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The Systems of the Jewish Year

Stampede! (Chanukah)

By Rabbi Sender Haber

There was once a group of researchers who went to North Africa and planted tomatoes. They felt really good about themselves for pioneering a new source of food and revenue for the natives. Indeed, the tomatoes were beautiful. Just as the tomatoes were about to ripen completely, the scientists were shocked to notice a herd of elephants come through and stampede the tomatoes. There was absolutely nothing they could do. They quickly realized that unless they were to spend all their projected income on repelling elephants, tomato crops would never flourish in Africa.

They also realized that the natives had known this all along. The scientists thought they knew better and were unwilling to listen.

King David said: “Rabas Tzraruni M’neurai”. Usually translated as “Many things have oppressed me from my youth”, it can also be translated as “The way that I developed has oppressed m from my youth”. The Jewish people have been oppressed because of our collective insistence on relying on G-d. It is our oldest form of defense since Avraham jumped in to a fiery furnace and it is what the Yevanim tried to take away from us. They wanted us to write “We have no portion with the G-d of the Jews”, but that is so intrinsic to who and what we are.

When we face adversity we need to go back to the basics. We need to trust our Emunah. The Greeks had many things to offer us, but without Hashem we have nothing.

Everything that the Greeks were selling could only be accepting in the context of enhancing what we already have. We need to cultivate our relationship with hashem before we get excited about the tomatoes. We might find that they can’t even last in our unique environment.  Not everything that works for the Greeks will work for us.

The Gemara tells us (23b) that Shabbos candles take precedence over Chanukah candles. We learn this from the pasuk “Tiznach M’shalom Nafshi”. The Gemara says that since the Shabbos candles are there for Shalom, we are obligated to take care of them first.

Shabbos Candles are not actually more important than Chanuka Candles. It is Shalom in the home that is more important than Chanuka. Reb Moshe Feinstein rules that nowadays Chanukah candles do not take precedence over Shabbos candles. We are not concerned about Shalom because we have electric lights.

Thank G-d, we can all afford to keep our houses well lit and to light Chanuka candles, but I believe that there is a very simple lesson here. We need to work on what we have before we work on what other people are trying to throw at us. The idea of Neiros Chanukah is Pirsumei Nissa, publicizing the miracle, but step number one is to make sure that we have Shalom right here in our neshamos and in our homes. Once we have taken care of ourseves, we can start accepting new ideas and, finally, fulfill our obligation of publicizing what we have to the entire world.

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