(Torah Portion Vayaishev) Judaica

If one takes a look around an ordinary Jewish home, he is sure to notice some type of Judaica or memorabilia displayed. Some of the more obvious ones are: the Mezzuza affixed to the doorpost, Shabbat candlesticks, a Kiddush Cup, a Chanukah Menorah, a Shofar, Yarmulkas, Prayer books, Books on Torah and commentaries, and mementoes or artwork depicting scenery from Israel.

I have heard people wonder aloud if it is necessary to keep these items if they are seldom or even ever used. Let me share with you a few vignettes:

The Bluzhever Rebbe, Rabbi Yisrael Spira was noted for his spiritual heroism during the Holocaust. After surviving the war, the Rebbe’s warmth, wisdom and inspired leadership continued. One year, a relative of the Rebbe, who had abandoned religious observance after the Second World War, came to visit the Bluzhever Rebbe and shared his problem. “I inherited a beautiful Chanukah Menorah from my ancestor, one of the students of the holy Baal Shem Tov, and since I am estranged from Torah observance I have no intention of lighting the Menorah.” The man continued, “Nevertheless, each Chanukah I look at the Menorah and weep at the memory of my sainted father lighting the Menorah. ‘Please Rebbe, accept this Menorah and spare me from my emotional anguish and painful memory.”

The Rebbe answered at once, “Someone who can still cry in pain can surely repent, and I won’t accept your Menorah, however dear and significant it may be to me.”

Due to the Rebbe’s wisdom and perception, the man was infused with hope and optimism and in due time, began to lay Tefilin each day. Eventually he found his way back to the path of his holy ancestors. This is the power of being in the environment of a Mitzva item.

A story of a special memory:

A person on the journey of recovery from addiction shared the following with me: “As I face the task and responsibility of connecting with my Higher Power, I feed off a sixty year old memory of my saintly grandfather sweetly reciting the Shema Prayer with me before I would fall asleep. He would then conclude with the Yiddish words, “Adanken Gut; Gaiy Ich Sluff – Thank you G-d, I’m going to sleep.”

The man continued, “This memory is the driving force behind my reconnecting to my roots.”

We all need positive spiritual memories to depend on and we all need to create positive experiences for our children and grandchildren – so they can learn and lean on us as well. With Chanukah approaching this Saturday night, I would like to share the following inspirational idea:

The Talmud, which is the source of our information about the events of Chanukah and the laws of Chanukah, teaches us that a key aspect of the lights of the Menorah is publicizing the miracle. This means that we light the Menorah in a window facing the street so that the passersby see the lit candles.

The Talmud rules that if one’s window is 20 cubits (about 40 feet) high, then one does not place the Menorah in the window, rather, he positions the Menorah in the most conspicuous place in the house. The reason given is that one’s eyes don’t focus or notice candles that are in a position higher than 20 cubits, and the candles are not being publicized.

The question raised is that in reality one may be able to see the flames even though they are higher than 20 cubits, for example, in a really dark building, so why can’t the Menorah be placed there?

Rabbi Avrohom Schorr explains that yes, the flames of the Menorah may indeed be seen at such a height, however, the spiritual warmth, energy and impression of the Menorah’s aura cannot be felt by the passerby while at such a height.

This is analogous to a heat vent positioned in an extremely high ceiling – the heat will not be felt by someone standing on ground level.

The same is true in terms of the spiritual effects of the radiance the Menorah – it can only reach and impact up to a certain point.

If we think about it we realize that when we light the candles of our Menorah and then stand and bask in its awesome glow – we are only an arms length away from this concentrated and potent radiance of this Mitzvah. This intense aura has the power to imprint holiness on our being, our family, our home as well as on the passersby on the street!

Wishing you a restful, peaceful and inspirational Shabbos!
Rabbi Dovid Saks