"In Those Days, at This Time"
Translated by David Silverberg
The Gemara (Shabbat 23a) posits, "One who lights the Chanuka candle must recite a blessing... One who SEES the Chanuka candle must [also] recite a blessing." If even seeing the Chanuka candles warrants the recitation of a blessing, there must exist an additional element to the mitzva of Chanuka beyond the actual lighting, namely, the element of perception and perspective.
This component of the mitzva finds expression in the second berakha which we recite: "...Who has performed miracles for our forefathers, in those days, at this time." The implication of this text is that events of the past must yield, in our minds and hearts, ramifications for the here and now. This process involves much more than mere comparison or the simple drawing of associations between occurrences in antiquity and those of the modern era. The significance of the miracle of Chanuka must penetrate our consciousness and our religious awareness. The miracle, which occurred "in those days," continues to effect us "at this time." There exists in the world an intricate historical progression orchestrated by the Almighty Himself, a development which will lead His nation - together with the rest of the world - to the day in which "God and His name will be one." Therefore, each event, every period of exile and every sign of redemption, forms an additional building block within the overall structure.
Furthermore, during the days of the year in which certain events transpired in our history, there arises greater potential for the emergence of similar phenomena. A Chassidic interpretation of the gemara (Shabbat 21a) - "Wicks and oils which the rabbis said should not be lit on Shabbat may be used for lighting on Chanuka" - states that even a soul which has not been kindled throughout the entire year has the capacity to be lit and set ablaze on Chanuka. These days possess the unique power of lighting heretofore dark, cold spirits.
In the special Chanuka prayers, we speak of the miraculous victory of the few over the many. This victory was won not only in the battlefield, but in the Temple as well, as the small jug of oil lasted for over a week. Just as the small Nation of Israel could overcome the large, powerful foe, so can the smallest element - the concealed, inner forces within us - rise to the surface and bring about drastic change within us.
Two questions arise regarding the miracle of the small jug of oil. The first relates to God's supernatural intervention. Why would He provide a miracle simply to ensure that His people could perform a mitzva in the best fashion? We find many miraculous victories, many instances when God overturned the natural order to save the Jewish people from calamity. But when do we ever encounter a miracle to facilitate the highest standards of service? Secondly, with regard to the Jews themselves, why did they need the miracle in the first place? The halakha allows for service in the Beit Ha-mikdash even in a state of ritual impurity when the majority of the people find themselves in this state. There was clear basis for the legitimate use of impure oil for the lighting of the menora. Why did they insist on using only the single, small can of pure oil?
Clearly, the Jews of that time demonstrated their stubborn refusal to resort to mediocrity, an intolerance for even the slightest lowering of standards. They were not content or comfortable using oil which was impure, although it was, strictly speaking, acceptable. The insisted on finding that little jug of pure oil; they relentlessly committed themselves to the highest standards of performance. The Almighty reciprocated to that same degree of dedication, in the form of the miraculous endurance of the small jug of oil.
These two features of Chanuka demand our attention "at this time": firstly, the rejection of mediocrity and, secondly, the recognition of the capabilities that exist within us. If a person strives and works towards his goals, the small, pure jug of oil within him will rise to the surface and shine far longer than he would have ever imagined.
(This sicha was originally delivered on the second night of Chanuka, 5746.)
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