This week, we present a letter from the Rebbe in which he underlines the Chanukah message of “hiddur” and “maalin b’Kodesh,” and how this teaching, as well as the teachings of all the festivals, applies to each day of the year and not confined to that festival. In the interesting P.S., the Rebbe comments on the job of a mazkirah (as the letter writer identifies herself) and on the term”Old Jerusalem” (where she is located). The letter, written originally in English, is from the archives of the Rebbe’s personal trusted secretary, Rabbi Nissan Mindel.
By the Grace of G-d
11th of Kislev, 5739
Blessing and Greeting:
After a long interval, I was pleased to receive your letter. May G-d grant the fulfillment of your heart’s desires for the good.
Thank you very much for your good wishes in connection with the Festival of Lights. In light of the saying of our Sages, “One who blesses others is blessed by G-d Himself,” G-d will surely bless you generously with a happy and bright Chanukah.
As you know, the Chanukah Lights, which are kindled in increasing numbers from day to day, symbolize the light of the Torah and mitzvos, which should likewise be on the increase from day to day, thereby also widening the channels to receive G-d’s blessings in a growing measure, both spiritually and materially – in the good that is plain to see, even as the Chanukah Lights are visible to the human eye.
Furthermore, the Chanukah Lights teach us a clear lesson that matters of goodness and holiness, Torah and mitzvos, should be on the increase event in the case of those who have attained a high level of “hiddur” in Torah and mitzvos – contrary to a prevalent view that, having attained a high and satisfactory level, it is sufficient to maintain this high level on an even keel. Apart from the fact that merely maintaining the high level does not comply with the rule of “Maalin b’Kodesh,” the Chanukah Lights clearly and emphatically indicate that even in hiddur itself the same principle applies. For on the second night of Chanukah, the greatest possible hiddur is to light two candles; yet if one should light two candles on the third night of Chanukah, the mitzvah of Ner Chanukah will be fulfilled, but the hiddur would be lacking. And even after one lights three candles on the third night, showing that one knows of, and is complying with, the rule, it is still not sufficient to do so only once or twice, but it is necessary to add an additional candle each subsequent night, for a total of seven days of hiddur. Seven consecutive days, of course, constitute a basic period in time, a complete week, corresponding to the Seven Days of Creation. Thus, by practicing Hiddur Mitzvah of Ner Chanukah for seven consecutive days, the absolute rule is established that hiddur in Torah and mitzvos must be practiced every day of the week, each day exceeding the previous day, however satisfactory it was.
Needless to say, these basic lessons of Chanukah are not limited to Chanukah itself, but apply each and every day of the year, as in the case of the teachings and instructions of all our festivals. To cite one example, although Pesach is celebrated once a year, the experience of Yetzias Mitzraim is not confined to Pesach alone, but has to be experienced every day of the year, in terms of spiritual liberation through the Torah and mitzvos without restraint. Similarly in the case of Chanukah and the Chanukah Lights, which have to be reflected in our everyday life throughout the year, making each day brighter with the light of Torah and mitzvos than the foregoing day, as mentioned above. There is surely no need to expand on any of the above points, since you can do it yourself on reflection.
Nor is there any need to dwell on the lessons of Yud Tes Kislev, which will surely not pass unnoticed by you.
May G-d grant that you should have good news to report in all above.
Wishing you a bright and inspiring Chanukah.
P.S. I trust you have heard of the well known teaching of the Baal Shem Tov that a Jew should derive instruction in avodas HaShem from every experience. This in conjunction with another point, as quoted in the opening chapter of Shaar Hayichud v’Haemunah, to the effect that the Hebrew name of anything reflects the real essence and vitality of the thing, prompts the following observation with reference to your position as ”Mazkirah” at the Yeshivah.
Although the duties of a “Mazkirah” – in the ordinary sense – involves secretarial work and the like, the Hebrew word “Mazkirah,” of course, means “one who reminds.” In other words, the real function of a “Mazkirah” in a Yeshivah is to remind people about the purpose of a true Yehsivah, especially in Old Jerusalem.
Parenthetically, “Old Jerusalem” is not the real name, for the Holy City is still bound up with its original holiness and with the special dinim that apply to it now as in days of old. It is called “Old” Jerusalem to distinguish it geographically from the “New” Jerusalem, which covers an extended area that is united with the Old. The real essence of Jerusalem is, to quote the Prophet Isaiah, (Ki miTzion Seytzeh Torah u’dvar HaShem m’Yerushalayim) “For the Torah shall go forth from Zion and the word of G-d from Jerusalem.” However, some people may, for one reason or another, sometimes overlook the real purpose of a Yeshivah and someone has to remind them about it- hence, a “Mazkir” or “Mazkirah.”
The above letter is from The Letter and the Spirit by Nissan Mindel Publications (NMP).
These letters were written originally in English and were prepared for publication by Rabbi Dr. Nissan Mindel, whose responsibility it was the Rebbe’s correspondence in English and several other languages.
We thank Rabbi Shalom Ber Schapiro, who was entrusted by his father-in-law Rabbi Mindel with his archives and who is Director of the Nissan Mindel Publications (NMP), for making the Rebbe’s letters available to the wider public. May the merit of the many stand him in good stead.