You Gotta Believe

Kislev is a month when we fortify ourselves with faith. Just as a single light can illuminate the darkness of winter, so can a spark of faith during the month of Kislev brighten what appears to be a bleak situation.

Those who believe are able to see beyond the immediate and perceive what lies in the distance.

This is hinted at in the name of this month, Kislev, which is composed of the words keis and lamed vov. Keis means to cover and lamed vov is the number 36, relating to the number of lights we kindle over Chanukah. The Rokeiach writes that the 36 lights that we kindle on Chanukah correspond to the 36 hours during which the great light, the ohr haganuz, shone in the world before Hashem hid it. That light is evident on Chanukah every year. During this period, the cover that is generally in place over light is removed.

When the world was created, a bright light shone. After man sinned, Hashem removed and hid that light. During the eight days of Chanukah, the brightness of the ohr haganuz, the ever-present hidden light, becomes evident once again, as the cover is removed for eight days. During these eight days we have the ability to perceive things that most people cannot perceive the entire year.

Rav Yisroel Eliyohu Weintraub, in Sefer Nefesh Eliyohu on Chanukah (page 102), discusses the concept that the light that shone during the first six days of creation was hidden in Torah Shebaal Peh. Those who extend themselves and work to understand the difficulty of Torah are able to see that light.

We light the menorah and say, “Haneiros hallolu kodesh heim, these flames are holy, ve’ein lonu reshus lehishtameish bohem ela lirosam bilvod, and we may not use them for anything; we may only look at them.”

What can we see in these lights? What message do they bear for us?

A Mirror Into the Soul

Perhaps the lights show us who we are and what we are capable of becoming, mirroring the potential that lies hidden from view. The biggest impediment to emunah and bitachon and to improving ourselves is the belief that we are frozen in our level of ability and are unable to raise ourselves and improve. We fail to see the possibilities and powers that each new day presents. We don’t realize that as Hashem is “mechadeish betuvo bechol yom tomid ma’asei bereishis,” we can recreate ourselves and improve every day.

Chanukah is a holiday of renewal. At its heart is the message portrayed through the Chashmonaim that a person can be a mischadeish and start again anytime. After many years of persecution, the Jewish people in their day became apathetic and didn’t believe that they had what it would take to fight back and earn their freedom. The Chashmonaim came along and decided that they had suffered enough at the hands of the Yevonim and, relying on their faith, went to war to restore the ability to study Torah and perform mitzvos.

The Chanukah miracle transpired during the era of Bayis Sheini. There was no new building and no new seder ha’avodah to rally around. Although the people had acclimated to the Greek persecution and accepted it as a fact of life, the Chashmonaim sought to convince them that they were capable of improving themselves and their situation. They motivated a depressed people to realize that although they were in a sad state, they could recreate reality and regain control of their own destiny.

To be able to accomplish that, a person has to be able to look past the mediocrity he has become accustomed to, forget old habits and attitudes, and rethink his position.

The word Chanukah is rooted in the Hebrew word chinuch, which means inauguration. Chanukah is a time of chinuch, not only because of the chanukas haMikdosh, but also because the Chashmonaim taught us about re-inauguration. They imparted the message that we can start again, re-consecrate, and be mechaneich. Even if we are not at a beginning, we can fashion a new beginning at any time.

When there is promise in the air, it is easier to motivate people to join the cause, because novelty inspires passion. Everybody likes success and wants to be part of successful campaigns.

All around us, we see examples of what happens when people are too set in their ways to see things honestly and too protective of their agendas to acknowledge the truth.

There is an old Yiddish joke about a young child who disliked potato latkes. His siblings loved the scrumptious treat, but he despised it. His wise mother, knowing that it was unnatural, had an idea. She called him into the kitchen and allowed him to assist her in peeling the potatoes. Then she heated oil and fried the onions and then the potatoes, watching his appetite grow. He enjoyed helping her sprinkle the salt and form the latkes, excited to eat the mysterious dish with the delicious aroma.

Finally, they were ready to eat and she laid them out on an attractive platter. Her little helper opened his eyes wide. “Latkes?!” he shouted. “Now that I know what latkes are, I’m going to eat a whole lot of them.”

Agendas based on fiction or ignorance enslave a person, making him incapable of seeing things as they are, impairing him like a form of blindness. They hold back any hope of success in tackling the problem and instead allow it to fester and grow. The boy didn’t like latkes, because he didn’t know what they were, and as soon as he found out, they became a favorite food.

The re-consecration celebrated on Chanukah is brought about by rethinking what we had thought was reality, remembering old ambitious dreams and letting go of darkness brought on by wrongful agendas. This enables us to lift ourselves out of whatever is pulling us down.

There’s a Mt. Everest In Your Life, Too

Rav Moshe Kotlarsky told the story of Sir Edmund Hillary, the first person to reach the apex of Mount Everest, the world’s tallest mountain. On his first attempt, he couldn’t reach it, but the very fact that he had attempted to go where no man had ever gone before and came so close to reaching the top, turned him into an international hero. Until then, it was generally believed that it was impossible for anyone to ever scale that mountain.

A great banquet was held in honor of Sir Hillary’s great achievement. He was uncomfortable with the wide acclaim so when he entered the ballroom and saw that a large picture of the mountain was displayed on the wall, he pointed to the picture and said, “Mountain, mountain, in the first battle of Mount Everest vs. Sir Hillary you won, but I will come again and conquer you because as a mountain you can’t grow, but as a human, I can.”

We are all confronted by challenges. We have goals that we wish we could attain but they seem distant and too difficult. We need to know that we all have the abilities to grow; Hashem gives us what we need to develop and succeed. We just need to recognize that we have the abilities and to believe in them and in Hashem. Armed with those beliefs, we can attain the strength needed to overcome anything and attain any goal.

Sir Hillary wasn’t familiar with the Chashmonaim, so he couldn’t point to them and derive strength from their example, but we can.

We are all familiar with the tradition that there are 36 hidden tzaddikim who sustain the world. Yet, we mistakenly assume that those individuals have a lifelong monopoly on the position. Rav Aryeh Levin taught that although there are 36 secret tzaddikim whose merit supports the world’s existence; anyone can be that tzaddik on any given day. Just because someone was ordinary yesterday doesn’t mean that he can’t be a tzaddik who upholds the world today. Every person has the ability to rise to that level. You just have to believe in yourself.

Perhaps the 36 Chanukah candles hint to that concept as well. The keis lamid vov, the concept of a cover being removed from the 36 candles that are kindled on Chanukah, is a reminder that we can be a lamid vov tzaddik if we remove the cover and see the ability we possess.

When we think of the concept of “new,” we should know that there is nothing as new as fresh resolve, and nothing as promising and exciting as a new attitude.

This past week, I attended the Torah Umesorah Presidents Conference at the Trump Doral in Miami. Gary Torgow is a fixture at that weekend, each year surpassing the previous one with a brilliantly delivered, awesome message. He quoted the Sefas Emes, who, in Parshas Lech Lecha, asks why the Torah does not offer any information about Avrohom Avinu prior to Hashem’s commandment that he leave his ancestral home, and follow Hashem to the land where He would direct him.

The Sefas Emes quotes the Zohar, who says that the call of “Lech Lecha” rang out and everyone in the world heard it. Everyone chose to ignore it. Everyone except Avrohom. Everyone else couldn’t be bothered with making the change. They all had excuses for why the call wasn’t meant for them and why they were better off ignoring Hashem’s offer.

Avrohom Avinu, who spent his life seeking aliyah and growth, was always alert for messages and signs from Heaven. As soon as he heard that call ring forth, he answered it.

Men of greatness are always looking to improve and grow, and therefore they act. Avrohom was eternally blessed and changed the course of history because he had faith in himself and Hashem.

That call still goes forth every day: “Leave your narishkeiten behind. Follow the word of Hashem. Do what is right. Follow His path. Reveal your light. You will then be successful and you will be blessed.”

The Mark of a Leader

Rav Nachman of Breslov reveals another meaning of the name of this month. Kislev, he says, is roshei teivos of “Vayar Ki Sor Liros” (Shemos 3:4). Hashem saw that Moshe Rabbeinu stopped to ponder the bush that was burning in the desert and not being consumed by the fire. The Seforno says that he paused and tried to understand the phenomenon he was witnessing – “lehisbonen badovor.”

Lesser people observe phenomenal occurrences and continue along their way, seemingly oblivious to what they have seen. They don’t want to have their comfort zone punctured by seeing something new that might cause them to look at the world differently. It is much easier and less taxing to look, exclaim, “Wow!” and keep moving, without being challenged or getting involved.

Moshe Rabbeinu was different. Stopping, approaching and trying to understand what he was seeing marked him as a leader.

That is the avodah of Kislev.

And that is what we celebrate on Chanukah: the opportunity to discover latent gifts within ourselves. Through contemplating them, and seeing them for the first time, we allow them to shine.

We have to tap into the message of these days and their power. We can find a new light. We can find chiddush within ourselves. We can bring newness into our lives.

Things happen and we think we understand what is going on. The truth is that we don’t have a clue.

The Medrash in last week’s parsha (Vayeishev 80:1) states that at the time the brothers were selling Yosef into slavery, Yosef was mourning, Reuvein was mourning, Yaakov was mourning, Yehudah was looking for a wife, and Hashem was working on creating the light of Moshiach. What we believe is a time for mourning, when we only see sadness, darkness and loneliness, can in essence really be a step in the birth and revelation of Moshiach.

Even when a believer grieves, he knows that all is not lost and that the light of Moshiach is gathering fuel for its eternal fire.

So many people wish things were turning out differently for them. They wish they learned more Torah and that it would be easier for them to understand Torah. They wish they had a better job and that they had more money. They have a flame inside of them, but it lies hidden and too often it is dormant. They don’t believe that they have the ability to peel away that which covers the light. They don’t believe that they have the strength and stamina to improve themselves and their situation.

I say to them: Chanukah has a deep message for you. There is a fire within you. You just need to uncover it. Give it the right atmosphere to nurture it. A fire needs air. It needs oxygen. If allowed to smother, it gives off no light and exudes no warmth. It needs you to believe in it and give it the fuel to take off.

You have to look beneath the keis and into the depth of your neshomah. Know that there is an incipient flame burning there. Know that it is capable of bringing you to higher and better places.

You just gotta believe.

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