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by Rabbi Mendy Herson


Library » Holidays » Chanukah » The Laws | Subscribe | What is RSS?


On the eight days of Chanukah we kindle an eight-candle Menorah.  But we don’t light all eight every night.  On the first night we kindle one candle, on the second two, and so on until the eighth night--when all eight candles shine forth.

This clearly displays a very basic theme in Judaism: there must be consistent progress.  I may have lit one candle yesterday, illuminating my life and my environment, but that’s not good enough for today; I’ve got to advance “from strength to strength,” making my life more meaningful.  If G-d gives me a day of life, it’s got to be productive, substantive--we’ve got to progress beyond our own status-quo, our own norms. Chanukah teaches us not to be satisfied with what was good yesterday.

In the Code of Jewish Law, the laws of Tereifos address the specific physical  abnormalities that would render a properly slaughtered (Kosher) animal un-kosher.  A kosher animal must be a healthy animal, and a mortal wound or life-threatening blemish will render it unfit for consumption. In chapter 58, paragraph 7, of those laws, the code paints the following scenario: You’re standing at the  bank of a river and a kosher species of bird flies overhead. Suddenly, the bird does a nosedive into the water--striking the water with considerable force. Now it’s paddling slowly along the water’s surface. You’re hungry, and you’d like to reel it in, slaughter it and have it for lunch. Should you assume that it sustained massive internal trauma and damage upon impact?  Or is there a reasonable hope that it's alive and well, that if you slaughter it and inspect it, you’ll find its organs intact?

The Code gives the following litmus test:  If it’s swimming upstream, against the current, then you can be confident that it’s okay. If it’s floating with the stream, then try to determine whether the bird is floating more quickly than the current, or together with the current.  If it’s swimming more quickly than the current, you can be reasonably certain that it’s still healthy; if it’s just floating at the same pace as the current, don’t bother--it’s dying. In Judaism, living means consistent self-betterment. It means being perpetually  pro-active.

I may have had an inadequate upbringing; I may have certain character flaws--that’s a natural part of the human condition. But we shouldn’t just resign ourselves to negative character traits or behavior. We have to swim upstream when necessary, to battle our own respective natures. I may see no reason to swim upstream.   Maybe I’m basically satisfied with my character and with that of my community.  Judaism tells me not to rest on my laurels, just following the positive stream of my life or the virtuous norms of my society. I’ve got to move more swiftly than the norm, more quickly than the stream of life’s current. Even if things are good, there’s always room for improvement.

If I satiate my desire for productivity with what I’ve already accomplished, I’ve  basically ceased to live. The Jewish attitude to life is: If G-d gave you another day, there’s obviously more to do. Never be satisfied with what you did yesterday. We can’t be satisfied until we’ve perfected ourselves and our surroundings to an extent that we live in a tranquil, peaceful, perfected world--a world of Moshiach.

Reprinted with permission from


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Philosophy » Character

The Messiah. Moshiach is the person who will usher in an era of peace and tranquility for all of humanity when there will be no jealousy or hate, wars or famine. This is a fundamental Jewish belief.
Literally means "fit." Commonly used to describe foods which are permitted by Jewish dietary laws, but is also used to describe religious articles (such as a Torah scroll or Sukkah) which meet the requirements of Jewish law.
An eight day mid-winter holiday marking: 1) The miraculous defeat of the mighty Syrian-Greek armies by the undermanned Maccabis in the year 140 BCE. 2) Upon their victory, the oil in the Menorah, sufficient fuel for one night only, burned for eight days and nights.
Candelabra. Usually a reference to the nine-branched candelabra kindled on the holiday of Chanukah.
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.