Sunday, December 18, 2011

Chanukah - Inner Spark

We know that Chanukah is the ‘festival of lights’. One thing you can learn from looking at a candle is that no matter which way you turn it, the flame will always face the same direction-upwards. ner Hashem nishmas adam-the neshama of a person is compared to a candle. No matter where a Jew goes, no matter what situation he is put in, there is always that flickering flame, also known as the pintele yid, burning inside his soul. A Jew may go through all kinds of situations but his soul will always be pointing upwards, just like a candle. Sometime it takes the right person, with the right words to tap into that inner spark – but it is always there.

Here is a small inspiring story about HaRav Yisroel Meir Kagan zt”l, the Chofetz Chaim, that clearly illustrates this point.

Once, a burly, gruff looking, man who had served in the Russian army, entered a Jewish Inn and ordered a meal. When Jewish boys were drafted, it was usually the end of Yiddishkeit, religious observance, for them. The army brainwashed them to worship Mother Russia rather than G-d. He plopped himself down and ate in a most disgusting manner - stuffing an entire chicken down his mouth. It was revolting that this man, a Jew, could conduct himself in so repulsive a manner. The innkeeper and the others present were sickened and embarrassed by this display; though none dared say anything.

The Chofetz Chaim happened to be a guest at that Inn. He saw the young man and slowly approached him. Everyone wondered, what would the Chofetz Chaim possibly say to this man.

What could he say?

Surely this oaf would not listen to any rebuke, even from such a holy man. The Chofetz Chaim asked the man, "Is it true that you served in the Russian army?" "Yes," snorted the man, bracing his defenses for the oncoming tongue-lashing he was fully expecting.

"Tell me," began the Chofetz Chaim, "How did you manage to keep your Jewish identity in those circumstances? So many Jewish boys entered the army, only to eventually give up their Judaism. They are forced to serve for 25 years without any kosher food, Jewish holidays, or any other vestige of Judaism. Yet, when you could have easily gone to any Inn, you chose a Jewish one. You still identify as a Jew. I don't know if I could have done what you did. You are an inspiration. Where did you find the strength?"

The soldier, caught off guard and clearly moved, looked straight at the Chofetz Chaim, "It was so hard, they did everything to pound it out of us - to make us denounce and forget that we were Jews."

The Chofetz Chaim responded, "It is a miracle that you made it through. Now you can begin to learn the Torah and observe mitzvos (religious duties) that you were deprived of all these years."

"But Rebbi (teacher), how can I possibly do that," the soldier, now sobbing bitterly, responded. He continued through his tears, "I want to return to my heritage, but I am so far removed. Surely it isn't possible for someone like me to learn."

"No," said the Chofetz Chaim, "It is still possible. It is always possible. I can show you how."

As the soldier spoke to the Chofetz Chaim, the stones on his heart began to melt. Had the Chofetz Chaim not understood and appreciated this man's perspective, this amazing episode never would have occurred.

What did happen was: from that day on, the former soldier began a path to repentance and as the years went by, developed into an observant, well learned Jew.

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