Â Â THANKS IN THE DARK
Parashat Vayeshev – Hanukkah
main theme on Hanukah is not the lighting of the candles. That is the Mitzvah, but not the theme. The theme is ×œ×”×•×“×•×ª ×•×œ×”×œ×œ , to thank and praise G-d. We recite the full Hallel during Hanukah. But, why is Hanukah a time to be thankful and praise G-d any more than Passover or Sukkot?
Hanukah is the holiday of lights, as it is the darkest time of the year, the time when the nights are longest. There is a story of the Bluzhever Rebbe in the Bergen – Belsen concentration camp. In secrecy, the Rebbe lit a candle. He made the blessings, Blessed are You… that You commanded us to light the Hanukah candle. Blessed are You…that You performed miracles for our fathers, in those days, in these times. Blessed are You … that You have kept us alive, and we have reached this time. Behind the Rebbe was an onlooker, a non-observant Jew. “Rabbi, I understand why you bless G-d for the first two. But why are you thankful to G-d that we have reached this difficult time? What is there to be thankful for? What is there to be praised, when Jewish skeletons are being slaughtered by the Nazis?”
The Rebbe turned to his questioner and responded. ” Maybe, You are right to ask!Â It took me a while to think what I could be thankful for in this dark time. But when I see the Jews here, ready to die in sanctification of G-d’s Name, I thank Him for keeping me alive.Â I thank Him for letting me be a part of this unique period in history and for giving me a daily opportunity to sanctify His Name.”
When a Jew thanks G-d in the darkest of times, when a Jew says, after burying his dear ones, that the Name of G-d is greatÂ – there is nothing in the world more precious to G-d, for our thanks is testimony to our unshakeable belief that He loves us, even when it seems as if life is a disaster. Although the story of Hannukah is replete with tragedy, with war and bloodshed, the Jew – as his name, Yehudi, implies- always finds a reason to thank G-d, even if it is just for being able to light the Menorah with pure oil. Today’s world is a pessimistic one. In contrast, the Torah outlook is full of optimism, searching out the light in the darkness. We thank G-d for the light we have, even if it is a single Hanukah candle in the darkness of the Holocaust. We stay positive about the circumstance, because we are positive and certain that He loves us.Â When the Jew says to G-d , “G-d, I know that You have a reason for all this, and I thank You from the deepest recesses of my soul for the good that I have, for I trust in You”, the Kiddush Hashem is so great that the whole world was well worth creating just for that moment! And then, from the depths of the darkness, a new time begins, for the purpose of the darkness has been achieved. When a Jew thanks G-d for the “bad times”, just as he does for the good, G-d changes things around, and a new era begins. ×œ×”×’×™×“ ×‘×‘×•×§×¨ ×—×¡×“×š ×•××ž×•× ×ª×š ×‘×œ×™×œ×•×ª … To tell of Your kindness in the mornings, and Your faith during the nights. In his darkest hours, the Jew realizes that even though it is beyond his ability to understand it, G-d is being kind to him all through his travail.
One of the mitzvoth that the Jews were forbidden to keep by the Greeks was Kiddush Hahodesh, establishing the onset of a new month with the testimony of people who had witnessed a new moon. This is odd. Why, of all mitzvoth, was this mitzvah singled out by the Greeks? What was it in Kiddush Hahodesh that bothered the Greeks?
The Jewish nation is similar to the moon. We have times of darkness and times of light. Sometimes, we are hidden, and sometimes we shine out in our full glory. We have the ability to restart. Renew. The Greeks didn’t like that. The Greek outlook and philosophy was that seeing is believing.Â Part of optimism is believing in G-d, believing that He can and will make a miracle happen, and that He can, in an instant, completely change reality.
The Divrei Chaim tells us something amazing about Hanukah. Hanukah is a time that repentance is effective, even for those 24 sins that the Rambam says are “non-repentable.” What is special about Hanukah?Â King David, a paragon of optimism, said,Â ×¦×¨×” ×•×™×’×•×Ÿ ××ž×¦× ×•×‘×©× ×”’ ××§×¨× , I will find pain and agony, and I will call on the Name of G-d. How are pain and suffering a “find”? When we find the pain to thank for, then G-d turns things around. We do not run away when the going gets rough. We search for a reason to thank G-d, and then G-dÂ sends the hard times away.Â Hanukah is a time to thank G-d for our pain and suffering, and such thanks triggers, as it were, a Divine desire to give us a new beginning. On Hanukah, we got back the ability to declare the onset of a new month, and on Hanukah we got back the Nation’s ability to renew itself. This ability for renewal that the Jewish Nation has is so great that even sins for which there seems to be no repentance can and do become absolved through repentance. But, only because the Jew, in his pain and suffering, thanks G-d.
In the siddurim it says that we should say the blessing on the new moon with happiness. We then say, ×©×©×™× ×•×©×ž×—×™× ×œ×¢×©×•×ª ×¨×¦×•×Ÿ ×§×•× ×™×”× All the celestial beings, even the moon, who gets small, are happy and joyous about doing the will of their Creator. And then, after being small, the moon, and symbolically the Jewish People , the Jewish Royalty, King David’s family, who are similar to the moon, shines in all of its glory. (See Meharsha Sanhedrin 42a ; See Rabeinu Bachye on Tsemach and Peretz.) Only after we are happy to do G-d’s Will, in the darkest of times.
The midrash, on Shir Hashirim, tells us. ×”×“×•×“××™× × ×ª× ×• ×¨×™×— ×•×¢×œ ×¤×ª×—×™× ×• ×›×œ ×ž×’×“×™× . The mandrakes gave their fragrance,- this is Reuven, who saved Yosef from the pit. And “…at our doors there are all sorts of delights“, referring to the mezuzah and the Hanukah candles. Reuven threw Yosef into the pit, making things look very bleak for Yosef. But, despite those hard times, Yosef found a way to bring G-d into his life, and thank Him for his difficult circumstances. And then, Yosef rose to power. All as a result of being thankful to G-d, even in the dark. Similar to the lesson we can all learn from the Hanukah candles, of seeing the light in the darkness.