A Chanuka Lesson: Spirituality and Torah Learning Levels the Playing Field

Recently saw a short but sweet message extracted from the Al Hanisim prayer added to Shemonei Esrei and Birchat Hamazon on Chanuka.

The essence of the miracle recounted in Al Hanisim is "masarta giborim b'yad chalashim, v'rabim b'yad me'atim" - you (Hashem) handed over the strong to the weak, and the many to the few." These are, indeed, miracles since, according to the natural order of things, the strong should vanquish the weak, and the many should defeat the few.

However, what is so miraculous about the subsequent outcomes: "the impure in the hands of the pure," "the wicked in the hands of the righteous," and the "evil in the hands of those absorbed in Torah?" These seem more like factual statements, not miracles.

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Increasing the Intensity of our Daily Tefilot

In the gemara in Brachos (26b) there's an argument concerning whether the obligation to pray three times a day - shacharit, mincha and ma'ariv - originates from the avot - Avraham, Yitzchak and Yakov ("tefilot k'neged avot tiknum") - or corresponds to the korbanos brought in the Beis Hamikdash ("tefilot k'neged korbanot tiknum").

The opinion that the tefilot originated with the avot cites a pasuk in parshat Va'yera to prove that tefilat shacharit was originated with Avraham when he arose in the morning to view the destruction that Hashem had visited upon Sodom; see 19:27: "Va'yaskem Avraham ba'boker el hamakom asher amad sham et penei Hashem - And Avraham got up early in the morning to the place where he had "stood" before Hashem." The gemara explains that the word "amad" ("stood") refers to "tefilah" as per another pasuk in Tehillim juxtaposing the word "va'yamod" and "v'yipalel" (standing and praying).

The gemara then explains that mincha originated with Yitzchak when he went out to the field prior to his initial meeting with Rivka; see Chayei Sara (24:63) - "Va'yetzei Yitzchak la'suach ba'sadeh = And Yitzchak went to meditate in the field - as the gemara explains, "sicha" refers to "tefilah". And ma'ariv originated with Yakov when he was fleeing from Esav; see Va'yaitzei (28:11) - "Va'yifga ba'makom" - as the gemara explains, "pegiah" refers to tefila.

I heard a nice dvar torah from Rabbi Elly Krimsky explaining that these three references to prayer by the avot correspond to three different motivations for prayer.

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A Modern Day Bilaam Story: How a Russian Ba'al Teshuvah Nearly Destroyed the State of Israel and the Power of Yom Kippur Tefila

The story of Balak and Bilaam is a paradigm for how Hashem protects the Jewish people without them even being aware of the danger that lurks. It's a little early in the year to discuss parshas Balak, but for anyone who read the story of Leonid Tikochinsky in this week's Mishpacha magazine, the connection is clear.

Briefly, before ultimately returning to Judasim and making aliyah, Mr. Tikochinsky was an ardent Communist who rose within the Russian naval service to the position of commander of a Soviet nuclear submarine. And it so happens that during the Yom Kippur War, he was directed to position his sub off the coast of Israel, and await an order to fire nuclear missles that would inevitably have killed millions of Jews and destroyed the Jewish state. While, at the time, Tikochinsky knew he was a Jew, he had been so brainwashed by Soviet propoganda that he says now he would not have hesitated to fire had the order arrived, or even given a second thought to slaughtering millions of his brethren. Of course, B"H, the order never came.

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On the Value of Tears During Tefila

The intensity of tefila on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur often moves one to tears as we pray for life, health, parnasa, shidduchim, etc. As we ask Hashem during the selichos for Kol Nidrei: "koli shema u'reay dema ayni" - "hear my voice and see the tears of my eyes."

The gemara in Brachos (32b) teaches that the destruction of the beis hamikdash sealed off all gateways of prayer to heaven except the Gate of Tears.

Yet sadly, but inevitably, people who cry during tefila sometimes find that their prayers are not answered. Hashem says, "No."

How can we reconcile the gemara in Brachos with the apparent reality?

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