Chanukah Edition

December 14, 2012
30 Kislev, 5773

Parshas Mikeitz/ Chanukah Edition 
Candle-lighting Time: 4:18 PM

This edition of Sparks of Torah is dedicated in honor of Melanie Eisen, for all her hard work running terrific TJE programs.


  • Remember to light Chanukah candles before Shabbos candles Friday night, and make sure they can stay lit for at least an hour. Saturday night, wait until after 5:30 to light Chanukah candles.
  • Go to Israel! In 2013 TJE is running Men’s, Women’s and Family Trips. Inquire now.


by Rabbi Raphael Leban

Chanukah is one of my favorite holidays, (I say that about all of them) because one of the essential themes of Chanukah is Torah. On Chanukah we overcame Greek opposition to our observance of Torah, and the light of the menorah—with which we celebrate that victory—symbolizes the light of Torah.

And where would the Torah and the study of Torah be without a good question? In honor of Chanukah, I would like to share a famous question asked by one of our greatest Talmudic scholars over 500 years ago. Rabbi Yosef Caro, the author of the Code of Jewish Law, asked the following apparent difficulty with our celebration of Chanukah.

When the Talmud records the events surrounding the Chashmonean victory over the Greeks, it says that they restored the Holy Temple in Jerusalem to its former purity, removing all traces of idolatry and disgrace. As the well known story goes, they found only one flask of oil that could be used to relight the menorah that stood before the Holy of Holies. A miracle occurred and the oil lasted for eight days. Therefore, says the Talmud, the Sages fixed an eight-day holiday into the calendar, to commemorate the miracle of the oil.

Rabbi Yosef Caro pointed out that the flask of oil that they found was enough to last for one day. It lasted for eight. If you do the math, there were only seven days of miracle. Why should the holiday of Chanukah last for eight days?

For those of you who have attended any of my classes this week, you have already heard me give as many as seven answers to this question. Here’s number eight. (Don’t worry, there are plenty more. In fact, someone recently published a compilation of 100 answers to this famous question.) This is a mystical approach, based on the words of the Rebbe of Sokotchov, which involves the intrinsic nature of the universe.

The physical universe in which we live is a finite place of limits and borders. By definition it must be so, nothing physical and quantifiable can be infinite. Only what is transcendental or spiritual can be unlimited, unbounded, eternal and infinite.

The Hebrew word for miracle is nes. The word nes refers to something ‘raised up’ or ‘above’, as in the phrase from the Book of Isaiah (49:22), “…and to the nations I will raise my nes.” Thus a miracle is an occurrence that transcends the bounds of nature, rising above the limits of the commonplace and entering the realm of the infinite.

A physical flask of oil can burn for one day. But a miraculous flask of oil has the potential to burn without limit. If they would have needed it to, it would have burned indefinitely. From the very first day, this wasn’t ordinary olive oil. It was unbound by the natural limits of this world. When that oil burned for eight days, it was a single burning that transcended the bounds of time and space. And thus we celebrate with eight days of Chanukah.

Enjoy the rest of the holiday, spend a few moments meditating on the message behind the miracle, and have a Chanukah that’s out of this world.

How Long is Chanukah?

by Rabbi Dovid Nussbaum

We are amidst the special Yom Tov of Chanukah and soon we will wrap up our menorahs and put them away till next year. The light that shown forth through our windows into the dark night will be gone. Our dancing and singing will be but a pleasant memory to inspire us throughout the year. What message should we internalize as we prepare to go take Chanukah into the rest of the year?

Our Sages define the battle between the Jewish nation and the Greeks as the clash of light and darkness. Why is this so? We have experienced many exiles and difficulties during our long interlude between the destruction of the Beis Hamikedash and our future redemption. What is unique about Chanukah that its essence is characterized as light and the Greek threat that tormented us as darkness?

There is a beauty to life that one can discern and perceive. On the fundamental physical level we are all impacted by that which is physically attractive, be it a breathtaking view of the Rocky Mountains or a stunning summer sunset. Our senses are finely attuned to such scenes and we are overwhelmed with these inspirational panoramas. Maimonides even instructs us to use what we see as a springboard to recognize Hashem’s hand in the ongoing creation of the world around us. In the final analysis, however, they are temporal and material. Even though they may motivate a person to higher levels of serving Hashem, it is an isolated reaction. Our souls are usually untouched by such magnificent vistas and do not undergo a substantial change in their functioning.

There is another beauty which is more sublime and challenging to perceive. It is the inner beauty which embraces the genuine quintessence of man, and the Jewish people specifically, and his purpose on earth. Our opportunity to achieve an eternal relationship with Hashem is an inner radiance which shines forth in true spiritual beauty. A soul encompasses eternity and glorifies and elevates the entire universe.

Between these two parameters lies the conflict involving the Jewish nation and the Greeks. Beauty is indeed in the eyes of the beholder. However, our eyes and our mind must focus on the beauty that transcends the limitations of this world. Although darkness engulfs the world at night, even a mere flicker of light can illuminate and eliminate the constraints of physical obscurity that are imposed upon us.

There is an aspect to Chanukah that we gloss over and yet is central to the theme of this beautiful Yom Tov. We recite Hallel every day of Chanukah. Our hearts swell as we recount the victory of the few over the many, the weak over the mighty and the pure over the defiled. Those who sought to destroy our nation were stopped dead in their tracks by a small force of Yeshiva students who courageously engaged them in battle.

Hallel is not simply a thanksgiving prayer for events that transpired many generations ago. It is an acknowledgement of those events and an internalization of their importance to us today so many centuries later. We are the proud recipients of the gallantry and prescience of those valiant soldiers. They understood the necessity of obstructing the infiltration of foreign ideas and halting the absorption of alternative philosophies into our ranks. They clearly appreciated the contrast between their beauty and ours. They knew that the two could not mix and remain untainted. One must fall for the other to stand.

Question for the Rabbis
By Rabbi Mordechai Becher, reprinted with permission from

What is the origin of the popular saying “The salvation of G-d is like the blink of an eye” — “Yeshuas Hashem k’heref ayin”? The expression is mentioned in this exact wording in the Pesikta Zutra on Esther (4:17); however the origin of the idea that G-d’s salvation is sudden and quick seems to appear first in this week’s Torah portion. Joseph was languishing in prison in Egypt, but after correctly interpreting the dreams of Pharaoh’s butler and baker, he is mentioned to Pharaoh as a candidate for interpreting Pharaoh’s dream. The verse then says, “They rushed him from the dungeon” (Genesis 41:14), and in the space of a very short time, Joseph went from prisoner to president. The Sforno comments, “In the manner of all G-d’s salvations, which happen in a moment, as the verse states, ‘For my salvation is quick in coming’ (Isaiah 56:1), and also as the redemption happened from Egypt where there was not even time for the dough to rise, and as will occur in the future redemption where the verse states, ‘Suddenly, the L-rd Whom you seek will come to His sanctuary’ ” (Malahi 3:1).

Joke of the Week

My mother once gave me two sweaters for Hanukkah. The next time we visited, I made sure to wear one.

As we entered her home, instead of the expected smile, she said, ‘ What’s the matter? You didn’t like the other one?’


The Greeks defiled all the oil in the Beis Hamikdash. This alludes to the introduction of alien thoughts into one’s otherwise wholesome mentality. When we light the menorah, we sing, “They broke down the walls of the Beis Hamikdash”. Our main defense against such breaches is to surround ourselves with Torah as an armored wall of defense against such aggressors.