Hebrew at the Speed of Light
 December 22nd, 2008 Dear Harold jitschak,  Chag Chanukah Sameach –  חג חנוכה שמח  
                                  On Chanukah we start with lighting one candle on the first day. Each day we increase the number of candles lit. On the last – eighth day, we light eight candles. 
A story is told about Rabbi Yehonatan Aybeshitz.
                 When he was a little boy, he was punished for his mischief behavior and the teacher told him that he would escape the punishment only after calculating the total number of candles lit throughout the Chanukah holiday.The teacher thought it would really take a long time for Yehonatan to make the calculation. 
But little Yehonatan came immediately back with a brilliant answer:
(Before you read the answer – try to calculate it on your own)Hint: When calculating, please take into account the candle of “Shamash” which is also lit every day…  

Little Yehonatan said: 
The Bible tells us exactly:  Psalms Chapter 124, 7  It says:  נַפְשֵׁנוּ–    כְּצִפּוֹר נִמְלְטָה, מִפַּח יוֹקְשִׁים  :
הַפַּח נִשְׁבָּר,    וַאֲנַחְנוּ נִמְלָטְנוּ  .Our soul is escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowlers;
the snare is broken, and we are escaped. 

What Yehonatan meant is this: 

In Hebrew the word פח     has several meanings:snarejar  (of oil) 

It has the numerical value of 88.When it’s broken (as in the above verse) into two halves then we get a half of 88 = 44. This is indeed the total number of the candles lit during Chanukah. And little Yehonatan escaped the punishment.

And now – a riddle for you: 

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In the Talmud Beit Hillel and Beit Shamai argue about the sequence of candle lighting.
Beit Shamai’s opinion is: to start on the first day with eight candles and diminish the count every day ending on the last – eighth day with one candle.
Beit Hillels’s opinion is: to start on the first day with one candle and increase the count every day ending on the last – eighth day with eight candles. 
Eventually, the accepted sequence became that of Beit Hillel and this is the way we light the Chanukah candles now. 

But suppose, during the ancient times, when both methods were still in use, you had seen from afar a lit Chanukiya on the fourth day of Chanukah. 

The question is: 
How would you be able to determine whether it was lit according to Beit Shamai or according to Beit Hillel tradition?   We would now like to share with you the story of Chanah and Her Seven Sons
One of the stories told by the Talmud, associated with the times related to Chanukah (it also appears in several other sources, such as the book of Maccabees) is about Chanah and her seven sons. 
King Antiochus, who conquered and destroyed Jerusalem , was also determined destroying the attachment of the Jewish people to the Torah.
He forbade the observance of all religious laws; anyone found with a Torah would be executed; circumcision, kosher food, Shabbat, all vestiges of Judaism were outlawed. 
Antiochus decided to take an active role in enforcing his decrees. A Jewish woman Chanah and her seven sons were arrested and brought before the king. 
Antiochus tried to convince the eldest boy to abandon the Torah. The youth responded with great confidence, “Why do you bother with this long speech, trying to inflict your abominable religion upon us? We are ready to welcome death for the sake of our holy Torah!” 
The king was furious and ordered the boy’s tongue, hands and feet severed and placed in a fire. The soldiers proceeded to torture the boy, forcing his mother and six brothers to watch his excruciating pain. Antiochus was sure that this sight would intimidate his prisoners into unquestioning submission. 
Instead, the martyrdom spurred the family to a deep resolve to accept their fate and to sanctify G-d’s name. When the other brothers were brought to the king, even the members of the king’s retinue begged the boys to obey the king. 
All the other boys (second to the sixth brother), however, refused to abandon the Torah.  Their torture was as bitter as of their eldest brother’s.
Throughout this horrible sequence Chanah stood by her sons, giving them strength and encouragement.
Now, only the youngest child remained to face the king. When they brought the boy, the king offered him gold and silver if he would do his will. The seven-year-old boy displayed the same courage as his brothers and taunted the king to carry out his threats. 
The king couldn’t believe such words coming from a mere child, and he called out to Chanah. Chanah stood before the murderer of her children and listened to his words. “Woman, have compassion upon this child. Persuade him to do my will so that you will have at least one surviving child and you too will live.” She pretended to agree and asked to speak with her son. 
When they stood together, Chanah kissed the boy, then said, “My son, I carried you in my body for nine months, I nursed you for two years and I have fed you until today. I have taught you to fear G-d and uphold His Torah…   
Chanah returned to the king, saying, “I was unable to prevail upon him.” 
The king was enraged. 
According to the Talmud, Antiochus gave the boy a chance to save himself by ostensibly bowing down to retrieve his signet ring, but the boy refused.
As they removed him, Chanah begged to kiss him one last time. As if speaking to all seven children, Chanah said, “My children, tell your ancestor Abraham, ‘You bound only one son upon an altar, but I bound seven.” Then Antiochus ordered that the child be tortured even more than his brothers.
Chanah was left surrounded by the bodies of her sons, a prayer exalting G-d on her lips. Then the distraught woman threw herself from a roof and rested beside her martyred sons. 

We wish, hope and pray for our people to never be exposed again to any forces that wish to compromise our national identity and be free to adhere to our faith and tradition. 

Chag Canukah Sameach
   חג חנוכה שמח!!!              Yoel & Orly    
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                                          Ulpan-OrHebrew at the Speed of 
I heard  this in connection with the Gaon of Vilna, but the story is the same and is very nice [bdmesq]