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By Rabbi Naftoly Bier, Rosh Kollel

In על הניסים , the phrase recited when lighting the menorah, we declare, “that the whole of Chanukah these lights are holy and we are not permitted to use them, but rather only to look upon them in order to thank You and praise Your great name for Your miracles…” the Talmud Shabbos 21a says, “the holiday was established for praise and thankfulness.”

What is praise and what is thankfulness?

There are two stages in being afflicted with a difficulty. There is the time of the struggle, and then the time when one is redeemed from it. While struggling, one may not seeany benefit from it. If one struggled properly and did not succumb, then one has gained not only from the redemption but from the affliction itself. This is also true when God afflicts the Jewish people with oppressors and then intervenes miraculously to redeem them. They study their situation and realize that they should definitely praise God for the redemption. But also, they finally realize that they have gained even more from the affliction. For this they offer thanks, or more correctly, acknowledgement that all God had done was good. (Sfas Emes)

Dovid Hamelech in Psalms, chapter 94, comes to answer the age-old question, “Why does Hashem at times fail to check wrongdoing?”

In verse 12, he states (on the contrary), “Praiseworthy, or forward strides the גבר (person of strength) who You, Hashem trains by discipline (remonstrates) and from Your Torah one is taught.”

Adversity is a gift. It is actually a means to discipline one to take true stock of oneself, thereby causing one to strengthen one’s moral fiber and to ennoble oneself. Only those who are capable of enduring pain, suffering, and adversity, those who are labeled גבר , a person of inner strength who has the moral energies to truly understand the purpose of adversity and to improve; will be visited with misfortune. At the same time, any suffering will be viewed as an admonition to delve more deeply into the Torah in order to derive the standard of what a life filled with duty and loyalty to G-d should be, and to measure one’s past existence against that standard. (see Rav S.R. Hirsch)

Adversity, hardship, distress and tribulations are in Hashem’s world an act of benefaction; it’s no different than a person who is physically ill and in order to regain their health undergoes a painful medical procedure. Precisely for this reason, the wicked are not always punished, for they will gain nothing, on the contrary, they inadvertently empower the righteous to make great strides!

How is it possible to actually view tragedy as an opportunity for edification? Life is an eternal struggle to submit to governance of Hashem, to transcend our physical, hedonistic, material, egotistical drives and strive for the true essence of who we are, our נשמה , soul.

On Chanukah, there was the miracle of the one small jug of oil that lit for eight days. Hashem was teaching us; My love for you is ceaseless, a small spark in you can light a huge flame. Everyone has a נשמה , soul, which is part and parcel of Hashem. It’s eternally there. It just needs to be “sparked”.

Shlomo Hamelech, Song of Songs 8:7, teaches, “Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it…”

אהרון הכהן , Aaron the brother of Moses, was the greatest peacemaker. (Ethics of the Fathers 1:12) When Aaron met a quarreler he would say, “I just met your partner and he, she is very sorry… and wants to be together.” When he met the other, he would say the same. Naturally, when they would meet, they would embrace one another with true forgiveness and love. (Avos D’Rav Nosson 12:3) Aaron saw that love can be lost, he took it and eternally locked it back into their hearts securely and eternally.

This applies to Hashem and his people. The love is locked in the immutable kernel of spirituality (נשמה) in every Jew. Nothing can disturb it. This was the lesson of the oil, a metaphor for this love, there is always a part of one’s heart that has not been defiled.

The Torah is the blueprint of the נשמה, soul. In the mother’s womb, a child is taught all of Torah, which is forgotten at birth, though embedded in the subconscious. What’s the point?! The Torah is the spark that creates a fire, the flame of truth, spiritual greatness, and emulation of Hashem.

When one is in misery, when one’s physical world is suffering, when we witness virulent anti-semitism, invariably the remaining spark of spirituality is awakened, for that is the only possible definition of life at that moment. The way to maintain and expand it is through Torah study, thereby opening the pathway to true growth. Adversity creates understanding. it develops empathy. It challenges one to investigate and create new goals.

It created a miracle. From the darkest times of Jewish history, when most of the Jewish nation Hellenized, came the outstanding development of Mishnah and Talmud. The experience gave us the ability in the darkest of times not to despair, but on the contrary to harness trials and tribulations as a conduit to acute clarity of one’s true life goals. The Jewish נשמה is eternal and immutable! It’s our precious gift!

In these tragic and difficult times, when the hatred of Jews is rampant; we are amazed at the resurgence of Jewish identity, thousands are embracing a more Torah way of life. May all of Klal Yisroel Grow in our dedication, unite as one, and once again merit miracles just as we did more then 2,000 years ago. And the coming of Moshiach.


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