A Letter From Jackson, New Jersey

We are a nation that lives and thrives on miracles.

Eretz Yisrael today is a prime example. There is no way this small nation surrounded by enemies from within and without could exist in today’s Middle East without relying on open miracles.

Certainly, there is no way that we could have existed and survived in galus for close to 2,000 years without the miracles that Harav Yaakov Emden terms “greater than the miracles of Krias Yam Suf and Yetzias Mitzrayim.” The Jewish nation has not only survived — we have thrived. The fact that one lone sheep can dwell among 70 wolves for so many years is nothing short of an open miracle. The Etruscans, the Phoenicians, the Aztecs and the Mayans are gone. Yet we exist. There is nothing in the natural order of the world that can compare to it.

When personal miracles occur, we are instructed not to ignore or gloss over them. Rather, we must speak about the miracles we experience. “Sichu b’chol nifle’osav” is an idea that we say daily in Pesukei d’Zimrah. Share your experiencing of miracles with your friends and neighbors. Let them share in the understanding of what has transpired. If you witness a miracle, you have the responsibility to spread the news to let people know.

The nes of Chanukah, however, rises to a different level. Not only are we obliged to speak about it and thank Hakadosh Baruch Hu for his miracles by saying Hallel and Al Hanissim, but Chazal instituted much more. They instituted special days of commemoration where the brachah of She’asah nissim la’avoseinu bayamim haheim bazman hazeh is to be said on this miracle. It was a great miracle, true, but even in the Beis Hamikdash there were regularly great miracles. The Ner Maaravi burned for 24 hours even though it had only the same amount of oil as the other neiros. That miracle happened every night for hundreds of years. This miracle was testimony, the Gemara in Shabbos (22b) writes, “that the Shechinah resided in Kal Yisrael.” Yet there is nothing to commemorate that or the other nine regular miracles that were witnessed regularly in the Beis Hamikdash during Bayis Rishon. Why is there no commemoration for these other miracles?

It would seem that as great as a miracle is, if it doesn’t have a message for all the generations, it would not be necessary or even fitting to establish a permanent zikaron. In fact, the miracle of the pach shemen wasn’t even a miracle that was necessary. The Greeks had already been defeated. What was it about the miracle of oil that should burn for one day and burns for eight, that it was so necessary to commemorate it? What lies in the miracle that is such a necessary message for us today?

We can read in Mishnas Reb Aharon an interesting insight of Harav Aharon Kotler, zt”l. He explains that the miracle of the pach shemen was a message to Klal Yisrael in preparation for our going into galus. “There will be times during the next 2,000 years,” the Ribbono shel Olam is saying, “that the level of Torah will be at a low ebb — when you will have to search far and wide for small pockets of true Torah.”

The causes will be many. Sometimes it will be oppression and anti-Semitism. At other times it might be false “isms.”

The bottom line is that many times in our history it will look like the light of Torah is on the verge of elimination, chas v’shalom. It is at these times that the Ribbono shel Olam wants us to remember Chanukah. Just when you think there is no chance, that all is lost, Hakadosh Baruch Hu gives you the supernatural kochos not only to persevere and exist but even to thrive. “There is one condition,” adds Reb Aharon. “The oil must be pure. You must have a nucleus of Torah lishmah.”

This insight of Reb Aharon reminded me of a speech I heard from his son Reb Shneur, zt”l, at a Lakewood Yeshiva dinner. He related the hakdamah of the Ridvaz to his sefer where he describes his arrival in the United States in the early 1900s. He portrays how terrible Chicago was in the early 20th century. (He actually had to leave Chicago on Shabbos to save his life.) As bad as it was, he concludes that it is not hopeless. If 10 yungeleit would sit down and learn Torah lishmah in Chicago, the Ridvaz continues, it can have the power to change the city. “It was this statement of Reb Aharon’s rebbi, the Ridvaz,” continued Reb Shneur, “that convinced Reb Aharon that 10 yungeleit sitting in Lakewood and learning Torah lishmah could revolutionize the entire country.”

That was my thought as I visited my daughter who recently moved from Lakewood proper to a neighboring town, Jackson. When she moved there about half a year ago, there were no shomer Shabbos families in her immediate neighborhood. My son-in-law had to walk 25 minutes to the nearest shul. The many families who have moved in since have now required two new shuls to be created — one across the street from my children. Wherever you look in Lakewood and the environs you see the phenomenal growth of a Torah community.

Chanukah is a time for us to reflect on what we have seen in our lifetimes. We were born in a period when Torah and yeshivos were few and far between. It could have been compared to a small pach shemen. There were people who worked to keep it pure and to help Torah flourish.

Chanukah is the perfect time to reflect and to give Hallel v’hodaah to Hakadosh Baruch Hu for his “nissim she’asah lanu, bayamim haheim” — and, particularly — “bazman hazeh.”


The author can be reached at rabbisbloom@gmail.com