physical tendencies in order to fulfill
    the will of Hashem, we are following in
    the footsteps of the great Macabees, the
    heroes of Chanukah.
    The Aleinu Leshabei-ach, on this week’s
    Parshas Vayishlach, tells a fascinating
    story about the venerable Rav Shach,
    Zt”l, Zy”a. Rav Shach, already a very
    old man, had to spend some time at
    the hospital. One day, he informed his
    family that he desired to go one floor
    down to visit a man who was also
    staying at the hospital. Rav Shach knew
    had known that this man was treating
    his wife poorly. He wanted to talk to
    him once again about adopting better
    marital behavior. The family was aghast
    as Rav Shach was ill and very aged, yet
    he wanted to get up from his sick bed
    and go down a flight of stairs all for a
    shalom bais discussion. Despite their
    pleas, Rav Shach was adamant. They
    then suggested that instead of Rav Shach
    going downstairs, they would ask the
    man to come up to Rav Shach’s room.
    This too, he vehemently vetoed.
    At this point, when reading this story,
    I thought to myself that Rav Shach’s
    reason probably was that he was banking
    on the impression he would make on the
    man by leaving his sickbed and trekking
    downstairs. Perhaps this act would
    impress him to realize the severity and
    importance of the issue! This just shows
    how little I understand the minds of our
    gedolim. Rav Shach went on to explain
    why he insisted on going down to the
    room himself. He elaborated
    that he had worked on this
    couple’s marriage many times
    to no avail and therefore he felts
    that perhaps if he took heroic
    measures to be moser nefesh
    – to get out of his sick bed to
    help save a marriage, Hashem
    would see his self-sacrifice and
    perhaps, in that merit, bless his
    efforts with success.
    This vignette introduces an entirely new
    angle to mesiras nefesh. Sometimes a
    spouse says, ‘Why should I go through
    so much trouble? My mate won’t
    appreciate it anyway?’ or a parent thinks,
    ‘Why am I investing so much energy
    in this child. She or he just takes it for
    granted?’ Even if these conjectures are
    true, the superhuman effort might still be
    effective for Hashem might take note of
    this additional exertion and in that merit
    might bless us with Divine assistance
    at succeeding in our marriage or in the
    chinuch of our child.
    In the merit of our mesiras nefesh – both
    small and large examples, may Hashem
    bless us with long life good health and
    everything wonderful.
    Here are some tips for the days ahead.
    • Chazal teach us that the last day of
    Chanukah is the final “gmar din.” Since
    this is so, the month before it is like an
    Elul and can be used wisely for a final
    chance at teshuvah and making peace
    with people.
    • Chazal teach us “Gedola mitzvah
    b’shaata – Great is a mitzvah in its
    proper time.” As this is the case, we
    should make every effort, when possible,
    to light the Chanukah candles in the
    proper time; forty-five minutes after
    sunset (according to most opinions). At
    the very least, we should try hard to do
    this on Motzei Shabbos and Sunday!
    • Although family gatherings are a
    delicious part of Chanukah, they should
    be planned around the lighting of the
    neiros in the proper tine – and not the
    other way around! It is okay to blow
    out the candles after they have remained
    lit for the shiur – and then one can go to
    join family, parents, children, friends and
    • Great care should be exercised with the
    hadlaka on Erev Shabbos. The lighting
    should be done leaving ample time
    for the women to make their eighteen
    minutes before shkia hadlaka. It
    is preferable to daven Mincha after
    the hadlaka if that will help ensure
    that everyone will light on time!
    Remember chilul Shabbos takes
    priority over any aspect of lighting
    the candles!
    • When children are around, never
    to leave the candles unattended –
    especially on Friday night! Also
    remember to keep the neiros away
    from the drapes.
    • The Gemora in Shabbos informs
    us, “Kol haragil b’neir havyan
    lo banim talmidei chachomim –
    Whoever is careful with candles
    will have children who are Torah
    sages.” In part, this refers to the
    mitzvah of Chanukah candles.
    Thus, the stakes are high to do this
    lofty mitzvah in the most beautiful
    way possible. Having a nice menorah,
    keeping it clean, putting it in the right
    location, saying the blessing with proper
    kavanah (concentration), and gazing at
    the candles and wicks, contemplating the
    great miracles of the Chashmanaim era,
    are all part of the meaningful fulfillment
    of this mitzvah.
    • According to many Chassidic masters,
    the custom of Chanukah gelt is an
    opportunity to teach children to give
    tzedaka from their own money.
    • Latkes and sufgoniot are the standard
    scrumptious Chanukah fare. This is
    because they are prepared with oil and
    therefore help to commemorate the great
    miracle of oil on Chanukah. In addition,
    it is an excellent idea to introduce cheese
    platters at a Chanukah banquet. This
    commemorates the miracle that occurred
    with the daughter of Mattisyahu, Kohen
    Gadol (Medrash Maseh Chanukah).
    When the Syrian Greek governor
    abducted her, she got him thirsty using
    salty cheese. She then plied the thirsty
    rasha with strong wine, which lulled him
    to sleep. Subsequently, she killed him,
    which was one of the miracles that led
    to the Jewish conquest of the Yevonim.
    • The fast of Asara B’Teves
    commemorates the terrible event of the
    wicked Nevuchadnetzar setting siege
    to Yerushalayim. In a way, in our time
    the Arabs are also setting siege to Eretz
    Yisroel – and we should use this fast as
    a catalyst to pray for our brethren there,
    and for the speedy coming of Moshiach