Feeling small on Chanuka

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Do you find it hard to stay lit on Chanuka? The more people I talk to, the more I hear how difficult it is to stay positive on Chanuka. Some people have had some of the darkest days of their lives when the Chanuka candles were burning. Is this some type of coincidence?

(If you don’t relate to what I’m saying here, then I guess just skip the following article).

As a kid, Chanuka was awesome! We looked forward to our presents and we loved lighting the menorah and the time off from school. But as we grew older, maybe we began to notice that although Chanuka has so much good to offer, we felt like it was hard to remain happy, and we easily sunk into a low state of mind.

(I could easily pin this on having all of our children home for 8 days 😆, but that’s true of all our holidays. There’s something different about Chanuka. What is it?)

In Tinyana 2, Rebbe Nachman teaches that the days of Chanuka are days of appreciation. Without getting into the depth of it, he goes on to connect appreciation to praising Hashem, the delight of the next world, true lovingkindness, halacha and truth. Those are some serious topics. It’s not so easy to be truly appreciative. Maybe you even say ‘thank you Hashem’ all day and night, but then something little doesn’t go your way and you get all bent out of shape. Why aren’t you appreciative then? Why aren’t you praising Hashem then? It’s because absolute truth and deep gratitude takes a great deal of work. How about true lovingkindness, even when it’s inconvenient? Or when it will go unnoticed? Not so easy then, right? And following halacha, specifically originating halacha, takes nearly complete humility. These traits take a certain amount of refinement. We don’t know too much about the next world (Olam Haba), but we know it’s called Olam Ha’emes, a world of truth. In that space, everything will finally be manifest. We won’t be fooled by our illusions and egotistic perceptions anymore.

It’s no coincidence that Chanuka comes out in the time of year when the night hours are the longest. The same way the darkness of the winter has already intensified, so too our spiritual darkness has already become overwhelming. We’re now as far as we can possibly be from Simchas Torah without spiritually collapsing, so Chazal gave us the lights of Chanuka. But the lights are so puny! A few measly lights for a half hour a night, barely three feet off the floor? That’s gonna do it?

Throughout the Hassidic writings all the Masters are talking about how holy the lights of Chanuka are. Even the Talmud asks, if a poor man only has a small amount of oil should he use it to light a Chanuka candle or a Shabbos candle? To even ask that question shows the greatness of Chanuka. What are we missing?

The same thing we’re missing is exactly the greatness of this amazing holiday. It’s true – we are so far from real appreciation of Hashem and acting with real kindness and truth. That’s why the lights are so little. We have so little of it. The darkness of our distortion, perversion and misrepresentation is crushing. We have very small keilim (equipment) to hold this strong light. But you know what? We do have a small amount of light. We might think it’s trivial, and our attempts to act kindly and live with sincerity are inconsequential but we’re dead wrong. Hashem doesn’t have our bloated complicated perceptions of reality. Hashem is truthful. He truly appreciates our struggle. He knows every time we try and He is appreciative.

We need to stare into the Chanuka lights and burn away our false perceptions of who we are. We’re not bad, and we don’t need to inflate our ego to protect others from knowing how bad we feel about ourselves. This is why the real tzaddikim chapped on to Chanuka so strongly. All the tzaddikim are geniuses in seeing the good. They see those feeble Chanuka lights and they see great torches of holiness. As we see can attest to, from past years of Chanuka, the light of truth is almost blinding. It’s not easy to go through Chanuka and stay positive. But we just need to do two things. First, we need to light one small fire and continue adding to it. Don’t try and win the game tonight. It’s a process. Start small. Appreciate the small things. And second, we need to believe in the tzaddikim. They’ve done the work. They’re gurus of seeing the good and acting truthfully. Simply believing in them and asking Hashem to help us in their merit see the good in ourselves will lift us up. This is a holiday of miracles. It’s not about what we can do. It’s about doing a little and believing that He will do the rest.

Thank you

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This is my one hundredth post on this blog! King David called his hundredth Psalm “A song of thanks”, so I’d like to also take this opportunity and express my gratitude. I’m forever grateful to Hashem for giving me this platform to share my thoughts and ideas with some very special readers. I’m grateful to Rebbe Nachman for inspiring me and guiding me since last May, when I started writing. I’m so thankful to my family who always encourages my blogging and I’m most grateful to my followers and readers, who although I don’t usually hear too much from, whenever they drop me a line, it helps me keep going and believing this little notebook is making a cosmic difference.

In Tinyana 2, the Rebbe says that the main pleasure of the next world is to glorify Hashem with thanks and praise, because by recognizing His good, one begins to unify with his Creator. It’s truly been a ‘next-worldly pleasure’ to author this blog and I hope that we share many more beautiful ideas together, connecting to the burning heart and soul of this great Tzaddik, Rebbe Nachman Ben Feige, until the coming of Mashaich soon in our days. Amen!

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א  מִזְמוֹר לְתוֹדָה: הָרִיעוּ לַיהוָה, כָּל-הָאָרֶץ.
ב  עִבְדוּ אֶת-יְהוָה בְּשִׂמְחָה; בֹּאוּ לְפָנָיו, בִּרְנָנָה.
ג  דְּעוּ כִּי יְהוָה, הוּא אֱלֹהִים: הוּא-עָשָׂנוּ, ולא (וְלוֹ) אֲנַחְנוּ עַמּוֹ, וְצֹאן מַרְעִיתוֹ.
ד  בֹּאוּ שְׁעָרָיו, בְּתוֹדָה--חֲצֵרֹתָיו בִּתְהִלָּה; הוֹדוּ-לוֹ, בָּרְכוּ שְׁמוֹ.
ה  כִּי-טוֹב יְהוָה, לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּוֹ; וְעַד-דֹּר וָדֹר, אֱמוּנָתוֹ.

The real truth

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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 3Reb 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.

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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.

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