Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Chanukah Customs


Compiled and annotated by Dovid Sears and Dovid Zeitlin

This list of customs especially reflects those of Reb Gedaliah Kenig and the Tzefat Breslov community, although it includes a number of general Breslov customs, as well.


Introduction:

The Rebbe states: Through the mitzvah of the Chanukah lights, we come to recognize G-d’s Glory, which is elevated and magnified throughout the world. Those who are distant from holiness are awakened to return to G-d; and we attain awe of G-d, peace in our homes, and the power of prayer. All strife and evil speech are nullified, and universal peace spreads through all of the worlds.

(Likkutei Moharan I, 14)


*

He also states that through the mitzvah of lighting the Chanukah lamp, we internalize holy da’as, which is the awareness of G-dliness. This is the paradigm of “good oil,” the paradigm of “remembrance.” That is, through the Chanukah lights we are privy to “remember” the World to Come -- the transcendental realm that is the point of origin of the soul and its ultimate destination -- even in the midst of this world.

(Ibid. I, 54)


The Chanukah Menorah

Reb Gedaliah Kenig was particular to use olive oil for lighting the Chanukah Menorah. This is the mitzvah min ha-muvchar, the optimal way to perform the mitzvah.


(See Rama on Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 673:1. However, wax or paraffin candles are also acceptable, as the Shulchan Arukh states.)


*

Most Menorahs have an extra place for a ninth light, set apart from the rest, called the “shamash.” In addition to this, Reb Gedaliah would use a second shamash, a wax candle, to light the wicks; and when finished, he would place it in a separate holder to the side of the Menorah. This seems to reflect a hiddur in halakhah, in that adding the light of the shamash prevents one from inadvertently making mundane use of the Chanukah lights.

(See Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 673:1 regarding the custom of lighting an extra candle)


*

The conclusion of the blessing before lighting the Menorah is "le-hadlik ner Chanukah," in keeping with the custom of the ARI zal. The initial letters of these three words spell the Divine Name "NaCHaL" (literally “river” or “brook”). Reb Noson homiletically relates this to the "Nachal Novea Mekor Chokhmah (A Flowing Brook, the Source of Wisdom)," a euphemism for the Rebbe. (The initial letters of this phrase from Proverbs 18:4 spell the name “Nachman.”)

(Cf. Rabbi Chaim Vital, Pri Eitz Chaim, Sha’ar Chanukah, chapter 4, which explains that this Divine Name brings about an outflow of the supernal light of Binah to Ze’er Anpin; Reb Noson relates this to “Nachal Novea Mekor Chokhmah” in Likkutei Halakhos, Betzias ha-Pas 5:27; ibid. Kiddushin 2:3)

*

Reb Gedaliah did not wear Shabbos clothes while lighting the Chanukah Menorah (except on Erev Shabbos Chanukah and Motza’ei Shabbos Chanukah). However, some wear a bekitcheh in honor of Chanukah.

(This seems to have been the common custom among Russian and Ukrainian Chassidim, among others; e.g. Skver-Chernobyl, Chabad, Karlin-Stolin, Boyan-Rizhin, et al. However, many Hungarian Chassidim wear a shtreimel and bekitcheh while lighting the Chanukah Menorah; see Likkutei MaHaRiCH, Seder Dinei u-Minhagei Chanukah, p. 718.)


*

Reb Gedaliah would begin chanting “Ha-neiros hallalu…” after lighting the first candle, while the flame was starting to arise by itself.

(Reb Gedaliah’s custom reflects the view of the Shulchan Arukh, Magen Avraham, Elyah Rabbah, et al., and is similar to the custom followed by the communities of Karlin-Stolin, Lelov, and others; however, some begin “Haneiros hallalu” after the first candle is fully lit. Other communities, such as Chabad, Skver-Chernobyl, et al., follow the view of the Pri Megadim, Eishel Avraham, et al., to begin after one finishes lighting all the candles; see Likkutei MaHaRiCH, Seder Dinei u-Minhagei Chanukah, p. 718.)


*

After reciting “Haneiros hallalu,” Reb Gedaliah would gaze at the lights in silence for approximately thirty minutes.


*

He would also sing Ma'oz Tzur, and recite Vi-hi Noam and Yoshev be-Seser seven times, followed by Lamenatze'ach be-Neginos, Ana be-Koach, and various zemiros. However, he always spent much time sitting and gazing at the lights in silence.

(The minhag to recite these psalms and zemiros is not unique to Breslov, but is common practice in many Chassidic communities; see Likkutei MaHaRiCH, Seder Dinei u-Minhagei Chanukah, p. 709.)

*

Reb Gedaliah would often learn Likkutei Moharan I, 3 (“Akrukta”) at this time, although he sometimes chose a different Chanukah Torah.

(Other Chanukah lessons include Likkutei Moharan I, 8, 14, 17, 30, 49; II, 2, 7)

*

Shabbos Chanukah was one of the three fixed times during the year when the Chassidim used to come to the Rebbe. In commemoration of this, some Breslover Chassidim today travel to Uman for Shabbos Chanukah. (However, the only time of year when it is obligatory for a Breslover Chassid to come to the Rebbe is Rosh Hashanah.)

*

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Bender states that on Erev Shabbos Chanukah, the Breslover Chassidim in Uman would daven Minchah with a minyan earlier than usual, prior to lighting the candles.

(Si'ach Sarfei Kodesh IV, 255. This is consistent with Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 679:1, 2; also see Mishnah Berurah, ad loc.)

*

However the minhag of Yerushalayim, which is also the minhag of the Breslov community in Tzefat, is to light the Chanukah Menorah and Shabbos candles prior to Minchah, and then go to shul.

(Kitzur SheLaH, Hilchos Chanukah, s.v. “Ve-yesh le-hazhir” states that this is preferable to praying Minchah alone at home in order to maximize the time that the candles will burn. This custom probably reflects practical difficulties of going back and forth to the synagogue twice so close to Shabbos.)

*

In any case, the Chanukah Menorah should be lit before the Shabbos candles, and the candles should burn until at least 30 minutes after tzes ha-kokhavim (about 90 minutes after sundown in America, and somewhat less in Eretz Yisrael).

(Mishnah Berurah on Orach Chaim 679:2)

*


On Shabbos Chanukah, the psalms and zemiros usually recited and sung immediately after lighting the Menorah are sung during the evening meal.

*

Shabbos Chanukah is also the main time that the Tzefat chaburah gets together to rejoice as a community, including sharing a communal Melaveh Malkah. This was the focal point of Chanukah for the talmidim of the Rebbe and Reb Noson, as well.


*

On the eighth night of Chanukah, the yeshivah bochurim share a communal meal, accompanied by singing, divrei Torah, and joyous rikkudim. Rejoicing on “Zos Chanukah” is a minhag of the Baal Shem Tov, which is observed by many Chassidim. However, the Tzefat Breslov kehilllah does not do so as a whole. Rather, Shabbos Chanukah is the focal point of communal celebration.

(Sippurei Baal Shem Tov; also cf. Likkutei MaHaRiCH, Seder Dinei u-Minhagei Chanukah, p. 714)


“Chanukah Gelt”

It is customary to give extra tzedakah during the days of Chanukah. Reb Noson states that this is because during Chanukah, we are engaged in drawing the light of holy altruism into the world, as indicated by the verse “the tzaddik is beneficent and giving” (Psalms 37:21).

(Likkutei Halakhos, Birkhas ha-Mazon 3:16).

*


Reb Gedaliah used to give “Chanukah gelt” to his children on the last night of Chanukah (“Zos Chanukah”).

Nittel Nacht

Like all Chassidim, Breslovers do not study Torah from sundown until Chatzos on “Nittel Nacht.” Ideally, one should go to sleep as early as possible and arise to recite Tikkun Chatzos. However, Reb Gedaliah stated that if one remains awake, it is permissible to read the Rebbe’s Sippurei Ma’asiyos.
(Heard from Rabbi Chaim Man.)


Reb Noson's Yahrtzeit

On the evening of Asarah Be-Teves, Reb Noson's yahrtzeit is commemorated by lighting a 24-hour candle and sharing a communal meal. In some Breslov communities it is customary to read the description of Reb Noson's histalkus (passing from the world) from Alim le-Terufah (Jerusalem: Toras HaNetzach 2000 ed., pp. 913-918). It is also proper to study an additional portion of Reb Noson's teachings on his yahrtzeit, and to give tzedakah in his name according to one’s means.

(In English, see Rabbi Chaim Kramer, Through Fire and Water, Jerusalem: Breslov Research Institute, Chapter 48)

Chanukah and Overcoming Avarice


Excerpt from "
Chanukah with Rebbe Nachman of Breslov":
Even someone who is supported by charity must beg or sell his clothing in order to buy Chanukah candles.

Avarice

The history of mankind may be the story of the victory of the strong over the weak (war), of the many over the few (democracy), of the wicked over the innocent (crime), but the underlying dynamics of human history boils down to avarice. The rise and fall of nations may be connected with the strong the many, and sometimes the wicked, but the basic driving force for power is avarice.

The Greeks were no different, although they pursued their goals under the facade of "culture." in order to impose avarice upon the Jewish people, they issued three decrees: no Sabbath, no New Moon, and no circumcision.

The weekly Sabbath rest reminds the Jew that his sustenance comes from God. Observing the Sabbath thus precludes avarice, since it declares that no effort will help without God. The New Moon dictates the Jewish calendar, and subsequently the festivals. just as the Sabbath rest precludes avarice, so does observing the festivals. Circumcision signifies sexual purity, the lack of which induces avarice, because controlling one's passion for sexual gratification weakens the passion of avarice (Likutey Moharan I 23:2‑3; Likutey Halakhot, Aveidah u’Metziah 3:6).

Avarice defiles the mind. When one's mind becomes filled with thoughts of money, there is no room left for wisdom. Thus the Greeks defiled the Temple oil, because oil is symbolic of wisdom (ibid. 3:7).

Furthermore, the desire for money and material gain is really the source of all sadness. The more you want, the more you need, and the more you feel you lack. A criminal will rob and kill someone, in order to fill his perceived lack, and nations go to war for the same reason. Thus, those who succumb to avarice are surrounded by a dark cloud of moroseness (Likutey Moharan I, 23:1) – because they find no contentment in what they possess. Therefore, tradition says, the Greeks are compared to darkness (Bereishit Rabbah 2:4).

In order to counter avarice, in order to dispel these clouds of darkness, you must open your heart and hand (Likutey Moharan I, 13:1). You must become a fitting vessel for God through which to channel His boundless bounty. You must allow yourself to experience the gratitude that comes from accepting that bounty. Lastly, you must allow yourself to experience the love that comes from sharing your bounty.

Chanukah symbolizes this.

The victory was wrought through the priests. The priests symbolize charity, because they are given the priestly gifts that epitomize charity. So after Judah Maccabee—the priest led his army to victory, he donated all the spoils of war to charity (Yosefun).

To relive this victory over avarice, over the dark clouds of moroseness, we light our candles after sunset, rejoice, and give Chanukah gelt—charity (Likutey Halakhot, Aveidah u'Metziah 3:8).
In fact, so great was this miracle—the miracle of victory over avarice—that even someone who has nothing to give must beg or sell his belongings to purchase candles. That will be considered his charity.

Bringing Down the Light


Excerpt from "Bringing Down the Light":
Rabbi Ephraim ben Naftoli

Tefilot HaBoker:
Prayers of the Dawn, Tefilah 4

No matter to what depths we have fallen, the tzaddikim can rescue us by "shining" down the light of Divine perception to heal our souls.


Help us, O Lord our God, help us to receive the holiness of the days of Chanukah in sanctity and purity, and with true joy. Grant us the privilege of lighting the Chanukah candles every night, as You have commanded us through our holy rabbis of blessed memory—to begin by lighting one candle on the first night, and to add another candle on each succeeding night, until the eight days of Chanukah are complete. For You have already made known to us through our holy sages that through the holiness of the Chanukah candles, we imbue our minds with perceptions of Godliness. The
tzimtzumim (constrictions) of the Infinite Light which they represent produce the spiritual illumination transmitted by all holy lights and candles. This is the paradigm of “eliciting abundant holiness and igniting flames and radiant lights.”

Shine upon us the light of the holy anointing oil, enlightening us with perceptions of Godliness in a miraculous and wondrous way. Thus may we illuminate and kindle the holy candles which contain all spiritual unifications and transmissions of Divine consciousness, so that their light will reach even people like us who occupy the nethermost rung, which corresponds to “below ten handbreadths.”


Through the tikkunim of the miracle of Chanukah, may we too experience this light through the power of the preeminent tzaddikim who transmit perceptions of the supernal light to us, even in our lowly condition. They heal us from sicknesses of the soul which threaten to overwhelm us, to the point that “our souls abhor all food, and we have reached the gates of death.” For we know in our hearts how fiercely these sicknesses attack us, and how every day our souls grow weaker, due to the multitude of our sins. However, in Your great mercy, You ennoble us with the holiness of this awesome mitzvah of lighting the Chanukah candles. Through this mitzvah, the true tzaddikim transmit the radiance of Divine perception even to such spiritual invalids as us, and they bring down this lofty light into the darkness that pervades our bodies because of our evil deeds. These tzaddikim “shine” to us, so that we might take to heart their holy words; they enliven us with their words, and in so doing, transmit the holy light of the Chanukah candles to the depths of darkness.


May we firmly believe that without a doubt, we can go forth from darkness to light with this mitzvah, in the merit of the true tzaddikim who illuminate the earth and all who dwell upon it! Fulfill in us the verses: “Even when I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I shall not fear evil, for You are with Me.” “Though I sit in darkness, God is a light unto me.”

Instill compassion into the hearts of the true tzaddikim toward the entire Jewish people and toward me, so that they will mercifully draw all of us closer. May they lower themselves to our level, shine their lights upon us, and reveal flashes of Divine perception, even to people like us, and may they succeed in healing our souls. May they fulfill the mitzvah of visiting the sick by attending our ailing souls every day! Thus they will give us,new life and revive us with spiritual delicacies, until we finally return to You in perfect teshuvah when we accept and follow all their holy advice, which is a powerful remedy for our souls.

Illuminate our souls with the wondrous radiance of Divine perception in the aspect of Chanukah! Revitalize our wisdom in holiness, and grant us life from the Light of the Face as a result of our rejoicing in the mitzvot. Gather together the mitzvot that we perform on the Three Pilgrim Festivals and in their merit, may we participate in the rededication of the Holy Temple, which is the channel for the illumination of the Light of the Face!

“The Light of Your Face, O Master, lift up to us.” “May God favor us and bless us; may He cause His Face to shine among us, selah.” “Shine Your Face upon Your servant; save me in Your kindness,” so that through the lighting of the Chanukah candles I will be privileged to draw the Light of the Face from the Holy Temple in order to enliven the sefirah of Malkhut, and thereby receive perceptions of Godliness.

“Let Your Face shine upon Your servant, and teach me Your ordinances.” “And every created thing shall know that You created it, and every formed thing shall understand that You formed it; and everything that possesses the breath of life in its nostrils shall declare: The Lord, God of Israel is King, and His dominion extends over all!”


In Your mercy, grant us the opportunity to give tzedakah, especially during the days of Chanukah, so that through us Your Face will shine. And by virtue of the tzedakah that we give to the poor when they come to our homes, may we receive the Light of the Face of the Living King.


In the merit of this tzedakah, may we draw closer to the true tzaddikim who reveal Your light by making the necessary tzimtzumim and vessels to illuminate even our souls, which are so far from holiness that by right we should be treated as outcasts. Nevertheless, with great self sacrifice, they labor all their days out of compassion for us and for all Israel — even those who are most distant—in order to bring us closer to God. They reveal new and wondrous tzimtzumim by which it is possible to reach anyone who wishes to enter the realm of holiness.


Have mercy on us and allow us to come close to tzaddikim like them. In Your mercy, put an end to the dispute, which was produced by our sins, surrounding those tzaddikim who strive to reach out to us. For this is why there is such great opposition to them, even from other great tzaddikim: The Divine attribute of judgment garbs itself in these opposing tzaddikirn because of their fierce holiness, which prevents them from being able to tolerate the world, due to our transgressions and unworthy deeds.


Although the truth is with them, You have already made known to us that in Your beneficence, You do not desire to reject us, God forbid. On the contrary, You always wish to judge us favorably, despite the foulness of our sins. You always wish to show compassion toward us, even to the “worst of the worst.” Therefore You create ways of fixing our damage, and garb the lights of holiness in such wondrous garments and constrictions that these lights can shine to us as well.


Thus the tzaddikim. continue to transmit the Divine light to lower levels, in increasing degrees of holiness, more and more every day, and they continue to elevate all fallen souls, imbuing them with perceptions of Godliness through holy tzimtzumim, until finally they will heal all afflicted souls in the world. Therefore have mercy on us and abolish all strife surrounding these true tzaddikim, and allow us to draw close to them. Let them remove all the shame and disgrace that has befallen us due to our sins, bring us back in complete teshuvah, and draw us close to You in truth!

The Mysterious Guest

Painting by Francisco de Goya

The Mysterious Guest
Chayey Moharan, Sippurim Chadashim (“New Stories”) 85
Translation and Commentary by Dovid Sears

On the first day of Chanukah 5569/1808, in the evening after lighting the first candle. Rabbi Nachman told this story:

A visitor came into a house and asked the head of the house, “From where do you obtain a living?”

"I don’t have a steady livelihood at home,” his host replied. “However, the world provides me with what I need to live.”

The guest asked him, “What do you study?”

The host answered him.

They continued conversing, until soon they were engaged in a true heart to heart discussion. 

The host began to feel an intense longing and yearning to reach a certain level of holiness. “I will teach you,” said the guest.

The host was surprised. He began to wonder, “Maybe this isn’t a human being at all!” However, he looked again, and saw that the guest was talking to him like a human being.

Immediately afterward he had a strong sense of faith, and he resolved to believe in him. He started calling him “my teacher,” and said to him, “First of all, I would like to ask you to teach me how to conduct myself with due respect toward you. Not, I scarcely need add, that I could actually detract from your true honor, God forbid; but even so, it is hard for human beings to be as meticulous as they should be in these matters. That is why I would like you to teach me how to behave with due respect.”

“For the moment, I don’t have the time,” he replied. “Another time I will come and teach you this. Right now I must go away from here.”

“I also need to learn from you about this,” said the host. “How far must I go when I accompany you on your way, as a host is obligated to do when his guests depart?”[I]

“Until just beyond the entrance,” he replied.

The host began to think to himself, “How can I go out with him? Right now I am with him among other people. But if I go out with him alone—who knows who he is?” He questioned him and then told him, “I’m afraid to go out with you.”

“If I can learn with you like this,” the visitor retorted, “then now, too, if I wanted to do something to you, who would stop me?”

The host went with him beyond the entrance. All of a sudden, the visitor seized him and began to fly with him!

It was cold for the host, so the other took a garment and gave it to him. “Take this garment,” he said, “and it will be good for you. You will have food and drink and everything will be good, and you will live in your house.” And he flew with him.

In the midst of this, the host gazed, and suddenly he was in his house. He couldn’t believe his own eyes that he was in his house; but he looked, and there he was, speaking with people, and eating and drinking in a normal manner. Then he looked back, and lo and behold, he was flying, as before. Then he looked back and he was in his house. This went on for a long time.

After awhile, he flew down to a valley between two mountains. There, he found a book which contained various combinations of letters: alef, zayin, chet, which is dalet, etc. Vessels were depicted in this book, and inside the vessels were letters. Moreover, inside the vessels were the letters of the vessels, by which one could create such vessels. He felt an intense desire to study this book. 

In the midst of this, he gazed, and lo and behold, he was in his house. Then he gazed, and there he was, in the valley.

He made up his mind to climb the mountain; perhaps he would find an inhabited place there. When he came to the mountain, he saw a golden tree with golden branches standing there. Hanging from the branches were vessels like those depicted in the book, and within those vessels were other vessels by which one could create such vessels. He wanted to take some of the vessels away from there, but he was unable to do so, for they were inextricably entangled in the branches.

In the midst of this, he gazed - and lo and behold, he was in his house. This was most amazing to him. How was this possible? How could he be both here and there at the same time? He wanted to discuss this with other human beings, but how could one speak about such an astounding phenomenon to other people, something that they surely would not believe?

In the midst of this, he looked out the window and saw the same guest. He started begging him to come to him. However, the guest replied, “I don’t have time, because I am on my way to you!”

“This itself is a wonder in my eyes!” he cried. “Look, I am right here—what do you mean, that you are on your way to me?”

The guest explained, “The moment you decided to come with me, to accompany me beyond the doorway, I took the neshamah (higher soul) from you and gave you a garment from the Lower Garden of Eden.[II] The nefesh (vital spirit) and ru’ach (lower soul) remain with you. Therefore, whenever you attach your thoughts to that place, you are there, and you draw an illumination from that place to yourself. And when you return here—you are here!”

I do not know which world he is from, but this much is certain: it is a world of good.

So far, it is not over, it is not finished.

Commentary

Before we start skating on thin ice, it must be said that there are no classical commentaries on this story in the Breslov literature. Therefore, all of our remarks are speculative. No doubt, the story lends itself to many other lines of interpretation, as well.

Guest and Host/Ohr Makif and Ohr Pnimi

The “mysterious guest” has at least two levels of meaning: most obviously, he represents the tzaddik. He also represents the ohr makif, or “encompassing light,” which in general alludes to the sefirah of Binah.[III] This is the level of perception or being that is perpetually beyond one’s grasp - for as soon as it is internalized, another ohr makif takes its place.[IV] Thus, Binah is in a constant state of flux.

The Baal Shem Tov relates Binah to orei’ach, the Hebrew word for guest.[V} Orei’ach (spelled alef-vav-resh-chet) can be divided into ohr-chet, meaning “light of eight.” This alludes to the eighth sefirah in ascending order, which is Binah. Whenever one shows hospitality, this creates a channel for internalizing the light of Binah:

The Baal Shem Tov, taught: When a guest arrives, he brings his host Torah insights - for the Torah insights the host receives from Above correspond to the nature of his guests.[VI]

The guest is a vehicle for the ohr makif. However, every level of perception is an ohr makif in relation to the level below it, which is called ohr pnimi, the “inner” or “manifest light.” The ohr pnimi corresponds to the host.

Sixteenth century kabbalist Rabbi Chaim Vital explains that the light of the Chanukah lamp represents Binah, the transcendent level, as it illuminates Z’er Anpin, or “Small Face,” the structure comprising the six lower sefirot that animate the natural order.[VII] In less technical language, a ray of the limitless “shines” into the finite. Rebbe Nachman’s allegory of the guest and the head of the house alludes to this kabbalistic model, as well.

“From where do you obtain a living?”

The guest inquires as to the host’s source of livelihood. This is because the tzaddik is the parnes, provider of sustenance. Thus the guest, who represents the tzaddik, is entitled to ask his host this question.

Only two biblical figures are explicitly called “tzaddik”: Noah and Joseph. The Midrash explains that both deserved this title because they provided others with food.[VIII] In Noah’s case, he fed the entire world in his ark until the floodwaters subsided; in Joseph’s case, he provided grain to all Egypt and surrounding lands. Similarly, the Talmudic tzaddik Rabbi Chanina confered his great spiritual merit upon the world so that all creatures might receive sustenance, even those deemed completely unworthy.[IX]

Rebbe Nachman deals with this concept of the tzaddik as provider in many teachings, especially Likutey Moharan II, 7 (“For a Compassionate One Shall Lead Them”). There he states that the world receives livelihood by virtue of the tzaddik, albeit through the fusion of two levels inherent within him. The higher is represented by the tzaddik’s “son”; the lower is represented by the tzaddik’s “disciple.” However, these terms are mean to be taken more symbolically than literally. The perception of the son is expressed by the Ministering Angels who ask: “Where is the place of His glory?”—indicating the transcendent level, the aspect of “not knowing,” the ohr makif/encompassing light. The perception of the disciple is related to the antithetical declaration, “His glory fills the world” - indicating the immanent level, “knowledge of God,” the ohr pnimi/inner light.

In truth, these two perceptions are one, and each completes the other. Those in the category of the “son,” who have attained the higher level (“Where is the place of His glory?”), must be protected from total self-nullification in God’s transcendent aspect. They are like holy moths that would readily self-destruct in their desire to reach the light. The knowledge that “His glory fills the world” grounds them, creating the possibility of a perception of God. Thus, they may experience the mystic’s awe before the infinite mystery of the Divine.

Those in the category of the “disciple,” who occupy the lower level (“His glory fills the world”), are protected from total self-nullification in God’s immanence. They are like people who immerse in the mikveh (ritual bath) and stay under the water too long. These “disciples,” too, must experience awe of God, because the trace of wonderment they are granted—the admixture of “Where is the place of His glory?”—creates the existential distance needed for their perception. Otherwise, everything becomes “white on white,” lacking all contrast.

Thus, process and spiritual growth are made possible through this fusion of the perceptions of God’s transcendence and immanence; and livelihood is drawn forth to the world from the tzaddik who has grasped the secret of this dualism, and as such, serves as the channel for God’s will to continually create and sustain the world. This is the concept of “tzaddik yesod olam . . . the tzaddik is the foundation of the universe” (Proverbs 10:25).

“The world provides me with what I need to live”

Because the ohr pnimi derives its life force from the ohr makif, the host actually receives his livelihood from the guest. However, the host remains unaware of this. All he knows is that somehow his needs are fulfilled. Thus, he replies, “I don’t have a steady livelihood at home, but the world provides me with what I need to live.”

This answer suggests that either the host lacks initiative, or he fails to appreciate the true source of his sustenance, or both. In Likutey Moharan II, 7, the lesson cited above, Rebbe Nachman says that to be a provider, one must have a certain malkhut, a certain authority (although he seems to use the term in more than one sense), adding “one can’t be a shlimazal”—an incompetant person, or a “loser.” If so, what is our host? What is he telling us about himself with his vague reply? At this point in his life, at least, he seems to be a passive sort of fellow. 

This alludes to the paradigm of how the world was sustained prior to the Giving of the Torah. Rebbe Nachman states in Likutey Moharan II, 78, that before the Torah was given, humanity was involved only in derech eretz, mundane pursuits. From this, the Midrash infers, “Derekh eretz (which can also mean simple human decency) preceded the Torah.”[X] Since the Torah is the source of life—as it is written, “For they [i.e., the commandments] are your life and the length of your days” (Deuteronomy 30:20)— from whence did the world derive its sustenance? The answer: from God’s gratuitous kindness.

The Talmud states that the twenty-six generations prior to the Giving of the Torah correspond to the twenty-six repetitions of the refrain “for His kindness is everlasting” in Psalm 136.[XI] However, the Torah certainly existed prior to its revelation; indeed, the Midrash tells us that all things came into being through the Torah, which preceded creation.[XII] The Torah was merely hidden. And where was it hidden? In the Ten Creative Statements recounted in the first chapter of Genesis, with which God continually animates the universe.[XIII] Thus, our host says that he is sustained “by the world,” that is, by the Torah that is hidden in the world, although he does not yet perceive it.

In this lesson, Rebbe Nachman also identifies the tzaddik as the channel for sustenance. He is the holy “prustok” (peasant or simpleton) who at times must desist from studying or fulfilling the commandments of the Torah in order to engage in worldly activities. At such times he receives vitality from what the Midrash calls the “Treasury of Unearned Gifts,” the gratuitous kindness with which God sustained the world prior to the Giving of the Torah.[xiv] Then he, in turn, can confer this gratuitous kindness upon the true simpletons—the rest of us in our present unenlightened state, enabling us to survive until we, too, become worthy of receiving life directly from the holiness of the Torah.

Perhaps the guest in our Chanukah story is the holy prustok, and the host represents the spiritually benighted masses that unwittingly receive life and sustenance through him. This is what gives the guest the “right” to inquire as to his host’s means of livelihood. The guest wants him to realize that he is being sustained by the tzaddik who is privy to God’s Treasury of Unearned Gifts.

“What do you study?”
Torah study, too, is the guest’s business, inasmuch as it reflects the influence of Binah/Understanding. The first letter of the Written Torah is the bet of Bereshit (“In the Beginning”); the last letter is the lamed of Yisrael (“Israel”). Together, they spell lev (heart), which the Zohar designates as the seat of Binah/Understanding.[xv]

A heart-to-heart discussion
It is said: “Words that come from the heart, enter the heart.”[xvi] Because the guest/tzaddik personifies the heart, he can reach the heart of the other. He channels the ohr makif into the heart of the host, who reciprocates by expressing his longing for greater levels of illumination. This is one of the main benefits of our attachment to tzaddikim.

Rebbe Nachman once observed, “I have three types of followers: those who come for my shirayim (leftovers);[xvii] those who come to hear my Torah teachings; and those who are ‘baked’ in my heart.”[xviii] Of course, every aspiring follower wants to be in the last category. But how can this be accomplished? Say the Breslover Chasidim, “When the Rebbe is ‘baked’ in our hearts!” This is implied by the “heart-to-heart discussion” in our story.

The host began to feel an intense longing and yearning to reach a certain level of holiness

This arousal is due to influence of the guest, who has put the host in touch with the deepest will of the heart: longing and yearning for the holy.

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[i] Sota 46b. Tanna D’vei Eliyahu Zuta 16:43 states that a disciple who escorts his Torah teacher receives divine blessing. The same text adds (16:46) that when one escorts a traveler embarking on a journey, the traveler will be protected from harm.
[ii] The Zohar (I, 138a) describes the Garden of Eden as having a higher level for the neshamah, which is the seat of thought, and a lower level for the ru’ach, the seat of the emotions.
[iii] See Rabbi Avraham ben Nachman, Kokhvei Ohr, Chokhmah u-Binah, who associates Rebbe Nachman’s teachings with the sefirah of Binah.
[iv] Likutey Moharan II, 7:6.
[v] Sefer Baal Shem Tov, Vayeira, 4, citing Toldot Yitzchak, Likutey ha-Shas.
[vi] Rabbi Moshe Chaim Ephraim of Sudylkov, Degel Machaneh Ephraim, Vayeira.
[vii] Pri Eitz Chaim, Sha’ar Chanukah, 4. The three “upper” sefirot are Chokhmah / Wisdom, Binah / Understanding, and Da’at / Knowledge, corresponding to three aspects of the mind. The six “lower” sefirot are: Chesed/Kindness; Gevurah/Strength; Tiferet/Beauty or Harmony; Netzach/Eternity or Victory; Hod/Splendor; and Yesod/Foundation; corresponding to the two arms, torso, genitals, and two legs. The seventh and last sefirah is Malkhut / Kingship, which is a partzuf unto itself, corresponding to the feminine archetype. 
[viii] Tanchuma, Noach, 5.
[ix] Ta’anit 24b; cf. Rabbi Yisrael of Koznitz, Avodat Yisrael, Likkutim, Ta’anit.
[x] Leviticus Rabbah, 9:3.
[xi] Pesachim 118a.
[xii] Genesis Rabbah 1:2, 8:2; Zohar I, 134a, II, 161a‑b.
[xiii] This idea echoes a fundamental Chasidic teaching. On the verse, “Forever, O God, Your word stands in the heavens” (Psalms 119:89), the Baal Shem Tov explains that “Your word” alludes to the Ten Creative Statements that bring the universe and all it contains into existence. If the “letters” of these divine statements were to depart for even a moment, everything would revert to nothingness; see Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, Sefer ha-Tanya, Sha’ar ha-Yichud vi-ha-Emunah, chap. 1; Rabbi Chaim of Chernowitz, Be’er Mayim Chaim, Bereshit, s.v. bereshit bara, 7.
[xiv] Deuteronomy Rabbah 2:1; Tanchuma, Va’eschanan, 3; cf. Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, Ohr Yakar, Vayelekh, 1:15 (p. 27), who relates the “Treasury of Unearned Gifts” to the sefirah of Keter.
[xv] Tikkuney Zohar, Hakdamah, “Patach Eliyahu.”
[xvi] A rabbinic maxim quoted by Rabbi Moshe Ibn Ezra, Shirat Yisrael, p. 156.
[xvii] Based on earlier rabbinic precedents, it is customary for a Chasidic Rebbe to distribute to his followers portions of the foods from which he has partaken. These leftovers are known as “shirayim.” This communal eating creates a spiritual bond among the participants, causing the holiness of the tzaddik to extend to all, bringing healing and blessing; see Rabbis Mordechai Scharf and Yisrael Menachem Mendel Brecher, Yesod Olam, 11:5-7, citing various sources.
[xviii] Oral tradition cited by Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Bender, Si’ach Sarfey Kodesh, vol. II, 1-102.

Prayer Before Lighting the Menorah




Master of the Universe! Help us in Your great mercy to fulfill the mitzvah of lighting the Chanukah candles in its proper time, in a perfect manner, in a spirit of holiness and purity, and with intense concentration. May we be privileged to perform these tikkunim, which we have mentioned before You, through the mitzvah of the Chanukah candles; and may our fulfillment of this mitzvah be considered in Your sight as if we had done so according to all of its details, fine points, and kavannot (intentions), as well as the complete structure of 613 mitzvot that depend upon it. 

May the light of the holiness of our mitzvot shine before You, throughout all the worlds! By performing this mitzvah may we perfect all of the worlds entirely, as well as through our performance of all the mitzvot, scriptural and rabbinic.

Let us perform them all in love and awe and with great joy, to the highest degree of perfection, until we succeed in eliciting peace from You and transmitting it to all of the worlds, in fulfillment of the verse, “God will give strength to His people, God will bless His people with peace.”[1]

May the One Who makes peace in His heights mercifully confer peace upon us and upon all Israel, amen! [2]
(LT I, 14)






[1] Psalms 29:11.
[2] Liturgy, Kaddish.