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Giving thanks for all of the miracles Print E-mail
Tuesday, 12 December 2017

And for the miracles and for the salvation and for the mighty deeds and for the victories and for the battles which You performed for our forefathers in those days, at this time. –Al HaNisim prayer

On Chanuka and Purim, we add “Al HaNisim” (for the miracles) to the Shmoneh Esrei (silent devotion) and to Birkat HaMazon (grace after meals).

Why is “Al HaNisim” specifically added on these two holidays?

 The Tosefta Brachot states that on holidays where we do not recite musaf (the additional silent prayer) as in Chanuka and Purim, “me’ein hameora” (expression of the nature of the day) is added to the Shmoneh Esrei. The Tosefta does not call it “Al HaNisim” as the formula for the prayer was different. The first time that we see the full text is in Seder Rav Amram Gaon and in the siddur of Rav Saadya Gaon. In the Talmud Yerushalmi Brachot, we see that “me’ein hameora” is also recited in Birkat HaMazon.

The Levush (Rabbi Mordechai Jaffe) comments that “Al HaNisim” contains a double measure of praise, for the miracles performed in ancient days (in those days) and also for the hidden miracles that are constantly performed every day (at this time) to preserve life and health, both for the individual and for the nation.

The Yeminite siddur concludes the prayer with a request:

Just as you performed miracles and mighty deeds for them, so too should you perform miracles and mighty deeds for us at this time.

While the introductory line of “Al HaNisim” is the same on both holidays, the rest of the prayer is different reflecting the history and context of when the holiday took place.

Rabbi Yisachar Yaakovson summarizes the paragraph that we recite on Chanuka:

The wicked Greek kingdom rose up against Your people, Israel to make them forget Your Torah and compel them to stray from the statutes of Your Will. Even though the army did fight, it is God who sent the victory and therefore it says “You avenged their wrong…You delivered the strong into the hands of the weak etc.” The result was “For Yourself, You made a great and holy name in Your world and for Your people Israel you worked a great victory and salvation as this very day.” It ends with the cleaning of the Temple and establishment of the holiday: “…they purified the site of Your Holiness and kindled lights in the courtyards of Your sanctuary; and they established these eight days of Chanuka to express thanks (recite Al HaNisim) and praise (recite Hallel) to Your great name.

The miracle that is spoken about here is the hidden miracle that “You delivered the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the impure into the hands of the pure” as well as the purification of the Temple. What is not mentioned is the more obvious miracle of the oil which is discussed in the Talmud, Shabbat 21.

What can be learned from here is that Chanuka is an opportunity to take a step back and appreciate the hidden miracles that we encounter each day which are often taken for granted, yet are just as miraculous as the oil lasting for eight days.

Did Chana and Her Seven Sons Exist? Print E-mail
Saturday, 12 December 2015

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Did Chana and Her Seven Sons Exist?

Many of us grew up learning the legend of Chana and her seven sons as part of the Chanuka story. We were taught that all seven of Chana’s sons were killed, one by one because they would not bow down to Antiochus’ idol. I remember learning this story in first grade and being very disturbed by it.

While revisiting the story, I found that the facts were not as clear as I had been taught and that the story actually has many versions and variations.

There is an account in the Talmud, Gittin57b where the story is told with no mention of the name of the mother of the seven sons. The king in the story is called Caesar (a Roman king, probably Hadrian) which means that it took place after the Second Beit Hamikdash (Temple) was destroyed, way after the time of the Chanuka story.

There is also an account in the Midrash, Eicha Rabba 1:50 which names the mother of the seven sons Miriam bat Nachtum, a widow. There too it takes place in the time of the Caesar.

In Book of Maccabees II:7, the mother’s name is not mentioned. Here the story is presented in the time of Antiochus (the time period of the Chanuka story). However, instead of telling them to bow down to the idol, Antiochus tries to force them to eat pig. In that version, none of them agree to eat it so they are all killed.

In Yossipon, Chapter 19 (written in 10th c) the story is similar to the one in Maccabees II where the story takes place at the time of Antiochus, with the addition of the woman’s name (here she is called Chana).

Why is she called Chana in Yossipon’s account?

After her sons are killed, Yossipon includes a prayer that “Chana” said (this is not included in any of the other accounts) which is based on the prayer that Chana (Shmuel the prophet’s mother) recited: “My heart exults in HaShem…”

Both Maccabees and Yossipon say that she died after her sons (no detail is given). The Talmud and Eicha Rabba say that she fell off of a roof (committed suicide).

Since there are so many discrepancies between the different accounts, it is clear that the entire story can’t be taken literally, so what then can we learn from it?

Throughout history we have had many enemies who gave the Jews the option of either converting or being killed. Those who were killed are said to have died “Al Kiddush HaShem”, for the sanctification of God’s name.

The fact that we really don’t know the name of the mother of the seven sons reminds us that there were a lot of women who sacrificed their children “Al Kiddush HaShem”. The story is not just about one woman, it is unfortunately about many women.

The time has come for us to declare that we will no longer be pressured by our enemies to give up Judaism and practice another religion. Rather than die “Al Kiddush HaShem”, we should live our lives sanctifying God’s name.


The First Chanuka- Was it Just a Late Sukkot? Print E-mail
Tuesday, 16 December 2014

In the Book of Maccabees II, 10:1-8 we read: “The Maccabee and his companions, with God leading them, recovered the Temple and the city. They demolished the altars that the foreigners built near the marketplace as well as the sacred precincts. They cleansed the Temple and made another altar. Then they struck flints to make fire and they offered up sacrifices after a lapse of two years and they prepared incense, lamps and sacred loaves. After they had done these things they bowed to the ground and pleaded with God that they would not experience such misfortunes again but if they should ever sin they would be disciplined by Him with fairness and not turned over to slanderous and barbaric nations. On the anniversary of the Temple’s defilement by foreigners, on that very day, the sanctuary was purified on the twenty-fifth of the month which is Kislev. And they kept the eight days with gladness, as in the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) remembering that not long before they had held the Feast of Tabernacles when they wandered in the mountains and dens like beasts. Therefore they bore branches and fair boughs and palms also and sang psalms unto Him that had given them good success in cleansing His place. A measure was passed by the public assembly that the entire Jewish people should observe these days every year.”

We see from here that the first Chanuka was celebrated to make up for the fact that they were unable to celebrate the holiday of Sukkot that year due to the war. This explains why the holiday was eight days, why they carried palm branches (lulav), offered sacrifices and sang Hallel.

At the end of this first Chanuka (late Sukkot celebration) it was decided that they would continue to celebrate at that time each year in honor of the rededication of the Beit HaMikdash (Temple).

In the Talmud, Shabbat 21b we see the famous dispute between Beit Hillel and Beit Shannai. Do we increase the amount of candles that are lit each night (do we light one on the first night, two on the second etc. following the philosophy of Beit Hillel) or do we light all eight candles the first night and then decrease by one candle each night (seven on the second, six on the third etc. following the philosophy of Beit Shammai)?

We follow is Beit Hillel’s approach, “maalin bakodesh vilo moridin”, “in sacred matters we elevate and do not lower the degree of sanctity”.

Why is Beit Shammai’s view also valid (even if we don’t follw it)?

Beit Shammai’s view was that we should have a continual decrease from eight lights to one to correspond to the bull sacrifices of the Sukkot festival (on Sukkot a total of seventy bulls were sacrificed: thirteen were sacrificed on the first day, twelve the next day etc.).

Beit Shammai’s thought was to include another parallel between Sukkot and Chanuka.

It is interesting that today throughout the world Chanuka is celebrated more than Sukkot even though Sukkot was the Biblical holiday that Chanuka was derived from.

This Chanuka, let’s take the opportunity to teach about what Chanuka and Sukkot have in common and bring Sukkot into the consciousness of the entire Jewish nation.

After all who would turn down another holiday?


Chanuka is a Holiday of Thanksgiving Every Year Print E-mail
Tuesday, 26 November 2013

This year, everyone is getting excited about Thanksgivuka, the fact that Chanuka and Thanksgiving fall out on the same day. After examining the sources we will find that Chanukah is actually a holiday of thanksgiving every year.


In the First Book of Maccabees 4:39-59 we read:


Yehuda and his brothers said: “Our enemies have been defeated, let us go up to Jerusalem to cleanse the Beit HaMikdash (Temple) and to rededicate it.” They found the Beit HaMikdash in ruin, the altar profaned, the gates burnt down, the courts overgrown and the rooms of the Kohanim in shambles… They purified the Beit HaMikdash, removing the stones which cluttered it…they took unhewn stones as the law commands and built a new altar on the model of the previous one. They rebuilt the Beit HaMikdash and restored its interior and courts. They fixed the sacred vessels and the Menorah to shine within the Beit HaMikdash. When they had the Lechem HaPanim (Shew Bread) on the table and hung the curtains, all their work was completed. Then, early on the 25th day of the 9th month, the month of Kislev…it was rededicated with Psalms of thanksgiving (Hallel), to the music of harps and lutes and cymbals…then Yehuda and the whole congregation of Israel decreed that the rededication of the altar should be observed with joy and gladness at the same season each year, for eight days.


After rededicating the Beit HaMikdash, the Maccabees sang Hallel. They praised God for both the military victory as well as for the opportunity to rededicate the Beit HaMikdash. Each day of Chanuka we too sing the Hallel prayer (Psalms of thanksgiving) to thank God for the miracles that took place.


In addition to reciting Hallel each morning of Chanuka, we also say the Al HaNisim  (For the Miracles) Prayer immediately following Modim (Thanksgiving Prayer) each time that we recite the Shmoneh Esrai (Silent Devotion) as well as during Birkat HaMazon (Grace After Meals). This prayer as well thanks God for the miracles that took place.


For the miracles and for the salvation and for the mighty deeds and for the victories and for the battles which You performed for our forefathers in these days, at this time:


In the days of Matityahu, the son of Yochanan, the Kohel Gadol, the Chashmonai and his sons- when the wicked Greek kingdom rose up against Your people Israel to make them forget Your Torah and compel them to stray from the statutes of Your Will- You in Your great mercy stood up for them in the time of distress. You took up their grievance, judged their claim and avenged their wrong. You delivered the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the impure into the hands of the pure, the wicked into the hands of the righteous and the wanton into the hands of the diligent students of Your Torah. For Yourself, You made a great and holy Name in Your world and for Your people Israel you worked a great victory and salvation as this very day. Thereafter, Your children came to the Holy of Holies of Your House, cleansed it, purified the site of Your Holiness and kindled lights in the courtyard of Your Sanctuary; and they established these eight days of Chanuka to express thanks and praise to Your great Name.


When we recite Al HaNisim, we are showing appreciation for the past victories as well as for the victories that are still taking place.


Although we don’t have the Beit HaMikdash today (the Second Temple was destroyed in 70CE, 235 years after the Chanuka story took place) we have seen many miracles in our time.


The establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 was a modern miracle and the fact that Israel continues to exist today is also a miracle. Against all odds, the Jewish people are back in the Land of Israel living in Tel Aviv and Haifa, in the ancient cities of Jerusalem and Modiin as well as in modern cities named after the family of Yehuda Maccabee, Chashmonaim and Maccabim. Can anyone think of a better reason to be thankful and celebrate?


May we celebrate next year in the Third Beit HaMikdash in Jerusalem.


The Power of Our Actions Print E-mail
Thursday, 20 December 2012
By Raquel Lifshutz, a student at Midreshet Devora
In Parashat Vayeshev we saw a perfect example of the power and importance of an individual's single action. Yosef's flawless interpretation of the dreams of his fellow prisoners, the cupbearer and the baker, acts as the major occurrence that eventually changed Jewish history completely. It led to Yosef's release from jail, his acquiring a high position in the Egyptian hierarchy, the fulfillment of his dreams regarding his brothers bowing down before him, the reunion with his brothers and later on with his father, and the eventual descent of the Jews to Egypt where they were enslaved by Pharaoh and ultimately freed by Moshe.

This Shabbat, Parshat Miketz is unique in that we are celebrating Channukah. The famous miracles of Channukah, including the defeat of the Greeks and the miracle of the oil for the menorah all stem from the strong beliefs of the Maccabees. They seem like heroes to us today, but they are more than that. They believed so much in the power of the Jewish people and the aid of Hashem that they fought a seemingly impossible battle and were ultimately rewarded with divine intervention, miracles. Their actions, their belief, and their conviction did not take place within the Tanach's time frame, yet managed to impact all Jews until today. They lit the menorah and fought relentlessly despite the clear hardships and as a direct result we celebrate Channukah and light candles for eight days.
People have the unbelievable power to impact others. We all have the unpredictable ability to impact several if not all generations to come. Yosef's actions led to the Jews being enslaved in Egypt. The Maccabees bravery resulted in our observing a holiday for eight days. We can undoubtedly learn from our ancestors the power of actions, and the extreme importance in thinking before we act and trying to strive for our actions to impact others as deeply and as positively as possible.

Raquel Lifshutz is currently a student at Midreshet Devora as well as a student in the Jerusalem Culinary Institute. She is originally from Brooklyn, NY and a graduate of the Yeshivah of Flatbush.

Move Over Judah, Here Comes Judith Print E-mail
Wednesday, 28 December 2005


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According to Jewish Law, women are exempt from observing many time bound mitzvoth (commandments). In reference to the holidays, there are three positive mitzvoth which the Rabbis specifically require women to observe: lighting the Chanukah candles, reading Megilat Ester on Purim and drinking four cups of wine at the Passover seder.

In the Talmud, Shabbat 23a, Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi teaches that the reason women must observe these mitzvoth is because they too were involved in the miracle.

A woman's involvement in the Purim story is clear. Esther was instrumental in saving the Jewish people.

Women helped bring about the redemption in the Passover story as well. Yocheved placed Moshe in the basket, Miriam watched him float on the Nile and Pharoah's daughter Batya saved him. Women continued having children despite Pharoah's decrees and women took instruments with them out of Egypt in order to celebrate the redemption.

Women's involvement in the Chanukah story is not as obvious. When we think of Chanukah, we usually think of men, the Macabees. However, the Rabbis teach us that women are obligated in the lighting of the Chanukah candles because of a woman named Judith.

The book of Judith as well as the book of the Macabees can be found in the Apocrypha (a group of books that were not included in the TaNaCh, the 24 books of the Bible.)

During the early second temple period, Holofornes, commander in chief of the Assyrian army wanted to conquer all of Judea. He cut off the water supply to the Jews that lived in Bethulia, a town near Jerusalem. He wanted the Jews to surrender. After 34 days, when there was no water left the Jews were ready to surrender. Judith, a young, religious and beautiful widow told the elders not to surrender. She told them that she had devised a plan and with the help of God, she was confident that it will be successful.

Judith took kosher food in a bag and went to the enemy camp. She told Holofornes that she was now on his side and that she would advise him how to defeat the Jews. Holofornes invited Judith to a private feast, at the end of which he was hoping to seduce her. He drank a lot of wine, became drunk and fell asleep. Judith prayed to God, then took his sword and cut off his head. She brought the head back home to prove that she killed him.

When the Assyrians found Holofornes dead, they became frightened and they fled.

The Jewish people, including the High Priest expressed their respect for Judith. The women danced and the men sang.

We can now see why women are obligated to light the Chanukah candles. There are even some Chanukiyot available which depict Judith holding Holofornes' severed head.

Thanks to Judith, women also have the custom to refrain from working while the candles are burning.

Happy Chanukah!