Rebbe Nachman tells a story about a prince and the son of a maid who were exchanged at birth. The maid’s son becomes king and finds out about the switch. In order to secure his rulership of the kingdom, he eventually expels the true prince from the land. The dejected and exiled prince loses his way and falls into sin, excessive drinking and despair. Eventually, in the end, he does become king. As with all of the Rebbe’s stories, even the simple understanding makes for an amazing story. (If you haven’t read the story, you can read it in old-fashioned english here or buy a nice english book with some of the deeper secrets of the story here).
In Birchas Hashachar 3, Reb Nosson shows how this story, of course, is analogous to the history of the Jewish people. Although we Jews are the true princes of Hashem, we’ve been exiled numerous times and sold into slavery. For two thousand years, we’ve been on the receiving end of ceaseless persecution and genocide. Throughout the diaspora of our people, we’ve certainly lost our way. As you might know, the assimilation statistics are frightening. Most Jews don’t identify as such at all anymore, and of the few who still do, even less are observant.
Then comes Hannukah. The candles of Hannukah shine a light of truth into the world. As King David sings, “Send your light and truth to lead me” (Psalms 43:3). This light of truth that we draw down with our measly little flames affects us. It pierces our soul so she no longer identifies as a slave, but as the princess she truly is. This is why we always read about Joseph being sold into slavery and then rising to the throne around Hannukah time. We need to be reminded that we’re truly great, even though we’re seen in the world as filthy slaves. The eight candles that we light represent the eight times we say the word אמת, or truth, after unifying Hashem’s name every morning in prayers (see here). This is because the name of Hashem is truth and every one of the eight Hannukah lights shines more truth in to the world and into our souls.
What’s a miracle if not a moment of undeniable truth? A miracle and a flag have the same hebrew word, נס. This is because when Hashem performs a miracle, it’s akin to Him sticking a flag in the ground saying “Here I am. I’m true and you can no longer deny Me”. The main mitzvah of Hannukah is to give thanks to Hashem for the miracles in our lives. Gratitude means recognizing the truth and admitting to it. This is why the Rebbe taught (Tinyana 2) that thanksgiving is the pleasure of the world to come. That world is a world of absolute truth. When we give thanks, we’re connecting to that world. This is also why the Talmud calls one who learns halacha a member of the world to come, בן עולם הבא. Because halacha is about defining the truth of the matter.
Do we believe in miracles? Not just national miracles, but do we believe that Hashem performs miracles for us individually? Miracles! Do we believe that we’re true princes and princesses? Sadly, the darkness of winter and the confusion of our lives, (a.k.a. the true maid’s son who’s now king), overwhelms us. We can barely catch our breath, let alone ponder our true worth. But those lights, those little puny lights, are real. Isn’t it odd how many Jews come out of the woodworks to light Hannukah candles, a rabbinically derived mitzvah? There’s something special happening when we light those candles. There’s something real and true about them. Let’s stare at them. Let’s gaze at them and hope for more meaning and truth in our lives. Let’s let them light us up and burn away everything fake that we believe in. That’s the real Hanukkah, a glimmer of the world to come.