Bereishit (Genesis) 37:1-40:23
Haftorah ‑ Amos 2:6‑3:8
Some Laws and Customs of Chanukah
Chanukah begins the evening on Tuesday, December 20, 2011 and continues through the day of December 28, 2022. Below I have listed the basic laws for lighting the Chanukah Menorah/Chanuki’ah. If you have any questions you should consult with your own Rabbi.
1. On the first night of Chanukah one flame is lit, on the second night two, and so on until the eighth night when eight flames are lit.
2. Oil or candles may be used as the source of the flame to light the Menorah (pure olive oil and cotton wicks are preferable).
3. Each evening they are to be placed in the Menorah from the left side to the right and are to be lit from the right side to the left.
4. Each member of the family (all generations and all genders), should be encouraged to purchase, prepare and light their own Menorahs.
5. On the first night of Chanukah, three ‘Berachot’ (blessings) are said before the lights are kindled (one cannot fulfill the Commandment of lighting the Menorah by listening to a recording or electronic transmission of the Berachot). The ideal time for lighting is just after sunset.
- First Beracha: Baruch Ata Ado-nai, Elo-heinu Melech HaOlam, Asher Kidishanu B’Mitzvotav V’Tzivanu L’haDlik Ner Shel Chanukah – Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments, and has commanded us to light the Chanukah lamps.
- Second Beracha: Baruch Ata Ado-nai, Elo-heinu Melech HaOlam, Sh’Asah Nisim La’Avotaynu, BaYamim HaHeim BaZeman HaZeh – Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who has done miracles for our ancestors in bygone days, at this time.
- Third Beracha: Baruch Ata Ado-nai, Elo-heinu Melech HaOlam, SheheChe’yanu, VeKiyemanu VeGigi’anu LaZeman HaZeh – Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who has given us life, and has sustained us, and has brought us to this time.
The lights are then kindled.
6. On all other nights of Chanukah, only the first two Berachot are recited.
7. Afterwards, the two songs HaNerot HaLalu Anu MaDlikin – We Kindle these candles, and Ma’oz Tzur – O Mighty Stronghold, are recited.
8. It is customary to light one extra light in addition to the required number of lights for the given night. The extra light is called the ‘Shamash – the assistant or helper.’ The ‘Shamash’ should be used for kindling the Chanukah lights, and one may derive benefit from its light. It is customarily to be placed on the Menorah, but not in line with the other lights; either above or below or in front or behind. A deviation in height should be used which makes it obvious that the ‘Shamash’ is not one of the regular lights.
9. The Chanukah lights themselves may not be used for any purpose other than the contemplation of their beauty and meaning while they burn in fulfillment of the Mitzvah.
“Then Ya’akov (Jacob) rent his garments and placed sackcloth upon his loins, he mourned his son [Yosef] for many days” (Bereishit 37:34). Our tradition teaches us that the greatest pain a person can experience occurs when one buries their own child. Other forms of death are expected – we hope to outlive our parents. While we all know intellectually that a parent who loses a child rarely can separate themselves from their bereavement, even so, I still have trouble reconciling that Ya’akov Avinu, Ya’akov our ancestor, a giant of a man who “struggled with G-d and with man and prevailed,” this patriarch who’s mystical characteristic is “beauty,” I have difficulty comprehending that he could not get past the “loss of his favorite son,” there has to be more to the story.
Even though RaShI (an acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, France, 1040 ‑ 1105) explains that in the above verse, the phrase “Yamim Rabim – for many days” means that Ya’akov mourned for over twenty years, corresponding to the years that he was separated from his own father. Still, it leaves me with a difficulty – why couldn’t Ya’akov’s life experience and faith console him to the fact that HaShem’s will is rarely clear but always correct?
The RaMBaN (an acronym for Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman [Nachmanides], Gerona, 1194 ‑ 1270) adds another dimension to this question. He relates the loss of Ya’akov’s son as a personal condemnation. The RaMBaN writes: “Until this time no child ever died in the Patriarchal household, for the offspring of the righteous were blessed. Because of this, Ya’akov mourned for his son for such a long period and refused to be comforted, for he considered Yosef’s death a personal punishment.”
The Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 84:21) asks why Yehudah (Judah) was consoled over the death of his son (Bereishit 38:7) while Ya’akov refused to be comforted over the apparent death of Yosef (37:35). The Beit HaLevi (Rabbi Yosef Dov HaLevi Soloveitchik, Brisk, Lithuania, 1820 – 1892) gives us the answer.
Ya’akov knew prophetically that one of the Patriarchs would give birth to 12 sons who would establish 12 tribes that would become HaShem’s nation. Ya’akov grieved not only over the loss of his son, but because he thought that after the death of Yosef, the twelve tribes were no longer intact and the very foundation of the Jewish nation was in question.
“…And he took of the stones of that place, and put them for his pillows, and lay down in that place to sleep” Bereishit 28:11. The Midrash elaborates: “Ya’akov took twelve stones (and made a pillow of them and saw that angels were ascending and descending a ladder, he knew that HaShem had decreed that He would establish a nation of twelve tribes. Ya’akov said: ‘neither Avraham nor Yitzchak bore them. But if these twelve stones shall become one, I will know that I will be the one to establish the twelve tribes” (Bereishit Rabbah 68:11). And then the verse says: “And Ya’akov rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put for his pillows, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon its top” (28:18).
Ya’akov devoted his life to building the House of Israel. For this, he labored in the house of Lavan and suffered at the hands of Eisav. So when Ya’akov believed that one of the twelve tribes had been destroyed, he felt that his life’s work had been shattered. Therefore, he mourned Yosef for twenty-two years lamenting, “…I will descend mournfully to my son, to She’ol” (37:35).
The Yalkut Shimoni 143 (the best known and most comprehensive Midrashic anthology, attributed to Rabbi Shimon HaDarshan, Frankfurt, Germany, 13th century) describes it beautifully: “Ya’akov lamented: ‘The covenant of the tribes has been broken! How I struggled to establish twelve tribes, corresponding to the twelve signs of the zodiac, twelve hours of the day, twelve hours of the night, twelve months of the year, and twelve jewels of the Ephod (the breast plate worn by the High Priest)!”
For twenty-two years, Ya’akov suffered the frustration of his lost hopes and dreams. This must have been a tremendous ordeal, perhaps as great as the ordeal of the Akeidah (the trial of Avraham, to sacrifice his son Yitzchak). Ya’akov did not merely mourn the loss of his favorite son who died a premature and unnatural death. Nor was he depressed that the body of his son was never recovered. Ya’akov, a prophet of Israel, knew that the many struggles in his life were necessary to forge a “chosen” nation who would eventually bring enlightenment to the world. That objective was now crushed. This realization caused a mighty depression that consumed Ya’akov’s very essence.
RaShI teaches us that prophets lose their ability to receive prophesy when depression sets in. During the 22 years that Ya’akov mourned, he received no instruction, no communication, nor any divine consolation. He was unaware of why the channels were severed and imagined that it was possibly due to disrespecting his parents by not contacting them for those 20 years in the house of Lavan. The death of a patriarchal son had never happened before and he blamed himself.
We know that Yosef was not dead, and that he was paving the way for the 12 tribes to become a nation. He was fulfilling the covenant made between HaShem and his grandfather Avraham (15:13-16). Yosef’s separation from his father for 22 years was atonement for Ya’akov’s separation from his parents. The road to recovery is quite often set in motion by the very events that cause us so much pain. Ya’akov thought he understood HaShem’s direction, but he didn’t. He viewed this disappearance of Yosef not as a bump in the road but as the failure to realize his destiny. Ya’akov was in the dark.
If one was to kindle any of the Chanukah lights during the daytime, the resultant light would be practically insignificant. Our Chanukah lights are never used as torches, in fact, their only use is to be stared at; they are but small flames that in darkness shed a profound light. Ya’akov’s loss of his son Yosef left him in the darkness. Though he had the means to see, his sorrow did not allow him to see the light. Chanukah is a festival that forever reminds us that the light of HaShem’s beneficence constantly surrounds us, if we but open our eyes. May He Who has done miracles for our ancestors in bygone days; also show us His miraculous Presence at this time also.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Urim Samei’ach,