Chanukah: The Multiplier Effect – The Power of the Jewish People


Eternal optimism in the face of desperate odds – faith in the power of a few – is an idea that goes right to the heart of Chanukah

ohOne of the great unsung heroes of the Holocaust was Rabbi Avraham Grodzinsky, the spiritual leader of the Kovno ghetto. Until the outbreak of the war, he had been the Rosh Yeshiva of the famous Yeshiva Slabodka and was one of the leading sages of his generation. He entered the yeshiva at the age of 17 and, under the tutelage of the legendary Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, the “Alter of Slabodka”, devoted himself to both intense Torah learning and refinement. just as intense in character.

Later, amid the horrors of the Kovno ghetto, people would attest to the open and friendly face Rabbi Grodzinsky had at all times, perfecting the trait of “receiving anyone with a friendly face” (Pirke Avot, 1:15), which was a source of hope and great comfort to all who encountered him.

Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein
Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein

In the ghetto years, when the situation was most dire, he formed a group of 10 of his former Slabodka Yeshiva students, who met every Shabbos to discuss spiritual and physical actions they could do to improve. the fate of these people. around them. This eternal optimism in the face of desperate odds – this faith in the power of a few – is an idea that goes right to the heart of Chanukah.

In fact, Rabbi Grodzinsky initially drew on a source that predated the Maccabees. In the part of the Torah a few weeks ago, we read about Abraham’s tireless negotiations with God to save the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. After a few rounds of negotiations, God finally agrees to save the cities if 10 righteous people can be found among them. From there, the Talmud learns the fundamental spiritual principle that 10 righteous people can have a decisive impact on an otherwise dire situation (Sanhedrin 99b). The Talmud goes even further, declaring that a person who does not believe in the power of 10 righteous people to save the world is guilty of heresy. In other words, the belief in the power of even a small group of people to change the world and overturn the natural order of things is nothing less than a fundamental tenet of the Jewish faith.

The power of a few

We see a powerful illustration of this principle in the story of Chanukah. The mighty Greek Empire which had conquered most of the known world at the time had invaded the Land of Israel and was pursuing a relentless campaign to eliminate all vestiges of the living Torah from society. The situation seemed hopeless. There were many Jews at the time who were abandoning their faith due to both the existential threat and the temptations of Greek society. It was then that a small group of people got together – Matisyahu and his brothers – to try and do something to remedy the situation. What started out simply as an act of defiance turned into a miraculous military defeat of the mighty Greek army, allowing the Jewish people to reclaim the land, reclaim the Torah, and reclaim the Holy Temple.

Over 2,000 years later, in the depths of the Holocaust, Rabbi Grodzinksy was inspired by the example of the Maccabees, recruiting 10 righteous men himself to bring hope and strength to the inhabitants of the ghetto, and spreading the light in a time of unimaginable darkness. .

The prayer we read describing the great miracles of Chanukah describes how God delivered “the multitude into the hand of some.” As the Torah says: “It is not because you are the most numerous of the nations that God has wanted and chosen you, for you are the fewest among the nations. (Devarim 7: 7)

Why is that? Why are the Jewish people, so small in number, able to have this seismic effect on the world? Part of the reason is that we, the Jewish people, are a living testimony to a fundamental truth about the nature of reality – that the physical world is but a smokescreen for a deeper spiritual reality. Overcoming obstacles, overturning the natural order of things, testifies to the primacy of the world of spirituality over the world of materialism, to the fact that God – who is the Creator of all matter and the source of all – is the One in control.

The Chanukah miracle

So, what we see in the story of Chanukah, and in many other instances where the Jewish people have challenged their few, is how the impact of a few is multiplied by God’s intervention, defying all rational predictions and overthrowing empirical reality as we know it. This idea is symbolized by the defining miracle of Chanukah – the little pot of halakhically pure oil that the Maccabees found when they took over the Temple, which burned for eight days when it should have burned for one. This is why we celebrate Chanukah by lighting candles for eight days.

Friends, why is this miracle so central to the festival? Was the great military victory of the Maccabees over the mighty Greek Empire even more remarkable? The reason is that the miracle of burning oil longer than it was supposed to encapsulate all other miracles. It symbolizes that multiplier effect that we have discussed – that through the guidance of God, through the mysterious workings of a deeper, essential spiritual realm, the results in the physical world can be amplified beyond their contribution. And a little pot of oil that was supposed to burn for a day can burn for eight.

Rabbi Aharon Kotler, the great Rosh Yeshiva of Lakewood, points out that it was the spiritual purity of the oil that imbued it with the miraculous power to burn for eight days, to transcend its physical limitations. Likewise, it was the righteousness and righteousness of the Maccabees that enabled them to defeat the great army of the Greeks. Both are small in physical quantity, but powerful in spiritual quality.

And this is the great lesson of Chanukah for the Jewish people – that no matter how many we have, if we stand upright and true to our divine heritage, then we will always survive and prosper. The personal life story of Rabbi Kotler confirms this. One of those lucky enough to flee Europe before the Holocaust took everything, he came to America and established a small yeshiva in Lakewood, New Jersey. In the 1940s and 1950s, few had much hope for the prospects of a classic Torah institution in the heart of the New World, yet, starting with a handful of students, and disregarding all predictions. rational, the yeshiva has become the largest center of Jewish learning in the diaspora, with more than 6,500 students. He started out small, struggling against obstacles, but his vision had the power of purity behind it.

This message of the few over many, of God’s multiplier effect of our actions, is the story of Jewish history. Israel is such a small country, and yet its impact is so great, and wherever Jewish communities have found themselves, their impact on society at large has been out of step with their small size.

But, the real secret ingredient to transcend the physical inputs is spiritual purity. Purity is the leaven that makes our efforts go up. It is about the purity of the oil, the energy and the intentionality that we put into our work in this world. Purity is a matter of sincerity, kindness, compassion and decency, spirituality and faith in God, and dedication to His Will, His Torah. With that, we can really achieve great things, supernatural things. We can go beyond the numbers.

This seminal Hanukkah message, this heavenly multiplier effect, applies no less to our personal lives. A person may think that they will not be able to make a living if they close their business on Shabbos, but Chanukah teaches us that God can multiply all the work of the week to more than make up for it. A person may think that devoting himself to absolutely scrupulous business ethics may cost him money, but in the end, God has the power to bless and multiply our efforts. The same is true of tzedakah – charity – for which the Torah itself promises multiplied returns.

On Chanukah, a small group of righteous people made a big difference, defeating a mighty force. If good people with a pure heart and sincere intentions come together, even in small numbers, they can bring light and blessing to the world. God’s blessings can multiply the effect of the limited physical world like that little pot of oil that burned so much longer, shedding so much light in the world. This is Chanukah’s message of hope and optimism.

Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein, who has a doctorate. in human rights law, is the Chief Rabbi of South Africa. This article first appeared on

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