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Friday, 15 December, 2017 - 2:30 pm

In 1970 Chaim immigrated to Jerusalem. He applied for a phone in his apartment, but weeks went by without one. Exasperated, he visited the phone company headquarters in the main Post Office in Jerusalem and asked the clerk when his phone would finally be installed.

"Sir," responded the clerk, "Israel has a major shortage of phone lines. There are government ministers, army generals, and hospitals ahead of you who are also waiting for phones to become available."

“So you are telling me that I have no hope for a phone?"

"Heaven forbid!” said the clerk. As a Jew, I am forbidden to tell you that there is no hope. There is always hope.”

Excited, Chaim repeated, "There is hope, there is hope!"

"There is hope" confirmed the clerk, "just no likelihood."

During every prayer and meal of Chanukah, the sages inserted a special prayer of gratitude. It begins: “And [we thank You] for the miracles, the redemption, the mighty deeds, the saving acts, and the wonders, and the wars which You have wrought for our ancestors in those days, and at this time…”

Do you see what is so strange about this text? I understand thanking G-d for miracles, redemption, mighty deeds, salvation, and wonders. But why are we thanking Him for the wars? Judaism abhors war and violence, and sees it only as a last resort, when the only other option is extinction. We don’t celebrate conflict. What we like is the victory which allows us life and liberty, not the war itself!

Rabbi Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman, the famed Rabbi of Ponevezh, built three yeshiva's as well as a school and an orphanage. During the war, all his institutions were destroyed, and his family and many of his students were murdered by the Germans. He was saved because he had traveled abroad to raise funds for the institutions.

After the war, he moved to Israel, and for the remainder of his life built schools, yeshivot and orphanages.

The Rav spoke by a dedication of an Israeli shul and asked this question—Why do we thank G-d for the wars?

His explanation was moving and relevant.

First, we thank G-d for the miracles, the redemption, and the victories and salvation. Indeed, the military victory of Chanukah was extraordinary. The story takes us back 2,100 years to 164 BCE, two centuries before the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans. Israel was then under the rule of the empire of Alexander the Great. A Syrian ruler, Antiochus the 4th, ascended the throne, and was determined to impose his values on the Jewish people. He forbade the practice of Judaism, set up a statue of Zeus in the Temple, and systematically desecrated Jerusalem's holy sites. Jews who were caught practicing Judaism were tortured to death. This was tyranny on a grand scale. Sadly, he was helped in this endeavor by two Jewish high priests, Jason and Menelaus, who assisted him in banning the Jewish lifestyle and turning the Temple into an interdenominational house of worship on Greek lines.

To put it into historical perspective, had Antiochus succeeded, Judaism would have died. A small group of Jews, led by the elderly priest Matityahu and his sons, rose in revolt. They fought a brilliant campaign, and within three years

 they had recaptured Jerusalem, removed sacrilegious objects from the Temple, and restored Jewish autonomy. It was, as we say in the continuation of this Al Hanisim prayer, a victory for "the weak against the strong, and the few against the many." Religious liberty was established and the Temple was rededicated. Chanukah means "rededication."

Unfortunately, the political and military victory of Chanukah did not last. So why were Jews thankful in later generations, when those miracles of victory were a thing of the past, and they were again exiled and persecuted?

That is why we reserve our last thank-you for the wars. We are expressing gratitude for the fact that we have never given up the fight. We never stop fighting for life, peace, justice, and moral truth.

It is sometimes easy to surrender, to just acquiesce to reality and live in quiet desperation. Yet, we thank G-d for giving us the wisdom and the courage to not accept a corrupt status quo. Even under difficult, challenging and seemingly impossible circumstances, we continue to wage battle. We never surrender. We never say, we tried, now let’s throw in the towel. No! We continue the battle for truth, Yiddishkeit, Torah, life, and holiness.

This is what happened on Chanukah. It is relevant to us today, as we are again confronted with a comparable Maccabean struggle for Jewish survival.

How was a small family able to lead a nation to such an astonishing triumph? What was their secret?

Not knowing there would be a miracle, what made the Maccabees light the menorah? They found a small flask of pure oil, enough to last for only one day. Why did they light the Menorah? Why begin what they could not finish? Why light it when reason dictated that a day later it would go dark once again, unable to fulfill its purpose?

The Maccabees were not deterred by the seemingly impossible success of their effort. This is the secret of the Jews: You don’t have to figure it all out. Just keep on trying! No matter how bad the situation, no matter how impossible the probability of success, we begin the task—and optimistically have confidence in G-d to somehow make our efforts be fruitful.

Golda Meir put it this way: “Jews cannot afford the luxury of pessimism.” Ben Gurion reminded us that in Israel, “In order to be a realist, you must believe in miracles.”

Each year, the Lubavitcher Rebbe would lead thousands of Chassidim along Eastern Parkway to do Tashlich [the prayer done at the waterside to symbolize the throwing of the sins in the water] on Rosh Hashanah at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens.

It was 1956. That year there was a tremendous downpour, and no one else was outside. When the Chassidim following the Rebbe arrived at the park, they found the gates of the gardens closed. The guard was certain no one would show up. He did not know how crazy Chassidim can be.

What to do? The garden was locked, the gates barred.

Completely undeterred, the Rebbe looked at the seven or eight foot metal fence and proceeded to climb over it. If the Rebbe climbs over a fence, and you're a Chassid, what can you do but follow?

The Rebbe Maharash, the fourth Chabad Rebbe said: "If you meet an obstacle, and you can't go under it, then go over it. And I say that is it is actually preferable to go over than to go under!"

May we all rise above our challenges and overcome our obstacles and bring the light from Chanukah forward to permeate the world.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky

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