Through The Eyes of a Woman
Chayei Sarah, 19th of Kislev, Chanukah: Three Flashes of Light
The Rebbe often cites the sefer called Shnei Luchos HaBris (or
Shelah for short) regarding the connection between events in the Jewish calendar
and the portion of the Torah which is read in the relevant week. Since everything
happens by hashgachah peratis, Divine Providence, there is clearly a connection
between two events which coincide. Thus, if a certain date always falls in the week
of a certain parshah, then there is a connection between them, even though
you may not see it at first glance. You just have to know how to look. Anyone who
has heard the Rebbe's farbrengens knows well that at least one of the
sichos (very often the first one) is dedicated to explaining this connection.
The same principle applies to Shabbos Mevarchim -- the last
Shabbos of the month -- on which we bless the coming month. Since
Shabbos Mevarchim blesses all of the days of the coming month, it
must be connected to each day of the coming month.
This Shabbos we read the weekly portion of the Torah called Chayei
Sarah. Since this Shabbos was Shabbos Mevarchim Kislev, when we
bless the month of Kislev, it is connected to all of the days of this month, including
Yud-Tes Kislev -- the nineteenth of Kislev, when the Alter Rebbe
was released from prison where he had been confined on trumped-up charges in 1798
-- and also Chanukah, when we celebrate the victory of the Chashmonaim
(Hasmoneans) over the Greeks, and the finding of the jar of undefiled oil which
miraculously burned for eight days.
What is the connection between the weekly reading of Chayei Sarah, the 19th
of Kislev, and Chanukah? One of the major events that is described in the Torah
reading is the shidduch and subsequent marriage of Yitzchak and Rivkah, the
first marriage mentioned explicitly in the Torah. This in itself is significant,
for when something is mentioned in the Torah for the first time, it always has special
significance, and we can derive a special lesson from it -- for example,
regarding the concept of marriage. However, what we are looking for is a connection
between the Torah portion, Yud-Tes Kislev and Chanukah. The Rebbe points
out that all three events were miraculous, and all three were connected with light.
Our Sages explain that all of the Avos and Imahos, the Patriarchs
and Matriarchs of the Jewish People, observed all of the mitzvos even before
the Torah was given at Sinai. Sarah, for example, used to light Shabbos candles.
But when she lit her candles they remained lit until the following Friday afternoon.
When she passed away, this miracle stopped. When Avraham Avinu lit the candles in
her place, they only burned for a few hours, just like the candles we light.
Now when Yitzchak married Rivkah, and brought her back to live in the tent of
his mother Sarah, to his amazement and delight the candles which Rivkah lit on Friday
prior to Shabbos also stayed lit the entire week. The miracle that had taken
place with his mother, now repeated itself with his wife. (When Yitzchak saw this
miracle taking place again, he knew that he had married the right lady!)
HaShem instituted the "laws" of nature. He decreed that water will always
flow downwards, and fire burn upwards. Once HaShem decided upon what we call
these chukei hateva, and set the world into motion according to these natural
laws, every time they are defied, we call it a neis -- a miracle.
Of course, you can argue that every breath a person breathes is a neis. A
newborn baby is a neis. Or the fact that I can drink water and it goes into
my pinky is a neis. Of course, that is so. Nature is wondrous. We
are not claiming that it is more difficult for G-d to perform a neis than
to act according to teva. Rather, as far as we see it, from the human
vantage point, the world functions in a certain way. The sun rises; the sun sets.
The rain falls. The natural, predictable order that HaShem established in
the world is called teva. Any time that an event defies the natural order
-- that is a neis.
Several miracles occurred on Chanukah. There was the miracle of the victory of
a tiny civilian minority over a well-trained military majority. Then the Chashmonaim
found a jar of oil undefiled by the Greeks. But the major miracle of Chanukah was
that the jar of oil, which was enough to light the Menorah in the Beis
HaMikdash for one night only, burned for eight days, until new oil could be
The Gemara asks why there was any need for the Menorah in the
Beis HaMikdash in the first place? G-d certainly did not need its light!
The Gemara answers that one of the candles (the ner maaravi, or western
light) continued burning throughout the day, long after all the other candles had
burned out, even though there was the same amount of oil in all of them. The candle
continued burning until it was time to light candles again, the following afternoon.
The Gemara then explains that this miracle was a testimony to the entire
world that the Shechinah, the Divine Presence, always rested upon the Jewish
The miracles that took place on Yud-Tes Kislev also involved light, but
in a more spiritual sense. The Torah is referred to as light, as the verse states,
ner mitzvah veTorah or -- "a mitzvah is a lamp and the Torah
is a light." The teachings of Chassidus are not only called "light," but
a "luminary" -- the source of light (as the Rebbe always writes
in his letter of blessing to a chassan and kallah). This is because
the teachings of Chassidus are the very essence of the Torah, the essence
of "light." We can explain this according to the comparison our Sages make between
seven types of liquid mentioned in the Torah (water, wine, oil, milk, honey, dew,
blood) and the various aspects of Torah. Torah in general is compared to water,
without which we cannot live. Milk is compared to those aspects of Torah which make
us grow and mature, just as milk is what makes a baby grow into a child. Wine is
a symbol of the secrets of Torah, as Rashi explains in his commentary to
the first verses of Shir HaShirim. And oil is a symbol of the very
deepest secrets of the Torah -- referred to in the Zohar as "the
secrets of the secrets" of Torah. In the chassidic discourse entitled Inyanah
shel Toras HaChassidus, the Rebbe explains that whereas wine is a symbol of
the teachings of Kabbalah, oil is a symbol of the teachings of Chassidus,
which illuminate the soul and the world with a bright, steady flame. Thus Chassidus
is also connected to light, the source of light.
The thrust of Chabad Chassidus is to teach us a practical lesson in our service
of HaShem, not just an ingenious pilpul or an interesting insight.
We have to go home with something. From the common denominator of all three events
mentioned above, the Rebbe learns that we have to serve HaShem in a manner
that transcends nature. Moreover, this has to be "in the manner of light," as we
Everybody comes into this world with a certain inborn nature. This
nature may be defined by our natural tendencies and our instincts. There are a lot
of factors that influence who we are, and how we act and react. There are factors
that are beyond our control, such as the type of physical bodies we were born with
-- some people are stronger than others, some have better eyesight, some
are physically handicapped. Then there is the parental influence, the person's family
situation, his financial status, etc.
If we serve HaShem according to our teva, according to the nature
with which we were born, this is not really serving. I'll give you an example of
what I mean. Some people are naturally kind. It's typical of them to share their
last bit of food. They have a lot of sympathy for others. So if a person is naturally
kind and spends his life being kind, you might say, what a nice person; he's kind.
But that's not really called serving HaShem, because it comes naturally.
There are gentiles who are kind, and even animals with a naturally kind nature.
There is a type of bird from the stork family that is called a chassidah
because it has a naturally kind disposition. But being kind because it comes naturally
is not really serving HaShem. It's just doing what comes naturally.
Avraham Avinu was a very kind and loving person, the epitome of chessed.
But HaShem put him to the test to prove that his kindness was not simply
natural or habitual -- it was an expression of his service of G-d. After
the test of the binding of Yitzchak, where Avraham was asked to slaughter his own
son, the angel says to him, "Now I know that you fear G-d..." We see that
Avraham was able to transcend his kind and loving nature in the service of G-d;
and this proves that his kindness was not merely the result of his personality.
Because he was able to do exactly the opposite of kindness, we learn that his kindness
also transcended nature.
The Torah expects opposites from you. In one place it tells you that you must
love every Jew as yourself. But elsewhere, when a person commits a serious sin,
you have the obligation imposed upon you by the Torah to take the sinner to court
and bring witnesses against him. That doesn't sound like the kind thing to do --
the person might get lashes, or worse. But this is what the Torah demands of you.
You have to transcend your own definition of kindness in order to do what is right.
There are times when the Torah says that a parent has to punish a child. But what
if you just read a book and it says if you hit a child you might traumatize him
for life? You must be kind! But the Torah says you have to sometimes hit. Right?
You say, "But I can't do it because I'm so kind; I can't hurt anybody!" If you could
never go against your kindness, then you're serving HaShem al pi teva --
only according to your nature. There are times when Torah demands that you do something
which is not natural to you. By transcending your natural inclination when the Torah
demands it, you are serving HaShem al pi neis -- in a miraculous
way. If you can do things that you don't necessarily agree with, that defy what
you feel is right, and you do it anyway because the Torah demands it, this is called
mesirus nefesh, true self-sacrifice. Mesirus nefesh doesn't mean that
you necessarily have to burn at the stake. That's not what mesirus nefesh
means in our generation. Rather, since nefesh also means will or desire,
it means that you give up your will in order to fulfill G-d's will, doing
something that may be contrary to what you would like to do.
For example, if you would really like to say things which are not complimentary
to others, lashon hara, and you bite your tongue and you don't say it --
that's mesirus nefesh, because you just now overpowered an urge that was
natural and didn't fulfill it -- for the sake of HaShem. Any time
you do something with kabbalas ol, accepting the yoke of HaShem, you
have done an act of mesirus nefesh. You don't say, "My intellect will guide
me and direct my life" -- that is the Greek way of thinking. We had to
fight against that way of thinking -- ending in the miraculous victory
of the Chashmonaim over the Greek army. Rather, HaShem's intellect, as enclothed
in the Torah -- this is what must guide me. So even though Reform Jews
feel that they have the right to determine intellectually what is kind and
what is cruel and what makes sense, the observant Jew will say, "Even though, to
me, it also looks like a very cruel thing to do, if the Torah says it must be done,
it must be done, even though I don't understand why." That's kabbalas ol.
Another example: A woman is pregnant, and the doctors have determined that the
baby will be born deformed. All the "normal" people say, "Of course you should have
an abortion. That's the kind thing to do. Spare yourself the delivery, spare the
child misery. Why go through the pregnancy, why go through the birth?" But the Torah
says you're not allowed to. Of course there are certain cases where the Torah may
permit abortion. If the Torah tells you to go ahead with the birth, that this is
the Halachah, even though you cannot see the kindness in this, and you follow
the Torah's ruling, even if it is very painful and very difficult -- that's
serving HaShem al pi neis.
There was a time when things were much more peaceful and tranquil. There weren't
so many of these times in Jewish history, but once upon a time there was a period
when Yiddishkeit flourished and where there weren't very many obstacles to
the Jew maintaining his Yiddishkeit. But when the powers of impurity and
evil are active, and are trying in every way to put out the light of Yiddishkeit,
and the darkness is very, very dark, then you have to respond by lighting up the
darkness with the Chanukah candles, by bringing the mesirus nefesh out of
the closet and being ready at every moment to fight. And you have to be very active.
You cannot be passive. In everything you do, you have to be a Jew and make sure
that Yiddishkeit is seen and felt, and make sure that everybody around you
is aware of the light that you are radiating -- "outside the door of your
house," as the Halachah states regarding the lighting of Chanukah candles.
This kind of miraculous behavior is demanded in a time of spiritual war. And
the Rebbe says, now at the end of the exile, the war is starting to become much
fiercer, because the evil forces of the world sense that Mashiach is on the
way. Nowhere do you see this more clearly than in the opposition to Toras HaChassidus,
which is the Torah teachings of Mashiach.
Perhaps this needs some explanation: In a letter to his brother-in-law, who was
living in Eretz Yisrael, the Baal Shem Tov once wrote of the aliyas ha-neshamah
(elevation of the soul) which he experienced on Rosh HaShanah in the year 5507 (1746).
He had ascended to the very highest spiritual levels, until he stood before Mashiach.
The Baal Shem Tov asked him when he would come, and Mashiach told him that
when the Baal Shem Tov's wellsprings -- his teachings -- were
spread far afield, then Mashiach would come.
For this reason there is a tremendous hisnagdus -- opposition
-- to Chassidus, the teachings which the Baal Shem Tov received
from Mashiach. Our response must be not to minimize our learning of Torah,
nor of Chassidus, but to study more and do more and to influence another
Jew, and another Jew, and another Jew, as the Rebbe is constantly calling upon us
to do. What if you stay in your house and you pray three times a day and you learn
constantly? Who heard about it? It's a big secret. But if you make a chassidic
farbrengen in your house, you are defying the laws of nature. Everybody else
in the world is telling you that you're crazy, but this is the lesson we must learn
in our service of G-d. This is the greatest miracle, the neis that we should
bring into our daily lives -- especially now, at the end of the overly-extended