Chanukah

For the week ending 4 December 2010 / 26 Kislev 5771

The Last Drop

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair - www.seasonsofthemoon.com
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

Excruciatingly slowly, the train to Siberia pulled out of Telz station, saving Rabbi Chaim Stein and his friends from certain death.

The train was a "local", meaning it stopped at every "stodt and shtetl" along the way. Getting to Siberia and freedom would take many days, but for the moment they were safe. The friends sunk back in the chairs, their hearts filled with thanks to G-d for their delivery.

Several days passed. The unremitting boredom of the landscape was alleviated only by their learning of Torah and davening. Then someone remembered that the first light of Chanukah would be that night.

But how to light a candle here on this train?

They racked their brains trying to come up with an idea. Someone cut a small patch from his shirt and pulled it to pieces thread by thread and he twisted a wick from the threads. Someone else found a small discarded metal can that would do for a cup. But what about oil for the candle’s light?

They thought and thought but no one could come up with a solution. They sat in silence for many minutes, with only the sound of the engine chuffing up ahead.

The engine! Engines run on oil! Maybe there would be a way to get some of that oil?

It wasn't long till the next stop. As soon as the train came to a rest, they all jumped down and examined the engine from every possible angle. One of them found a small venting pipe from which a minuscule amount of oil was dripping. They placed the cup under the pipe and collected as many drops as they could until the conductor blew his whistle and they hastily scampered back onto the train.

This ceremony was repeated throughout the day. They worked out that there were enough stops along the line to gather the minimum amount of oil needed to light the menorah.

With hearts full of thanks to G-d they lit the first light and made the three blessings ."Who has sanctified us through His commandments and commanded us to light the lights of Chanuka;" …Who performed miracles for our fathers in those days at this time;" "…Who kept us alive and given us existence, and brought us to this time."

They repeated this daily ritual of collecting the oil (with the exception of Shabbat) throughout the days of Chanuka.

The weather was deteriorating rapidly. In this wilderness stops were few. The frosty chill of Telz was replaced by the biting cold of the Siberian wasteland. And biting it surely was, for anyone who left the train for more than a few seconds without protective clothing would suffer frostbite.

On the last day of Chanukah one of them volunteered to try and get some oil. Someone wrapped his head with his own coat. Someone else lent him an extra pair of pants even though the temperature in the railway carriage was already subzero. When train stopped he clambered down and pushed through the snow to the engine.

Nothing. Not a drop was leaking from the pipe, It was too cold even for the oil.

As quickly as he could, he made his way back to their carriage with the bad news.

As night loomed, their gloom deepened. The time for lighting came and went. There was nothing they could do.

Despair is not a Jewish thing.

If they couldn't light the last candle physically, they would light in there hearts instead. They started to sing and dance and recount all they knew about Chanukah — including the halachic, ethical and mystical interpretations of the miraculous events of the festival.

They stayed up all night.

Around four o'clock in the morning there was a knock on the door of their carriage. They opened the door and filling the entrance was this enormous Russian with a candle in his hand.

"Do you need a candle?" he said.

Without even answering him, they grabbed the candle set it on the small table by the windowsill, made the blessings, and lit the candle.

Literally seconds later the 'morning star' rose – after which you can no longer light the Chanukah lights.

They had made it with only a few seconds to spare.

They turned around to thank the burly Russian, but he was nowhere to be seen.

The next day they scoured the train, but they could not find him, and he couldn't have left the train, for there no more stops that day.

The story of Chanukah is a story of self-sacrifice. The Chashmonaim were prepared to give up their lives, and because of this, G-d gave them a miraculous victory.

But self-sacrifice doesn't just mean being prepared to die — it means being ready to give up what we what for what G-d wants.

The more we are prepared to give up our own comfort or our desires, and if necessary even our lives, the more G-d will reveal to us the miraculous workings of His wonderful world.

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