Vertlach: Parshas Mikeitz


Our minhag during Chanukah is to add Al Hanisim into our tefillos and our bentching. In midst of the text of Al Hanisim we thank Hashem for ‘the wars’. In others words, we are thanking Hashem for putting us through the wars. 

The question that is begging to be answered is, doesn’t this sound a bit bizarre? Why are we expressing gratitude to Hashem for putting us through wars? Wars aren’t pleasurable; no one wants a war. What chesed is there in fighting wars?

My Rosh Hayeshiva, Harav Chaim Zev Levitan Shlit”a, offers an answer in which he brings out a very important yesod. Human nature is such, that when a person is accustomed to their daily activities, it becomes second nature to them and they forget to have a true appreciation for what they do.  They simply forget that it is something special, like a treat. We get used to keeping Shabbos, performing Bris Milah, and learning Torah. All these things are what we do on a day to day basis; comes along the yevonim wanting to abolish these daily activities. All of a sudden we have to fight for it and we wage a war. Only once these activities were banned, did we realize how unique they are to us. It was through the war with the yevonim that we now have a greater appreciation for what we were doing. Until we were actually challenged with it-we didn’t have a full appreciation for these mitzvos. It is for this reason that we thank Hashem for waging war against the yevonim. 
There’s a well known story, which is well worth repeating, that illustrates this point exactly.

Rav Shach Zt”l once related what he thought was the most inspiring story of mesiras nefesh that took place during the Holocaust.

In the town of Lodz, there was a Jewish Mafia that had a prominent presence and ran the town. None of its members were religious at all. They were all mechalel Shabbos, ate tarfus, and were constantly disgracing the Torah. When the Nazi’s, yimach shimum, took over the town they decided to start first with the head of this Jewish Mafia, as they felt threatened by his presence. As the Nazi’s entered the city they went straight to the bais medrash, took out all the sifrei Torah and began to unroll it next to an open sewage line. They rounded up a group of Jews and told them to stand on it and start digging mud from the sewer onto the sefer Torah. Those who chose not to comply were instantly shot by these merciless animals. They then brought the head of the Jewish Mafia over to the Sefer Torah and said ‘let’s go….grab a shovel’.  The head of the mafia looked at the Nazi’s and said absolutely not. They looked at him point blank and said, ‘This is an order; do it or we will shoot you’. The head of mafia looked them straight in their eyes and said ‘there’s no way I’m standing on my God’s Torah and humiliating it like this.’ He opened his shirt and shouted shoot me right here! And that’s exactly what happened; he was killed through a tremendous act of mesiras nefesh.

Said Rav Shach, here was a person who was constantly disgracing the Torah but when he was put to the test by someone who wanted to strip him of his ability to give kovod haTorah, he risked his life for it. People don’t always have an appreciation for what they stand for, until they’re put to the test.
As we’ve all heard over the years, Chanukah is a time for hischadshus-for new beginnings when we all try to start fresh. If we are challenged, take a look at ourselves and ask in which area do I need to strengthen myself? Let’s all try to start anew by making a small kabalah. Klal Yisroel was hit with a terrible tragedy this week with the untimely passing of Moshe Yehuda Zt”l ben Yaakov Hacohen Berkowitz. He was a person who would always push others to be mekabel something small towards perfecting themselves. Could there be a more appropriate time, then now, to do something concrete (which will also help his neshama have an aliyah)? By the miracle of Chanukah we realized our privilege of serving Hashem only after the yevonim tried to stop us from serving Him. With that, we now have a new attitude towards performing our avodos Hashem. Let’s not wait for another ‘reminder’.

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