Flames of Hope: The Power of Hanukkah

The menorah represents the faith and hope of the Jewish people that cannot be extinguished.

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It was the first night of Hanukkah in the Janowska concentration camp and Rabbi Yisrael Spira was desperate to light the Hanukkah candles for the 500 people in his barracks. He managed to quickly collect strands of uniform fabric to be used as wicks as well as shoe polish to be used as oil.

That night, Rabbi Spira gathered everyone together from his barracks. He lit the menorah and made the first blessing on the kindling of the Hanukkah lights, followed by the second blessing of, “She’asah Nissim l’avoseinu bayamim hahem bazman hazeh” – that God made a great miracle for our ancestors in those days and at this time. Rabbi Spiro paused for a moment and then proceeded to make the 3rd and final blessing, “She’hechiyanu v’kiyimanu vihigiyanu lazman hazeh” – that God has kept us alive, has sustained us and brought us to this time. The entire group sang Maoz Tsur together with tears streaming down their cheeks.

After the singing, a young man came up to Rabbi Spiro and said, “Rabbi, something is bothering me. I understand that you could make the blessing over the Hanukkah lights and on the miracles that God performed for our ancestors. But how could you recite the blessing of ‘Shehechiyanu’ with such passion as you utter the words, “God has kept us alive and has sustained us”? Look at us! Look at where we are. This is how he has sustained us?” Rabbi Spiro turned to him and replied, “I asked myself this very same question, which is why I paused before reciting that blessing. But as I looked up, I saw that the eyes of every person in this barrack were filled with hope and faith as they stared at the flickering candle. And I thought to myself, if during such times of darkness, these people could be filled with hope, then I can confidently say She’hechiyanu – that we are grateful to be living. Because it is precisely our faith and hope that has kept us alive throughout our nation's journey.

We are approaching the Holiday of Hanukkah. When we think of the Hanukkah story, we remember the two miraculous events that took place. First, the military victory of the Maccabees over the Syrian Greeks and then the miracle of the oil that should have lasted one day but instead burned for eight.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, of blessed memory, once pointed out that what many of us don’t realize is that the Hanukkah story continued centuries later. After the destruction of the second Temple, when all the work of the Maccabees now lay in ruins, some rabbis at the time believed that Hanukkah should be abolished. Why celebrate a freedom that had been lost? Others disagreed, and their view prevailed. Freedom may have been lost, but not hope.

From there, hope became the essence and theme of the holiday; with the Menorah as it’s symbol. Hanukkah became a holiday of light within the Jewish home symbolizing a faith and hope that could not be extinguished.

Hanukkah reminds us that hope gives our people the strength we need to survive tragedy and rebuild shattered lives. The Jewish people survived all of the expulsions, persecutions and pogroms, even the Holocaust itself, because they never gave up their faith and hope that one day they would be free to live as Jews without fear.

During these times, when there is still immense darkness in the world, it is our opportunity to strengthen and renew our faith in a brighter and hopeful future. This Hanukkah, as we ignite the flames of our menorah, let us discover our inextinguishable hope and spread that light to the entire world.

Comments (3)

(3) Shmuel Burstein, December 18, 2020 3:39 AM

Please correct some details

Yishar Koach for bringing richly deserved honor to the memory of the holy Bluzhever Rebbe, zt”l.

The story appears on pages 14 - 16 in the 1982 edition of “Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust,” published by the late scholar and Holocaust survivor, Dr. Yaffa Eliach, z”l. There are some points that need correction.

The place this story took place was Bergen Belsen, not Janowska (the rebbe had spent time in Janowska, earlier in the war), nearer to the end of the war.

There was no oil, there was no candle. There were, instead, a wooden clog, a shoe of one of the inmate, which served as a Hanukkiah. The rebbe used strings from a camp uniform as a wick, and black shoe polish served as the fuel.

The questioner was not an anonymous young person. It was a distinguished prewar Jewish socialist leader. He was one of the leaders of the Warsaw Bund, a Mr. Zamietchkowski.

Before the third blessing was recited, the Rebbe, as you point out, paused. He turned in order to seek the advice of prominent rabbis who were gathered there with him, including the Rav of Zaner.

The author, who heard the story at the home of the Bluzhever Rebbe, does not include the crowd singing the Maoz Tzur.

Kol Tuv

(2) Marcus Ampe, December 12, 2020 5:09 PM

Thanks for sharing this message of hope

Thank you very much for sharing this very uplifting video showing how G’d’s People even in the darkest times of mankind could find hope in the lights which also could burn in their hearts and still inspire us today.

(1) Bracha Goetz, December 8, 2020 7:36 PM



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