We think of the Ten Commandments as a monumental national event. Yet the opening words, of the very first time Hashem spoke to humanity, were not addressed to a wider audience. The words used are deeply personal. אָנֹכִי ה’ אֱלֹקֶיךָ – not plural, everyone’s, but singular, yours. This is a very personal God, establishing intimate contact with individuals; not just to Judaism in general and greater humanity at large.

And yet through Chazal, this is understood slightly differently. Rashi understands that in this divine communication, Hashem spoke through Moshe, and in a sense, to Moshe exclusively. This personal communication was to and through Moshe, and relayed to everyone else. The Midrash understands that this was personal to Moshe to the extent that in the aftermath of the Golden Calf, he could avert catastrophe by saying that the Jews had not betrayed אָנֹכִי ה’ אֱלֹקֶיךָ, to the exclusion of idols, and that this was said to him alone. The personal God of Sinai was Moshe’s only!

So how are we supposed to understand the events at Sinai; can God be personal with humanity?

When Yisro is introduced to us, we learn how he heard what happened to Moshe and the people of Israel:

וַיִּשְׁמַע יִתְרוֹ כֹהֵן מִדְיָן חֹתֵן משֶׁה אֵת כָּל אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה אֱלֹהִים לְמשֶׁה וּלְיִשְׂרָאֵל עַמּוֹ – Yisro heard what God had done for Moshe, and Israel, his people… (18:1)

That is, the Torah sets up Moshe not just as the leader of the nation of Israel, but as a separate category, on par with the rest of his entire people combined. The Maharal deduces that in doing so, the Torah recognises Moshe’s status and achievement as someone who had transcended everyone else and could not be grouped together with anyone. He was in a class of his own.

As someone who had transcended Israel, his soulmate came from beyond Israel too. His role was to shape and form a nation of poor, ignorant, downtrodden slaves into the image of the divine on this planet. It could not be done from within; it necessarily had to come from beyond; in the form of Tziporah. Together, they crafted Israel’s destiny.

But how does a human transcend? No man was like Moshe, but what happened to him that he could do it? How can a human survive forty days and nights without any basic necessities the human body requires?

The Maharal notes that forty days thematically indicates a new aspect of creation. It takes forty days for a foetus to take shape, and it took forty days for the era of the Flood to transition, and the new world to emerge. Forty days on Sinai is a cryptic allusion to a new aspect awakened in Moshe. He was no longer Moshe, a human. He had become Moshe, the prophet.

He had become the mouthpiece for God to reveal Himself to mankind.

But far more than a loudspeaker, he was the divine interface. He was the spring from which we could drink God’s word and be nourished and grow. The Torah was imbued with his energy, and through him we too could transcend. He was on the wavelength to absorb the Torah, and it was channeled to us.

This is the true meaning of Moshe’s riposte to Hashem after the Golden Calf, that Sinai was Moshe’s personal God, and the people did not deserve to be wiped out. They could not receive the full power or scope of God’s word; only Moshe could. This is the “out” that Sinai in the singular provides. Rav Tzadok teaches that the personal God of Sinai is always there for us to reach out to, to aspire to. Criticallly, it is not a standard against which the people who could not rise to the challenge were held. Moshe’s role was to help everyone get there. They weren’t yet, but that was ok. The personal God of Sinai is always there, waiting for us. And we learnt that from Moshe.

This is why he plays a central part in God’s revelation to mankind. He was instrumental. Moshe was truly Rabbeinu – our teacher. He taught us how to interface and connect to the Torah – it was not just a repetition of what he’d been told. It is a living, breathing thing, and it is Moshe’s life that it was imbued with. Through him, Judaism and mankind learned that God wants a personal connection to us, if only we reach out.

The Chagim are extensively detailed, earning their own books in the Gemara. All of them, except Chanuka.

The Midrash also states an opinion that when all the Jews are back in Israel, with a Third Temple, the Chagim may not be observed the way they are today – except Purim and Chanuka. What is Chanuka’s essential purpose, and why is it not clearly stated anywhere?

Rav Hutner explains that Chanuka and Purim were not direct interventions from God; they were events instigated by humans reaching out. At a time when tyranny sought to purge Judaism of what made it Jewish, a select few stood up to fight for spirituality and the oral Torah.

At its core, the Torah is what binds us to God, it is the place from where our commitment stems from. The nature of oral Torah is that largely unwritten. What is written is terse in style, and only a guideline for exploring larger topics. It is primarily learnt by word of mouth; it needs to be discussed to explore it fully. It reflects the underlying commitment – it is all-encompassing.

The Chanuka story was about a few people willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to show the value of the principle of commitment to God. People are needed to uphold the covenant, or there isn’t one. This is why Chanuka cannot have been fully explained. This explanation still does not do it justice; it cannot. It is the bigger picture of dedication that trumps everything.

The factual circumstances of the story reflect the spiritual circumstances; the little bit of unadulterated oil left was the few remaining unadulterated Jews. That so little oil lasted so long was the few Jews commitment being sufficient to reignite everyone else’s flame.

This is why Chanuka was the last of the Chagim to be established. With it, exile is not the end. No matter the odds, a handful of good people can turn it around in a heartbeat. Chazal say that Chanuka gave the powe to rescue light from darkness itself.

Darkness, and it’s corollary, forgetfulness, are setbacks that set the stage for comebacks. Torah, the instrument of our commitment, is practiced and studied, to develop and strengthen the relationship. All sincere discussion is Torah, even an incorrect opinion. Exile, the darkness of the unknown, can be faced with such an ability in our arsenal.

It speaks volumes that the Chag is called חנוכה, a derivative of the word חינוך, education. It is not called “Martyrdom”, or “Sacrifice”. Because it is about education. In a mechanical world, there can be a free choice of commitment. Note how the mitzva of Menora is always performed to its highest standard; no one does the basic mitzva of one candle per house – everyone lights progressively more. Excellence is the standard for such an important theme.

Chanuka was the final piece of the jigsaw that lets us choose to be resolute; able to withstand crushing circumstances.

כל המתפלל בעד חברו והוא צריך לאותו דבר הוא נענה תחילה

One who prays for a friend, and needs the same thing, he is answered first – Bava Basra 92a

There is a very obvious question to ask on this famous and oft quoted Gemara. Why should the person davening take priority and be answered first? This is exacerbated  when we note that the person davening made no mention of himself at all.

There are several points in this Gemara that require clarification.

The Gemara used the phrase והוא צריך – the person praying must be facing the same problem – this is important to note. This is however, just a point to note, and not a reason for the Gemara’s statement.

We can suggest that in answer to the first part of the question, the reasoning for the Gemara, is that the person has performed a phenomenal act of chessed – commonly translated as loving kindness, but a good word for it is altruism. The definition of the term is that the person had no other motives for what they did – and here is a person who is in the same situation as  oneself, and the person praying has put himself on the side entirely and devoted a prayer to see someone else get helped. So we must say that it is the power of the underlying chessed, and not the power of the prayer itself, that is the reason behind the Gemara. As such, it would seem that one who prays for another person with this Gemara in mind is not really performing an act of chessed at all, and would find that this does not work. Undoubtedly the prayer is itself important, but one will not see the effects about which the Gemara speaks.

The second part of the question, where the person praying was mentioned that he would find himself answered first, in answered by what the general nature of any tefilla is. There is a concept that a תפלה של רבים – a group prayer – is more potent and powerful than a תפלה של יחיד– an individual’s prayer, and this has many reasons to it. Furthermore, there are many resultant halachos about davening with a minyan

When a person prays for another individual, they are adding to the pool of tefillos. To illustrate this: we say in Shemoneh Esrei every day the prayer of “ולירושלים” – that Jerusalem should be rebuilt in our days – what about the 2,000 years worth of our ancestors prayers requesting the same thing? They passed away before seeing their prayers answered, but could one suggest their prayers didn’t help? G-d forbid! The Beis Hamikdash will be rebuilt, one brick at a time. It is certain that our ancestors will receive their due credit for helping us get there.

This is why there is no such thing as a group prayer going to waste – a prayer for a member of the community’s recovery from sickness, a shidduch for a neighbour, success in business for a friend – even if we don’t see our prayers answered the way we would like, they still count to the pool of group tefillos. Like our ancestors will receive their reward for helping Jerusalem be rebuilt, we are credited for these prayers – so really, when praying for someone else, our name is on that prayer, so really, the person praying never needed to mention himself.

There will always be a tremendous value on davening for another Jew in need.

Adapted from a shiur by R’ Shlomo Farhi

The Gemara relates a story about a gentleman called Nachum. He was a man who had a a difficult life, but whenever something bad happened, he would say “Gam Zu L’Tovah – this also is for the good”, and this is what he later became known as – Nachum Ish Gam Zu. But why does the Gemara call him Nachum Ish Gam Zu, literally, “Nachum Also”? He was famous for saying “Gam Zu L’Tovah” yet he is not called “Nachum Ish Gam Zu L’Tovah”! One would think that “L’Tovah” would be the key part of what he is remembered as, as opposed to the seemingly extraneous ‘also’.

To understand the answer, we must be aware that there is a fundamental misunderstanding with regard to what he did, and consequently what he is remembered for until today. He wouldn’t pass a car crash and point and say it was “l’Tova” – one cannot label an inherently bad thing as “good”. “Good” is clearly not an applicable adjective. The depth behind his words is as follows: What he did was recognise the masterplan of Hashem, and the web in which events in our lives unfold. He attempted to see the bigger picture, the greater good which is hidden from our direct sight. That web, that bigger picture, is l’tova. Parts of it may not be, or may not obviously be but in recognising that bad events are part of a good web, we should be able to say  “Gam Zu L’Tovah!” So in fact ‘Gam Zu’ – his ability to see that this is “also (one more event)” is the key part of what Nachum said – it is the mechanism by which he could label bad as “also” being good. Not just “L’Tovah”.

It take a great inner strength to truly be able to say, in the face of a bad event ‘this too shall pass’ and to really believe in the bigger picture and the greater good. But by working on that strength, we will be able to get to the stage where we can say, as Nachum did, Gam Zu L’Tovah – This too is for the good. The word ‘also’ is the very mechanism that allowed him (and resultantly us) to state something was ‘L’Tovah’.

Chazal often tell us that in the time near moshiach, chutzpah will be very common and apparent. Together with the negativity of chutzpah, comes a chutzpah associated with kedusha (holiness); a chutzpah that we should strive for that will be the final help to bring moshiach.

For example, a type of chutzpah is to not back down even when one has failed. This can be used for avoidas Hashem (service of God). Another chutzpah would be to attempt to speak up in discussions that involve people or matters that are above oneself. This type can also be used for our avoidas Hashem.

Hashem (God) loves us more than we can imagine and ‘appreciates’ our every bit of effort amazingly. We can achieve tremendous amounts with our little actions, if we just have the chutzpah to try. Some matters seem to be only for our gedolim (Torah giants) to achieve, or even for gedolim of previous generations, but we only think so because we don’t understand our own true powers.

The Kemarna relays a story of a person on Rosh Hashanah, who looked on shockingly as his neighbour picked up a box of snuff that had dropped on the floor during
the tefilla (prayer). Just by looking disgustedly at his friend, it was decreed immediately that his friend should die that coming year. We don’t realize how much power we actually have.

In similar vein, the Kozmir said that when a person sees another person in a good light, and thinks of him in positive way, he achieves for that person, and for himself, and for all klal yisroel (the Jews), more than 10,000 tzadikim (righteous men) in the next world can achieve. Because it’s us on this world that truly make a difference. It’s amazing how we can have such effects on people around us.

R’ Mordeche Gifter zt’’l was planning to fly with eight of his talmidim (students) to another talmid’s (student’s) wedding, but there were extremely strong winds and their flight was pushed off for a few days. They left when they were able to, and arrived for one of the sheva brochos (parties in the seven days after the wedding). Rav Gifter got up to speak and said, “Although we don’t know why Hashem does things, He has shed a little light as to why, at least partially, there were these past major winds. When we eventually landed, it was late, and we asked a janitor at the airport for a room to daven maariv (the evening prayer). After maariv he asked us if there wasn’t another small tefilla to say. We explained that we need ten people to say kaddish and we were only nine, to which he asked why he couldn’t be our tenth man. Trying to be as polite as possible, we explained that we need someone Jewish. And of course he replies that he was, in fact, Jewish. He relayed the following episode, “My father passed away recently. Last week, he came to me in a dream saying that we are Jewish and that it wasn’t easy for him up there and he wanted me to say a kaddish. After appearing to me a few times I told him that I don’t know anything about Judaism, I don’t even know where there’s a synagogue. My father asked me, “If I bring you a group of Jewish people to the airport, will you say kaddish?” To which I said yes, just to stop the dreams. “That was last night”, the janitor said, “and here you guys are!’’

Imagine the kaddish that this fellow said, completely broken, misspronounced words, without any kavana (concentration). Yet Hashem arranged the world to fit perfectly into this man’s life to hear this one broken kaddish! Hashem really loves and takes note of our good deeds and tefillos (prayers), and they really have amazing effect.