Gazing At The First Candle……


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cn.jpgThere was a time when the Jews lived in a society advanced beyond all others. This society allowed much freedom, way beyond the repressive monarchies of old. There was democracy. Aesthetics were important so people built beautiful, palatial homes, with landscaped laws and breathtaking sculptures. Styles flattered the figure and obesity was on the wane as society promoted trim, fit, muscular builds honed in state-of-the-art gymnasiums. Now, living in those times you had a choice. Be a “Torahdik” Yid but still gain the sophistication of society. Join a gym, build a mansion, dress with flair, and, of course, get a degree from a university. Or, you could be a narrow-minded fanatic, such a fundamentalist that you move your family out of Yerushalayim to Modi’in because you don’t want your children influenced by the “Torahdik” Jews who preach Torah Im Derech Eretz as they juggle Bais Hamikdosh and cultural venue time.

If you lived in that time, would you live the life that promoted Torah Judaism equally with the deep philosophical studies and psychology, that combined a reverence for Torah  studying with a joint degree in the justice system of the day, that included outings to Talmudical study halls, as well as to cultural places of interest including the great Coliseum….?  Or would you be the one who stood up screaming Mi LaHashem Aylay?

Are we repeating history, my friends, or what?

A quiet storm erupted in Williamsburg a few years ago regarding a new Kriya system instituted in a school that was melding foreign ideas of psychology into their Chinuch.  At issue was a girls’ school that had, without much fanfare, done away with the old method of teaching Alef Bais in its proper order.  Rather, the school structured the learning based on easiest to hardest, starting with the letters yud, vuv and nun, exactly in that order.  Yavan.  Rather telling.

Has our generation totally gone Misyavni?  Or are there still enough of the Meatim to stand up and scream, “Mi LaHashem Aylay?”  And why do the Jews continue to stray this way, generation after generation?

Eliyahu HaNavi once was able to prove to the Jews of his times that only G-d was worthy of worship.  All the Jews at Mt. Carmel saw an amazing miracle and, with one voice, acknowledged that only Hashem was Ruler of the world.  Next day, it was business as usual in the idol worship.  Why?  Because when the Jews came home from Har HaCarmel and discussed the awe of the moment, that moment of knowing, “Ain Od Milvado” someone would inevitably say, “uber vus vet men essen.”  It was good and fine for Eliyahu to prove Hashem – quite inspiring in fact.  But, a man must live, must have two cars in the garage, must have a few vacations a year, ah, it is too scary to rely on Hashem for Parnassah.  There was in fact some sort of Koach that the Avodah Zara was perceived to have over Parnassah, and they thought it was Hishtadlus for them to do the idol worship.    All agreed it was inspiring to see the miracle Eliyahu HaNavi pulled off…”but you have to be realistic” you need money “a mentsch darf leiben”.  And, therefore, the impact of the moment faded away.

The Greeks understood this well.  One of the first things, before outlawing any Yiddishkeit, was to insist that the Jews engrave on the horns ‘I have no portion in G-d”.  What were the Greeks trying to do and what horns are we talking about?  Agriculture was a big industry in that time, the main source of Parnassah.  The Greeks began the crumbling of a G-d centered life by making those who ploughed to focus that Parnassah was not G-d’s domain.  That was the beginning of the end.

Last night we lit the first candle in every home.  Did we gaze at that flame and ask ourselves what it meant?  Did we realize that the miracle of the untainted oil is that the providence of Hashem is beyond our realistic expectations and that we must never live our lives with the Cheshbon of the Yavanim?

(Submitted by a YW reader)


  1. Very well written article which makes a very valid point about the similarities between our times and the time of chanukah, r”l.

    I liked it, except for the swipe at the Torah Im Derech Eretz shita of great men such as Rav S.R. Hirsch ZT”L and Rav Breuer ZT”L. They never believed in making Torah and culture equal. To them Torah always reigns supreme, but they believed that involvement in the outside world can enhance a person’s avodas Hashem.

    I think you may have meant Torah U’mada – the philosophy of Y.U. which places Torah and Science, culture etc. on a more equal footing.

    The phrases Torah Im Derech Eretz and Torah U’mada may sound similar, but the shitos they represent are a world apart.

  2. like the yavonim, i appreciate beauty.
    Emes always shines with a glow of Beauty.
    this is a beautiful article.

    a long time ago i heard how the Jews in those days wrote greek names for themselves on their tombstones.

    i thought, how low, how disloyal, how could a Yid do that? someone pointed out to me that i only used my english name (derived from greek actually), never my Yiddish one. never occurred to me. what a wakeup!!

  3. feif un
    i believe his point (in the area you are referring to) was not that we should abandon hishtadlus.
    rather his point is that along with the hishtadlus must come Emunah. indeed Emunah is certainly the Ikar. and this is what the yavanim wanted to eradicate.
    ive seen your posts, im not saying anything you dont already know. i just believe you misunderstood the writers intent.


  4. hate to be rude but…for those of you that don’t get what he’s saying, either u r a tzadik and are completely severed from the outside world, and judging by the fact that you are using the internet, I’m guessing that’s not the case, or the author is referring to YOU. if you can’t see the truth in what he is saying you are deluding yourself. If we think about it, speaking for myself as well, unfortunately he is so right! we have most definately let the outside culture influence us MORE than it should’ve.

    no one is saying to quit your job, but then again you shouldn’t do things that are not honest under the pretense of “earning a parnosah”

  5. yes, in a nutshell he is saying we are an am Kodosh.
    Kodosh means SEPARATED and elevated.

    if you dont understand the implications of SEPARATED you need to hear or read the holy words of the Tzadikim on the matter. Chovos HaLavovos is an excellent example.

    this is one of the Ikarim of Chanukah. the above article expresses it quite well. if you dont understand what he is saying…..

  6. Thank you Charlie Brown for defending Torah Im Derech Eretz.

    YW Editor, can we please get a clarification from the YW reader who submitted this? Did he mix up Torah Im Derech Eretz and Torah U’mada? Or did he really mean Torah Im Derech Eretz?

    Because Torah Im Derech Eretz Jews DON’T “juggle Bais Hamikdosh and cultural venue time’’.

  7. There are some people here that we can always count on to say something negative about anyone promoting something they considers threatening to their opinions. I wonder who they are.

  8. i really find his “yavan” alef bais thing to be a hilarious coincidence. Seriously its not like they were teaching freud in the classrooms or something. they werent teaching them psychology; i highly doubt these girls would ever know what psychology even is. They were teaching them using a method that i guess is supposed to help you learn how to read/write easier. I dont get hte problem. They werent abandoning their chassidishe pronunciation of the letters? what is the problem here? they wanted to teach letters out of order? I really dont get it.

  9. Great article well written and to the point.
    The fact that it ruffled a few feathers just proves that it’s unfortunately very true.
    No one said that you have to quit your job or neglect your health. The point is:
    The Gedolim of the previous generation have already spoken out against changing the way we teach children to read and learn, and who are we to differ.
    Case in point: Maran Reb Moishe Feinstein ZaTZaL was once asked if instead of begining to learn with children Seider Nezikin, maybe we should learn with them something easyer and more relevant for them like Maseches Brochos. And he replied that we should not change the system because this is the way it was always done ואסור לשנות

  10. Feivel:

    Kodosh does not mean separated. Kodosh means sanctified. By definition this means being involved with mundane, every day tasks, and elevating them to a higher spiritual level. I am one of those with a degree in the “justice system of the day” and have my own practice. Every time a client walks into my office, I see Hashem reaching down and directly providing for me and my family. I have the ability to sanctify the experience by treating that client, and everybody else that I deal with on a daily basis, with dignity and respect. By “separating” yourself from Hashem’s world, you in many ways separate yourself from Hashem as well.

  11. i understood the author to be writing on a spiritual high. an awesome level. as he finished an amazing seder in learning, in which he came out kluhr in the inyan, with chiddushim. an amazing experience indeed!
    the life the author is expressing is one that he is living in, or wishes to live in. a life that truly should be dreamed upon by every single jew. a life of complete dveikus bH’, of bitachon, of joy.
    May we one day merit to live such a life.
    Happy Chanukah!

  12. i believe that the author is writing from his heart. hes expressing the feeling of a spiritual high in a life he truly desires. a life that every one of us, as a jew in exile should be hoping for.
    Bravo! Happy Chanukah!

  13. Chaim from the Five Towns: Kadosh does mean separated. When the term is used to connote sanctity, that is because devarim kedoshim are mufrashim from chulin, mundane.

  14. ChaimFromWoodmere:

    Actually, the root of the word kadosh, k-d-sh, DOES mean separate.

    One of the DIFFERENCES between Yisroel V’ha-amim, is their translation of the word. The world automatically translates it as holy – and THEIR conclusion is that to be holy, you need to live on a mountain, and meditate – something unreachable for the average man.

    But it is a mitzvah to be “kadosh” (Kedoshim Tihiyu), so by definition, it IS reachable for the average man. The Torah root is separateness – and then the torah TELLS us how to be a separate (and holy) nation, by defining certain mitzvos.

    Check it out.

    Perhaps the author should have elaborated on the issue with teaching Alef-Bais “out of the order”. Until I learned about this, I too did not know that it makes a difference. Apparently it does – and is a basic concept in chinuch. Our mesorah is to teach the Alef-Bais in order, and when asked, Gedolim stressed that this mesorah is very strong.

    If you look at the seforim that are used to teach the Alef-Bais, you can see that the first few pages are in order, and only LATER, the specific difficulties that a child may have are addressed, such as Bais and Vais, Vais and Chof, Hey and Ches. These seforim were not written out of ignorance, lack of understanding of the learning process. They were written based on our very rich and precious mesorah – which is part of what makes us a goy kadosh – a separate nation.

  15. Chaimfromwoodmere
    you do not understand the basic meaning or implications of Kodesh.
    of course it means sanctified, that is merely it’s translation. but what does sanctified mean?

    Kodesh comes from Godesh, which is a pile, generally a pile of produce that is gathered (separated) from the chaff, etc, for it’s purpose which is higher than the purpose of the psolis from which it has been separated.

    no one (certainly not me) said anything about separation from Hashems world in a general sense. obviously we are commanded though to separate from treifus, tevel, etc. included in our Chiuv to “separate” to be Kodesh, to be sanctified,is to separate from the Goyim, from their philosophies, from their values, from their entertainments, from their manner of dress and all their other ways. this is pashut a foundation of Yiddishkeit, a great desire and will of HaKodeshBarchu. you want to argue with this, you arent arguing with me, you are arguing with the TorahHaKODESH.

  16. Y’all are looking too deep into what he is saying. You remind me of the non artist who goes to a museum, looks at a piece of art, and begins a long interpretation of the thoughts and characteristics of the artist.

    I will try too.

    I think all he is saying that the Greek culture was so tempting to the Yidden of those days, that it gradually pulled many away. They did not wake up one morning, and say, “I will stray.” But it happened a little bit at a time. The more of the Greek ways they adopted, but more they gradually, very gradually, drifted another millimeter away.

    They saw what appeared to be some great innovations. They adopted them. Why not? But, over time they lost the meaning of Ahm Kadosh.
    What is Kedusha? It is not “Holiness” in the common interpretation. I means “SEPARATENESS”

    The Jew is supposed to be different from the goyim. We are not supposed to look like them, talk like them, or in any way resemble them. When a Jew walks down the street, a person on the other side of the street should be able to look across the street and know, “That man/woman is a Jew.” We are supposed to look so different that there is no mistaking us for a non-Jew.

    But, in the time of the Yivanim, their Greek dress became just too tempting to not adopt. Just like today. The Jew’s hats started to disappear, then the yarmulkes got smaller, etc.,
    The long double-breasted suit jackets lost a breat, and shrunk in length.

    The Payus started to shrink, and/or get hidden behind the ear. Some cut them off entirely, citing some heter about “just long enough to hold and bend over so the tip of the hair touches the root.” That misses the point. One of the purposes is to LOOK DIFFERENT.

    But, in the US, back in the 40’s and 50’s the Yidden had a hard time with antisemitism. So, they tried to look like the goyim. It just made life so much easier. Thank God back then men wore hats too, so it was easy. Keep the yarmulke in the pocket and only wear the hat. Use the heter to shorten the beard to a “nicely trimmed beard.”

    Why would a Yid shorten his beard? To look like the beards of the goyim!
    Some will say, “To look neater.” but I say if the Jew thought with the atitude of how beautiful it looks to be different from the goyim, and to enjoy the beautiful “Hadras Ponim” of a Jew, he would not even try to trim it. Deep down, the thought of thinking it was not neat to not trim the beard, came from the familiarity with the customs and ways of the goyim, and unconsciously taking on their attitudes.

    The list goes on. For a Jew to keep changing clothes with the styles of the goyim is horrible. But how many realize how their wives shoes change every few years? If the flats were good a few years ago, why the nosebleeds now?

    The same goes for household furniture and “equipment” ….. TV in a Jewish home? I am willing to bet it is much more prevalent that we think. Even a few Chassidim are hiding one in the closet!
    Ah, so YOU say you bought it just to watch Yiddish DVDs … yes, that is why you need a 42″ flat screen… yes….

    He is saying that if we look at ourselves today, we are repeating the actions of those days. We are adopting the Greek Culture.
    Our children are speaking English as their First Language!
    Sure it is great to be fluent in English, and we all should, but not before Yiddish, or whatever Jewish language we should have.

    And, all the new “innovations.” Sure, many are great, and can be put to good use learning Torah. But … each and every new little think that we do “K’Darchai HaGoyim” moves us further and further away from where we should be.

    While I was sitting with a friend of mine, a Lubavither rabbi, another yid questioned why I dressed in such “Radical Chaddisish Levush”? He said I was putting all my emphasis on Chitzoinius!

    He was very wrong. My Lubo friend who knows me well, explained to him, “No, that is not chitzoinius. That is his armor that keeps him straight. He bravely walks everywhere in a way that everyone knows, “There goes a Yid” … You can “Clean up” in a minute and look like a goy, and go into a place you should not. He can’t. He will look like a Yid, and not quick adjustment will hide that. It is his armor, protecting his insides from attack of goyishe chitzoinius.
    He admitted to this other guy, his student, actually, “You know, actually he is right, and we should all be dressing more Jewish. Our Chabad Levush is too close to the Goyish way. The Rebbe had his reasons, to make us less scary to the non-frum, so we could be m’Karev them, but it took away our armor..”

    The same holds true for the physical workouts. The Greeks brought an obsession with their bodies to the Jews. They started to work out like the Greeks, they started to admire the athletes, they began attending games.

    Do we not see that here. In shul I hear about the professional athletes and their records and accomplishments. I even heard about baseball trades at Shalosh Seudos last Shabbos! At least 2 men in my shul, that I know of, are members of a gym!

    Come on, can’t we see that we are repeating it all? There are even Yidden today in professional sports, and they are admired by fellow yidden!

  17. Kudos to the author of the article for calling our collective bluff. The situation of the Jews at the time before the nes of Chanukah WAS incredibly parallel to what it is today.

    Those who were caught up in the cause of modernity were called MisYavnim. They did not become

    Yevonim. They became “like Yevonim”. They believed, as many of us would like to believe today,

    that you can have it “both ways”. In those days idols of stone were the “in” thing – so they put

    them in the Bais HaMikdosh! Today we worship other foreign gods – in the form of status symbols –

    the cultural goods that have captured our attention – and shamefully our aspirations. Yavan had a

    culture of intellectual sophistication (sound familiar?) and an “appreciation for beauty and art”

    in other words, an “appreciation” for physical gratification. The Chashmonaim, and macabim, who ultimately won, were considered boorish and backward in their insistence of not modernizing.

    It is obvious to anyone familiar with Torah learning and its terminology, that the author used

    the wrong term when he wrote “Torah im Derech Eretz”. I think that YW should have caught that

    error. That term, is actually straight out of a mishna (Avos 2:2). It means that the Torah was

    given to us as human beings, not angels, and therefore we must live within the basic rules of the

    created world while we are here. We must function on a natural level – “derech eretz” – but that

    is ONLY the stage on which we stand while we aspire to a Torah life with kedusha and dveikus


    The fact remains, and is clearly understood if you genuinely research the inyanim of Chanukah:

    The MisYavnim – Jews – infiltrated all levels of Klal Yisroel – bent on a path of becoming

    “enlightened”, like the goyim, while still remaining Jews. There are plenty of shiurim available on this topic – in every form of media (Written, Audio, Online), that explain the depth to which the Jews were becoming enamored by Greek Culture, and the degree to which they were convinced that it was part of being NORMAL. It took a courageous, UNPOPULAR group of “right wing” Jews, to fight the tide, the trends, and the odds. Although there was a war that was fought, the focus is on the nes of finding oil that was tahor – a purely spiritual concept. Because the danger to Klal Yisrael was a spiritual one.

    The danger included the idea that we’ll remain Jews, BUT we will be NORMAL, keeping up with the

    current trends in the world. It sounds great – but somewhere in there is the unspoken insinuation

    that being too Jewish puts you at risk of not being NORMAL. The kind of normalcy that we need, is

    defined by the Torah – we have to function as normal, living, breathing human beings, who live a

    Torah life. Worshipping NORMAL as defined by our host culture is also Avoda Zara.

    Anyone reading this must know that it is dangerously easy – just a “click” or two off of to become familiar with, accustomed to, and enamored by the NORMS and trends of OUR enlightened society.

    The fact that I wrote this doesn’t mean I necessarily have the courage to be more “backward” and less “sophisticated”. But the original article successfully challenges me to think about which side of the Chanukah divide that lack of courage would have landed me on, BiYemei Mattisyahu. It didn’t take any less courage then!

  18. the auther is so right. the lesson of chanuka is is terribly missing in our lives. the american dream & the american def. of success is very much the same as the Yavanim’s; & unfotunately it has effected us frum jews in so many many ways.
    In yidishkeit making money is NEVER a goal it is ONLY a means to ba able to live to serve Hashem.
    not to be able to drive a nice car or make a fancy wedding [& sheva brachas] like the guy next to me at the daf-yomi shiur….. & have a custom shaitel & clothing like another mother in my daughter’s class- when i go to p.t.a.
    AND the egsamples are endless.
    We live too much to impress others instead of hashem.we expend so much energy & spend so much of our precious time of our short [120] time here for our “bodies” & much less for our Souls. we are so busy busy busy with NEEDLESS things.

  19. shining point.
    The Seforim elucidate that the oil was not TAMEH TUMAH DEORAISA but TUMAH DERABONON.
    Witch Tumah? That a Goy is as a ZAV, we must keep away, contact a goy lay a hand on him, and you may not enter the MIKADASH without Tevila vetahara. A goy MAY NOT enter the MIKDASH.
    That was the Takona from the CHASHMONAIM, but many people where critical and against of it.
    It didn’t take real root until the NES of CHANUKA.
    They should had used any oil, since it was not real Tameh (MDEORAISA).
    The CHASHMONOIM where consistent and strong solid, NO we are NOT going to use anything for the MIKDASH that had MAGA AKUM! That the Takana and its to be keept iven if we are left a small number of, the minority!
    ONLY After the NES it took full force this takana! RABIM BEYAD MEATIM, TEMYIM BEYAD TEHORIM.

    Yosef was in Mitzrayim and was put into a NISAYON, to be different or to blend. He was strong and didn’t budge. It took 10 years to see the fruits of his Avodah. With Emuna Kedusha and Bitachon and 2 more years jail time for asking help from the Goy.
    He became Sheni LaMelech, and saved the world, not the Chachmey Mitzrayim.
    And he told the secret of how to keep the food from spoiling. Put it away do not count it KI LO YUCHAL LISPOR KI EIN MISPAR, the bracha will only take place if you do not make the CHESHBON, the numbers will ruin all. Betachon is the clue. (He mastered it in jail time)

    The Nes of the oil was that they found and measured and was enough for 1 day , buy measuring the Berocho was diminished, and AL PI KLAL HA BITACHON ב”מ דף מב:
    AF AL PI KEN there was the Nes, to proof that the Takana of being separated from the GOY should d take root.
    Rabim Beyad Meatim
    Don’t make the calculation, it won’t make any sense.
    The Chashmonaim won
    The Misyavnim gave up.
    The Gezerah took place the Mikdash stood another 206 years.
    From the PONIM MEIROS

  20. (Actually, when teaching script writing to children, they teach the letter tzadi first because it’s already familiar as it’s the same as the number three. Then they teach yud, vov, nun… Tzion.)

  21. With all of you who do not “understand” what the author is saying, I feel very bad for you and your children. I think YOU should print this beautifully written and truth-filled article and plaster it all over your house (and workplace). Perhaps being “open minded” means being open to ideas that you do not understand immediately. You probably view yourself as very open minded but unfortunately are being extremely closed minded.

    As for chinuch- The Netziv shut down his yeshiva which he worked SO hard to establish because the government insisted that he teaches secular subjects. Now, how strange does that sound to us today where at least half a day in “yeshiva” is dedicated to secular subjects with the curriculum mapped out by the “wise and educated” government! We cannot begin to understand the effects of the tinyist deviation from chinuch since we ourselves are so corrupted already!

    There are people in Eretz Yisroel that do not send to schools that take money from the Zionist government. This is done for the sake of the chinuch that their children receive. How can one receive a pure and holy teaching of our Torah when it is coated in unpure hands?

    Every little bit of chinuch makes a HUGE difference, so why pollute your innocent children if you have a choice?

  22. I can’t think of a better response!!!! Y”K!!!

    With all of you who do not “understand” what the author is saying, I feel very bad for you and your children. I think YOU should print this beautifully written and truth-filled article and plaster it all over your house (and workplace). Perhaps being “open minded” means being open to ideas that you do not understand immediately. You probably view yourself as very open minded but unfortunately are being extremely closed minded.

  23. I don’t think these should be put together:

    Join a gym, build a mansion.

    -For what should be obvious reasons. Surprised no one mentioned it yet. Of course, naked discus throwing and the like was probably the author’s intent for aligning these two pursuits, but no one should ever -in any society -and particularly our own, have an inkling of an excuse to think of Torah as being unaccepting of exercise and working out. Too much obesity, diabetes, heart disease in the yiddishe olam today, and not nearly enough emphasis on healthy eating and lifestyle as a necessary active pursuit.

  24. Sorry, Lastword, but I won’t let you have it (although I agree with your comment).
    Feif Un misunderstood my comment, and I wish to clarify (in the slight chance he’ll check this article again.)
    Feif Un, I simply meant Tzion as opposed to Yavan, nothing to do with Tziyonim. Patterns in Time (M. Weinberg) is an excellent reference for a beautiful explanation on the connection between Yavan and Tziyon.