For more than two thousand years, the neiros of Chanukah have illuminated and uplifted Klal Yisrael.
Jews have lit large, magnificent silver menoros in luxurious mansions, and tiny ones in broken-down hovels. They have lit these sacred lights during times of relative comfort and in eras of relentless persecution.
Using as wicks threads pulled from the thin pajamas that served as their uniforms, Jews in concentration camps risked their lives to light a ner Chanukah. Tzaddikim who already reached great heights in avodas Hashem soared even higher as they lit the menorah, while Jews who had slipped a long way from the proper path sensed a powerful awakening in their hearts simply by gazing at the flickering, holy flames.
In every situation, this special mitzvah has been a source of unlimited chizuk and inspiration.
The preparation for this great miracle began far earlier. As Avraham Avinu made his way to the akeidah, some fifteen hundred years before the story of Chanukah actually took place, he davened on behalf of the Chashmona’im and for the miracle of Chanukah. When Yosef Hatzaddik met with his brother Binyamin, after a separation of 22 years, he took the opportunity to daven for the miracle of Chanukah.
Many generations later, the Chashmona’im entered the tragically profaned Beis Hamikdash and found a flask of pure oil, untouched by the impure Greek marauders. This flask far predated the Kohen Gadol who had placed his seal on it. For when Yaakov Avinu woke up and discovered that the stones upon which had rested his head had fused to become one, a flask had miraculously appeared on the scene. He poured oil on the stone and erected it as a matzeivah, promising that upon his safe return home this would become the house of Hashem.
Yaakov Avinu recognized that this was a special flask, and he took it with him. It was for this flask he endangered himself, going back across the river to retrieve it and subsequently fighting the angel of Esav through that night. Later, it was with this flask that Moshe Rabbeinu anointed the vessels of the Mishkan. Hundreds of years later still, it was with the oil in this flask that the Jewish kings were anointed.
Again and again this flask reappeared over the generations, most famously at the time of the miracle of Chanukah.
In our own times, the lights of the menorah continue to burn brightly, telling a story of the triumph of the forces of purity and holiness over the profane and evil. They remind us that even when it seems certain that there is no feasible way out of a crisis, when it seems apparent that all hope is lost, with the help of Hashem the impossible can become reality.
In Eretz Tzvi, the Kozhiglover Rav, Hy”d, wonders about the word “chanukah.”
Chinuch, usually meaning education, is a preparation for something to come, the process of training and molding children for what really matters: their future. Similarly, “chanukah” — as in chanukas haMishkan — is usually an “inauguration,” a preparation for something of primary importance that is yet to come.
In contrast, the chag of Chanukah would seem to be an end in itself, rather than a means to something else.
The Kozhiglover Rav makes a bold and profound statement: Chanukah lights up the entire year with the power of hischadshus — renewal!
Regardless of where one has landed, regardless of what occurred in the past, a Yid always has the ability to start anew, to put the past behind him forever.
Among the main decrees the Greeks enacted in their efforts to tear the Jews of the time away from the Torah was a prohibition against celebrating Rosh Chodesh. For Rosh Chodesh heralds a new beginning: The moon wanes each month and finally disappears, only to reappear and then slowly grow larger and larger, casting ever-greater illumination. The Greeks were determined to take from us this power of hischadshus, so they banned Rosh Chodesh.
But, b’chasdei Hashem, they failed and continue to fail, and each year the neiros Chanukah also serve as a powerful inspiration about the limitless power of hischadshus.
As we gaze at the neiros Chanukah, let us recognize that the concept of renewal applies to every facet of every situation. It applies to how we view our relationship with Hakadosh Baruch Hu. It also applies to how we see ourselves, and how we relate to all those around us. It is an appropriate time to put aside the pain of the past and start fresh. Chanukah is when family and friends get together, and is an ideal time for reconciliation, forgiveness and unity.
So many precious individuals are sitting by their menoros with shattered hearts, desperately waiting for a miracle in their own lives. The lofty light of the neiros Chanukah reaches even the darkest corners, and touches the lives of the forlorn and dejected, but we mortals must do our part as well. This is the time when we should remember all those who are alone or facing a personal challenge, and do all we can to light up their Chanukah. As we sit by the flickering flames, let us daven for all those that are in need of a yeshuah, including Yehonasan ben Malka Pollard and Sholom Mordechai ben Rivka Rubashkin.
More than anything else, let us daven for the moment of ultimate renewal, the Geulah Sheleimah, when evil will be eradicated, the House of Hashem rebuilt, and all broken hearts will be healed.