Study and Theory/
Chanukah

Mendele the Book Peddler

What is Chanukah – Mendele

A great miracle happened to me at Chanukah, To me, you say, Shmuel, and are you exempting me from everyone else? As if I wasn’t there for that same miracle?
Thus is him, Ingatius Rechaimai, to me and not to you.


This is always their way, you the Jews from the old Torah Study House, to be arrogant to us, those of the new process, in your Judaism, as if your Judaism and its monopoly are in your hands.


The thing that you said, Ingatz, is not of interest to this story, that I opened with. And it is not timely. Now dear visitor you are invited to come to me to laugh and have a Chanukah meal with the rest of our esteemed friends, although you have come to me with a complaint and we have a free hour, as our friends have still not arrived, I shall not restrain my answer to you. It is true, there are all types of Jews, whether religious or new or old educated people, all of them are Jews. I, for example, since my youth have been raised in the House of G-d – in the rooms of scholars at Yeshivas, I am Jewish; and anyone who from his birth was raised by different schools is also Jewish, you are a Jew. However between me and you is a great difference. I, and everyone alike me, where our Torah is the most important thing for us and Judaism is swallowed up by the 613 commandments, we taste a special flavour in the aspects of Judaism and its customs consciously and unconsciously, and even if we have transgressed and were infidels, heaven forbid, you cannot taste this taste and not because I have in me the crime of Jacob, because you did not have the burden of the Torah and the commandments and you did not read them and did not ever change them, even after you regretted your actions and fulfilled the customs of Chassidim with great intent.


Shmuel, as one of the lazy skull-cap wearers of the House of Torah you shall say, speak debate and hypothesize which dissipates in the air, for as long as you do not bring evidence of your words the law is with me when I see that there is no substance to them.


The first evidence requests my friend! Evidence that has packages and packages...
Good evening, Good Evening! – the torah scholar guests when they entered the home – what is wrong, my dear ones, that you are shouting and angry, as yeshiva students you outdo each other in Jewish laws,  until you no longer care about us, we say to you Good Evening twice and you do not answer!


Ah.. welcome gentlemen! Welcome, alike Todros, Mr Zerach, Mr Gimpel, Mr...Mr...
At Chanukah one does not address as mister but rather rabbi, as well as one does not say the prayer Magdil but rather Migdol as you do on the Sabbath and festivals.
How many Jews are debating? We stoipped you Shmuel in the middle of your words, you are permitted to go back to your interests and we will go into the other room and say hello to Sarah your wife.


Please, gentlemen, sit here! I have no hidden agenda here. On the contrary, sit and also listen if you wish to do so. I started to tell here to our friends about the great miracle, which happened to me at Chanukah. 
Tell us please Shmuel and we will listen, but don’t make us late by too much unnecessary talking. This night was not created, heaven forbid, this “night of Chanukah” but rather the version of the of ________ until the dawn rises.
This act, that was within me was not great, and its entire importance for me is only due to its distinguished birth which I received from him, and because of which I made it permanent and always recall it on this night.


In those days, and perhaps also at this time, there were not good days for the children of Israel, who sat crowded in a narrow room before their rabbi from the morning and until the ninth hour at night, eight days of Chanukah, which recall the exodus from slavery to redemption, freedom from the Torah study house, receipt of Chanukah money from parents and relatives, from aunts and uncles, negotiations and playing with gooseberries, and sometimes also halving potatoes and making them into containers which we filled with oil to light the Chanukah candles. I remember on the eighth night of Chanukah there was joy in my father’s house, and I was still a young child, The eight candles were alight in the window close to the door of the house and the shining light of the stars in my eyes. My mother is busy with frying goose fat and the smell of the lessening fat frying raises to my nose. Father with his invited guests, his people, sitting at the table and discussing and debating the Torah, swinging their limbs, spreading their hands, raising their thumbs in strange loud voices. These are happy moments and from that mixture of voices – the words “What is Chanukah?” are heard several times and around them trills and melodies are raised of one asking a difficult and serious question.


From the twisting of their faces and the blinking of their eyes of those reclining there we can see that they are asking for a solution to this wonder – What is Chanukah? And one of the group when the eyes of his friends are observing him, lifts his voice and preaches to them together for the sake of our religion, and continues each word with great accuracy and precision, he dives deeply into it with a creased brow and raises new interpretations and sharp homilies. And I didn’t hear and understand it all but rather these words: the infidels defiled all the oils in the temple, and when the kingdom of the House of Hasmonean overcame them and were victorious they only found one jar of oil, which was placed with the seal of the High Priest, and it was only sufficient to light for one day. A miracle occurred and they used it for eight days”, And I absolutely loved Chanukah, alike all the young boys, babies of the Rabbi’s house, and how happy I was on this night, all the fear of my father was removed from me, the respect for the bearded elders was cancelled and I took courage and said innocently: one jar of oil to light for eight days, is not such a great miracle, a great miracle would have been if had remained alight for all the days of the year and the whole year was Chanukah, a year of redemption from hard study....and from a strong hand....and as I am speaking my father’s hand grabs hold of me and he slapped me around on the cheek. You savage, freedom from the Torah study house, are you asking to live in a wild country, an ignoramus?! My father shouted at me with rebuke, full of wrath, and while his hand was still ready and waiting to slap me on the cheek 10 slaps, a great miracle happened to me and my hat fell from my head after the first slap, and while I was busy covering my head with the edge of my cap and bending over to search for my hat, my father’s wrath passed.


Why are you laughing Ignatius, are you ridiculing me?
I answered you Shnuel my friend. Now I knew that I should have been much quicker and I was angry with you for no reason, and I laughed. Believe me Rechemania, as you were incorrect this time you will always be incorrect in your anger to me. For the religion of the zealots is in you and all those who have found religion see defects in others and depend on them absurdly. In their fathers too they will find awe and enjoy a strange enjoyment when they disqualify the founders. There are no angrier or tougher litigants than those who have found religion. But this spirit of envy is surplus in them, they are publically denied and there are no completely righteous people who can stand amongst them respectfully.


But – Shmuel further added – this slap on the cheek when it in itself was not worth remembering, if not for the revolution that had taken over my mind and my soul.
These things between you we will leave for another time – said the invited guests – and now for your story Shmuel! Quickly now.


In short, gentlemen, Shnuel said, the slap on the cheek that I received from my father, was not just a slap, it has been fixed in my memory with all the events and the words of the discussions about What is Chanukah? And they aroused me in my youth to understand this question, to contemplate it, to research it and to know really “What is Chanukah?. In the beginning I knew nothing apart from at Chanukah we sing “about the miracles” and there it is said: In the days of Matityahu the Hasmonean and his sons the priests, the Greek kingdom ordered Israel to forget their Torah, and the Holy One Blessed Be He made them a miracle and made heroes against the weak and evil to the just and evil people to those engaged in the Torah. And thereafter they purified the Temple and lit the lights and determined the eight days of Chanukah. And it seemed to me, according to this, in my thoughts: the heroes were the evil Greeks, and the weak were Matityahu and his sons, and with them the just and those learning Torah, alike those who study Torah at the Torah study house and the rabbis and scholars of today.  When they went to war in chariots and others with horses, and ours – in answer to the prayer and cry, and that there was Yehuda the Maccabee in the world and his brothers who were all war heroes. I did not know and I had not heard and also no rabbi had told me about them anything, and suddenly I heard on that same night what the question by the invited guests to my father’s house “What is Chanukah?” means, that the words “about the miracles” whether they are accepted or not, or whether they are insufficient and it was very hard for me – why? And I return to the Mishna learning about the jar of oil, in which there was only sufficient to light  for one day, and a miracle occurred and it lasted for eight days. It was even harder for me.

 

According to this there was only a miracle for eight days, and there was enough oil in the jar to light for one day, and if so why did they determine eight days for Chanukah. Thus I became entangled in the investigations and was pulled into the question until I was tempted to study external books, recording the history of the children of Israel, and my eyes were opened to see the many acts and exemplary people, strong heroes, who are glorious to our people. Now, gentleman, I knew what Chanukah was. 

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