Hit the Road, Jack!

In the shuls and synagogues of Eastern Europe and Russia, a curious vignette used to play itself out every year after Simchat Torah, the final holiday of Tishrei. The Shamash, or caretaker of the Shul used to approach the bima (central platform), give a loud slap and announce �And Jack went on his way.�

The announcement was actually a quotation from the Torah, describing how our forefather Jacob left the house of his father in law, Lavan, with his wives and family, and returned to Israel. In our context, it indicates how all Jews, having experienced the bright lights of the month of Tishrei, with all of its holidays, must now return to their everyday routines. It's back to business as usual. But , what were we to take with us from Tishrei? What was the message, and where are we going from there?

It's very common, after having undergone an intense and interesting experience, to want to back away from it. A normal person needs time to absorb and integrate what he or she has been through. After the intense worship and t'shuva of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur , the happiness and ecstasy of Succot and Simchat Torah, we need to step back and "see where we're holding". In the language of Chassidut, this is a period of what we call "building the Kelim", building the new vessels, or receptacles to contain the high level of light and illumination which has been revealed to us during Tishrei. As our sages pointed out, the nights get longer after Tishrei. In fact, for the next few months the nights get longer and longer. The night, being dark, symbolizes the time which we spend away from the bright lights, that is, the time we need to build the kelim (vessels) in order to contain and absorb the light. And the night, the sages told us, was created for learning Torah. Without the noise and distraction of the daytime, it is the best time to learn Torah. As a matter of fact, the numerical value of the month (�Mar Chesvan�) equals "Torah.�

Not so long ago, a popular pop song described the deeds and achievements of someone during a long and satisfying life. He described how he climbed the ladders of family and career and social obligations, and then ended with the words "And most of all, I did it my way". All the success and fame in the world isn't worth as much when it is given , as when it is earned, or done in one's own individual way. The same is true of Torah: it may have been given, but if we don't do our part to receive it, to learn and internalize it, it remains above us, and not within us. The Chassidic concept of "building the kelim" means that we learn Torah in order to cultivate our ability to absorb and internalize the bright lights of Tishrei.

One of the first steps in achieving a higher spiritual level is purification. The first portion of the Torah of the month of Mar Chesvan is the story of Noah and the flood. G_d brought a calamatous flood on the earth in order to purify it. The water covered the enrire earth for forty days and forty nights, in order to purify it of all it's ill effects (similarly, some people go to the mikve before praying, taking a dip in forty units of water). Then, G-d said to Noah, �Bo el ha�taiva", come into the ark. In an amazing play on words, the Hebrew word "taiva" (ark) also means "word". Specifically the words of Torah and prayer. G_d said to Noah, "Come into the woods of Torah and prayer". When the raging waters of everyday life, the pressures of making a living, etc, threaten to overwhelm you, come into the words and letters of prayer. This is the message which we take from Tishrei: after the bright lights, we must "build the kelim", (vessels) to contain them, through diligent study of Torah.

Torah Learning: Up the Road and Back

Learning Torah is not the only way to serve G_d: the sages say there are "three pillars upon which the world stands". Although everyone must devote time to learning, not everyone is cut out for "majoring in Torah". Some people are meant more for the 'service of the heart", prayer. Others are cut out more for action , such as doing kind things for others.

Nevertheless, each of these are one way streets, when compared to learning Torah. Preyer is from us up to G_D. And by doing good deeds, we are emulating G_d's kindliness and creating a path from Him down to us.

Torah learning, however, is both. It makes a path from us to G_d and from G_d to us. The sages say that the Torah is the "names of G_d". By studying and saying the words of Torah, we are calling Him from below to above. At the same time, we are being answered from above, as we absorb and internalize His will and wisdom, as embodied in the Torah.

Thus, when "Jack hits the road" this month, it's a two way road, of learning Torah.

Mystical Meditations

Marchesvan, Kislev and Tevet

Some pointers about the next two months fom Sefer Yetzirah and other sources.

We blow 100 blasts on the sofar on Rosh Hashana. After the High Priest enters the holy of holies in Yom Kippur, his incense offering wafts to the highest level, thereupon descending and materializing as the schach (vegetation) covering the succah, schach, with the numerical value of 100. and when we come out of Tishrei to Mar Chesvan, we start building kelim, also with the numerical value of 100. the ten sefirot, each interincluded with each other, representing completion. The point is to develop a "wise heart" (lev lacham), also value 100.


Letter of Mar Chesvan: the "nun" with the numerical value of 50, representing the fifty gates of understanding Torah, which we must pass through in order to receive the Torah, like the road one must take after Tishrei in order to learn and refine ourselves.

Letter of Kislev: the 'somech". Indicates the sixty tractates of the oral Torah. King Solomon slept with sixty guards around him, each of whom knew one tractate of the oral Torah.


Sense of Marchasvan: smell. The third and final Temple is to be inaugurated this month by the mashiach, about whom we say that he will be guided by his sense of smell. He will have a refined ability to 'sniff out" what he needs to know: Rayach, smell, is related to ruach, spirit, and the mashiach will have holy spirit. Smell is also the sense which the soul enjoys, rather than the body, and the tribe of the month in Menasha, which when rearranged spells Neshama, or soul.

Sense of Kislev: sleep, one who knows a lot of Torah is protected, he can sleep well at night: also, there are many dreams this month (in the Torah portions), such as Joseph's and Pharoah's dreams, which of course occur during sleep.

Body Part

Body part of Marchesvan: the small intestine, which performs the function of digestion. To know what to eat, one must have a good sense of smell. To know what to believe, we need a very good sense of intuition. Very often, our gut reaction isn't based on anything rational, but on what we intuit, or "smell".

Body part of Kislev: the large intestine, which continues the digestive work of the small intestine. The process of purification works best when one is in a dormant state. The temple was located in the area of the tribe of this month, Binyamin, and performed the function of separation and purification. The sacrifices offered up the best to G_d elevating the physical world to spirituality, leaving that which couldn�t be elevated behind.

Body part of Tevet: the eye. The sages are called the "eyes of the congregation". Torah learning imparts spiritual eyesight.

Concept Corner

Jewish customs, the sages tell us, are themselves a portion of the Torah. They may not be openly commanded, as in the custom to announce �Jack went on his way" but nevertheless, they are totally rooted in the Torah and share in its level of precision. The case of "Jack went on his way", the word for "way" in Hebrew is "derech.�

Derech, according to the mystical lexicon, is the "way of G_d". The "way of G_d" is a two way street: from Him to us and from us back up to him. The direction from Him to us is like the month of Tishrei, when the bright lights are shining through the holidays. The direction from us to Him, though starts after Tishrei, with the months of Marchesvan through Pesach. This is the time of building the Kelim.

Lights and vessels, called orot and kelim by the Kabbalists and Chassidim are also associated with particular names of G_d. The orot- or revelation- come from his essential four letter name (Yud- Heh- Vav- Heh). The kelim-or vessels- on the other hand come from His ability to hide and constrict Himself, associated with the name "Elokim". To travel on the "derech Hashem" -the way of G-d- means to draw the illumination of the orot (lights) into the kelim (vessels). It also means to purify the kelim, (vessels) and elevate them to the level of the orot (light). Thus , each direction involves a combination of orot and kelim, or of His essential four-letter name with His name of self-restriction. And lo and behold, the numerical value of derech (road or way) -224- is exactly that of the two names, multiplied by two (one combination for each direction). So, when we say "Hit the Road, Jack", we mean a very precise two way road -that defined by Torah and Mitzvot.

The Rebbe's Voice

To Illuminate and Uproot Darkness

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, ztz"l

The first day of the month of Teves always falls during Chanukah. Since the first day of the month, as the "head" (Rosh) of the month, contains the entire month, we must say that Chanukah shines into the entire month of Teves in some form.

About the month of Teves itself, the sages (Megila 13) said it's �the month in which the body gets enjoyment from another body� -Rashi explains this is because the intense cold which takes place in this month.

All the physical happenings are manifestations of what is taking place in the spiritual realms. The intense cold of the month is because the "orot�-illumination from above- is on the wane this month, enclothed in garments of nature which hide them. Just as the intense heat of the summer has its source in the illumination of His essential name, making the service of G-d easier those months, so the intense cold comes from his hiddeness, causing a situation that the "body enjoys the body.�

The summer months, when illumination is intense, is the time for the service of the soul. During this time, the body does not hide and disturb the expression of the soul. But during the winter when the Godly illumination wanes, the major service of G-d is through the body- through purifying and refining the body. This is especially true of he month of Teves when there is no illumination whatsoever of His orot. Then the situation is such that the service of purification takes place not through revelation from above of his orot, but from the refinement of the body itself.

The story is told of the Ba'al Shem Tov, who came one winter night, together with his students, upon a cold and dark synagogue. Upon entering the shul, they found that they did not have sufficient candles to illuminate the shul. The Ba�al Shem Tov told them to take the icicles from the windows and ceiling and light them. The students did so, and the icicles burned, providing light and warmth in the cold sinigdue. Icicles are the diametric opposite of warmth and light. Yet not only did they provode light and warmth, they did not melt in the process.

So in our case; the darkness of the body must be illuminated not )only) by the soul, but also by the refinament of the bo l, they found that they did not ave sufficientdy itself. The power of the body to refine itself comes into expression precisely when the soul doesn�t shine through. The total absence of revelation is itself the power which calls forth the ability of the body to elevate itself. This is because the body has a connection with atzmus- His essence, which transcends both light and darkness, both revelation and hiddeness. So, when there is no revelation from Above of is illumination, then is the time for the power of His Essence to shine through.

This is the connection between Chanukah and the month of Teves, the Chanukah lights have the ability not only to illuminate, but to uproot darkness. That is, Chanukah has the ability to turn darkness itself into light (rather than just shine into it). This power comes from His essence which is beyond darkness and light. And this as well is the true explanation of the phrase that this month is when "the body enjoys the body", atzmus (His essence) has enjoyment from the physical world (the body) being transformed into holiness.

The era of the temple was an era of light. There was revealed G-dliness in the world. The time of exile , on the other hand, is a time of darkness when we don't see any signs of spirituality, and darkness "covers the land". But precisely this darkness is what calls forth the highest levels of His essence in order to turn the darkness into light.

Chassidic Insights

The mitzvah of Chanukah is the last of all the mitzvoth -the Rabonnen did not make any more mitzvoth after Chanukah. All mitzvot are called by the name "nar" -candle-, since the mitzvoth create an arousal from below, like a candle, which always seems to be striving upward. The mitzvoth create a desire in the worldto receive G-ddly illumination, just as a candle receives light. And certainly this illumination can light up the darkness until the meshiach comes�The Megila (like lighting Chanukah candles) is read at night (tho repeated during the day). Also, the commandment of eating Matza is at night. Aside from these three mitzvot though (Chanukah, Megila, and Pesach), all other mitzvoth are performed during the day. This is because these three represent ge�ula- redemption, whose purpose it is to light up darkness. By each of these redemptions (Pesach- from Egypt, Purim- from Persia, Chanukah-from Greece), Torah mentions the word "light" all the lights from the redemptions shine in the Chanukah lights until the coming of Meshiach.

-R" Leibel Eiger in Torat Emet

There are three possible ways to understand the miracle of Chanukah:

  1. Quantity- the amount of oil increased in order to be enough to last eight days -thus it was a one-time miracle which occurred at the moment of increase.
  2. Quality -the amount of oil didn't increase, but the small quantity miraculously lasted eight days -if so it was a one-time miracle which effected the rest of the holiday.
  3. Quality and quantity - the amount was enough for one day only, but even though it was lit, it wasn't consumed at all -if so, it was a miracle when reoccurred at every instant.

So likewise there are three ways of serving G-d:

  1. The self-sacrifice of saying "Sh'ma" in the morning is a one time reminder which only leaves an impression on the rest of the day.
  2. The self-sacrifice starts with "Sh'ma" but continues the rest of the day on the same level (not only as an impression)
  3. The level of self-sacrifice renews itself at every moment as the person goes through the day with selfless devotion to fighting spiritual darkness.

Adapted from Likutei Sichot, vol,15, p.183, R'Menahel Mendel Shneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe

The time to light Chanukah candles is late in the afternoon " when the legs of the "tarmudai" (lamplighters) leave the marketplace". "Tarmudai" refers to those who rebel against G-d, and the marketplace is a public arena where "everything goes" -including things which are opposed to holiness. But the Chanukah candles are meant to light up even this arena, and draw even those who are far from G-d to Torah.

A non-believer came to R" Hillel and asked him to teach him Torah while he stood on one foot. The foot represents those parts of the body which are "outside" (according to the Zohar). Chanukah comes to rectify the feet -those parts of the body which are "outside" and need to be raised to the level of holiness. Although the non believer appeared to be poking fun at the Torah, he really was asking to come in "from the cold". Apparently, he saw R" Hillel lighting Chanukah candles, and asked to come out of the realm of the "marketplace" and convert to Judaism.

Paraphrased from the "Jikover Rebe" R' Y' Hurwitz, in ATARES YESHUSHU