By Dr. Nosson Chayim Leff
Sfas Emes, Zechuso Tagein Aleinu, Chanuka, 5th Candle, 5631
The Sfas Emes begins this ma'amar with a quote from his Grandfather. The
Chidushei HaRim, in turn, is commenting on a statement in the Gemara
(Maseches Shabbos, 23b). As you will soon see, that statement cries out
for explanation ' for it comes across as a total non-sequitur.
Thus: 'Ha'ragil be'neir..." ("If a person takes the lighting of candles --
for Chanuka or for Shabbos -- as a regular feature of his life, his sons
will be talmidei chachamin. ").
To say the least, this statement is puzzling. Why? Because no connection
is apparent between lighting candles regularly and having one's sons
develop as talmidei chachamim. How did the Chidushei HaRim handle the
puzzle? He pointed out that lighting candles in a context of mitzvos can
convey a vital message to one's children (and to oneself!). That message
is: even in a setting of hergeil (habait, routine), one can rise in one's
Avoda. How? By bringing to bear the elucidation (he'ara) and freshness
(hischadshus) that newly lit candles symbolize. Thus shielded from the
deadening power of hergeil, a person (and his progeny) can reach higher
levels of ruchniyus. As noted, the message can help the potential talmidei
chachamim in two ways -- either via its impact on the sons directly. or
indirectly, via its impact on the potential facilitators, the parents.
Mention of the word "hergeil" leads the Sfas Emes to another phrase where -
- if one looks with eyes inspired by the Sfas Emes -- one can also find
the word "hergeil". But to understand what comes next, we must go back to
The reason why we light candles on Chanuka is : 'pirsu'mei nisa'. (That
is: to broadcast news of the miracle that we experienced on the first
Chanuka). We attempt to achieve persumei nisa by lighting candles which
passers-by can see, and remind themselves of the miracle. Accordingly,
the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim, 672,b) tells us that Chanuka candles may
be lit: "ad she'tikaleh ha'regel min ha'shuk". In a non-literal
translation: "until traffic in the market-place stops". In a more-or-less
literal translation: "until the feet [of passers-by] are no longer in the
So much for the plain, simple meaning of the phrase: "ad she'tikahleh
ha'regel". The Sfas Emes leads us forward now to another dimension of
meaning. The word ha'regel means "the foot". But working with allusion
(remez), the Sfas Emes reads the word as "hergeil" -- habit, routine. Thus
the Sfas Emes is telling us that we light the Chanuka candles to bring
renewal and remove habit from our Avodah.
Doing mitzvos as a matter of unthinking routine is a constant threat to
the active, conscious way in which we should strive to live our
relationship with HaShem. The Sfas Emes is telling us to let the Chanuka
candles remind us to focus our mind and our emotions on our actions when
we do mitzvos. "Hergeil" (routine; habit) is the enemy We should be aware
of what we are doing rather than live our Yiddishkeit as unthinking
creatures of habit .
Clearly, the Sfas Emes considered hergeil to be a very serious problem
for our Avodah.. Thus,. he felt it necessary to add two more non-pshats
that speak well of living on the edge , and speak ill of life submerged
in habit. The Sfas Emes quotes the pasuk ( Bereishis, 42: 31 ) where
the shevatim-- Yosef’s ten brothers—say : 'Keinim anachnu…" (.
ArtScroll : :” We are truthful men…” ) By contrast, the Sfas Emes shows
us another way to read the word “keinim” : namely, as coming from the
same root as ":hachana"—preparation.. This reading shows us the
shevatim as 'muchanim"--i,e., alert and ready to go forward in their
Avodah., The same thought comes through when the shevatim end the
sentence just quoted Thus, we hear: them saying :' Lo hayinu meRaGLim"
That is, we do not do our Avodah in a mode of regilus ( habit,
In deference to the Sfas Emes, who has called our attention.to a
potential problem.that threatens every shomeir Torah u’mitzvos, we say
once more : "Ad she'tikaleh hergeil min hashuk!"
Text Copyright © 2004 by Rabbi Dr. Nosson Chayim Leff and Torah.org.