Home > Chanukah, Poland, Rabbi Baruch Lederman > Why the rabbi ate all the latkes, and rules you can follow this Chanukah

Why the rabbi ate all the latkes, and rules you can follow this Chanukah

December 11, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

By Rabbi Baruch Lederman

SAN DIEGO–It was the first night of Chanukah and the Rabinowitz family sat down for dinner and a Chanukah treat – latkes. The Rabinowitz’s were a very prominent family in the city of Krakow. A  particular custom of this family was that when they had a guest, to offer their guest first and only after he had his fill, would they all partake of that dish.

And what a guest they had – the renowned Rabbi Heschel and his Rebbetzin. Rabbi Heschel was one of the most famous talmudic scholars in all of Europe. It was indeed a huge  honor to have this illustrious Rabbi and Rebbetzin as their guests.

The steaming plate of piping hot latkes was placed down before Rabbi Heschel. A latke was placed on his plate, which he sampled. The eyes of the entire family were set
anxiously upon him. He then asked for another one. The family was so thrilled that the Rabbi was pleased with the delicacy.

He then asked for a third and a fourth and so on. Now the happy family was beginning to wonder if there would be any left for them. Then, as now, people look forward with eager anticipation to that first Chanukah latke, and their hopes were dwindling. The Rebbetzin herself was getting nervous and embarrassed at her husband’s behavior.

Sure enough, he kept on devouring and asking for more till there was not one latke left for the family. Though no one dared say anything, the children and even the parents were  quite disappointed. They would have to wait till the next day, when more potatoes, oil and other wonderful ingredients would be joined together in that oh-so-heavenly way, before  any of them could have that first Chanukah latke which they craved.

They figured that the holy Rabbi must have had deep spiritual thoughts and mystical kavanos (intentions) in his consumption. Perhaps with each latke he was praising Hashem for the most amazing miracles of Chanukah. Surely there were saintly and sublime reasons for the Rabbi’s actions. Reasons, which were perhaps too esoteric and abstruse for them  to comprehend. That must be the answer, they thought, to this puzzle.

Either way, no one could bring themselves to ask him, and he wasn’t offering any enlightenment or explanations.

It wasn’t till much later that the mystery was uncovered. When Rabbi Heschel tasted the first latke, it had a horrible taste. It tasted as though the maid had accidentally mixed some  kerosene with the cooking oil. Rabbi Heschel feared that if the family tasted the vile latkes, or found out what happened, the maid would be chastised or even fired. The humiliation would be extreme.

This maid was a poor old widow. The Torah warns us not to vex the widow, and she certainly needed this job. He therefore suffered through this stomach-churning ordeal to protect  her from any retribution. Rabbi Heschel said, “I would rather be thought to be a glutton, than to have this poor Jewish woman suffer.”

These were the sublime thoughts and holy kavanos of the pious Rabbi Heschel of Krakow.

1. This year, the first night of Chanukah is Friday December 11, 2009, at which time we will light one Chanukah light plus the shamash. The second night we light 2 lights plus a
shamash. The third night we light 3 lights plus a shamash, and so on and so forth.

2. The shamash is lit, the blessings are recited, then the chanukah lights are lit. On the first night, we recite all three of the following blessings, on the other nights we recite only the first two:

(a) Baruch ata ado-noi E-lokainu melech ha’olam, asher kidishanu bemitzvosav vitzivanu lehadlik ner shel Chanukah.

(b) Baruch ata ado-noi E-lokainu melech ha’olam, sheh’asah nisim la’avosainu bayamim ha’haim bazman hazeh.

(c) Baruch ata ado-noi E-lokainu melech ha’olam, shehechiyanu v’kiyimanu v’higiyanu lazman hazeh.

3. We light the Menorah as soon as possible after 5:13 PM, which is 30 minutes after sunset this year.  (All times given are for San Diego, CA, USA)

4. The light must last for at least 30 minutes or at least till 5:43 PM whichever is later.

5. On Friday night of Chanukah (Dec 11 & Dec 18), we light the Menorah right before we light Shabbos candles (4:25 PM & 4:27PM). The Chanukah candles should last till at least  5:43 PM & 5:45PM.

6. On Saturday night (Dec 12) we light Chanukah candles after 5:25 PM, which is 42 minutes after sunset this year. Some light Chanuka candles before making havdala, some light  havdala before Chanukah candles; but, neither may be done before 5:25 PM.

7. The candles in the menorah should be in a straight horizontal line. The shamash may not be in a straight line with the rest of the candles. We place the Menorah in the window  and place the candles to our right. We light the newest candle first.

8. It is customary to eat foods made in oil (latkes, jelly doughnuts), since the miracle occurred with oil. It is customary though not obligatory to eat festive meals on Chanukah.

9. Guests in a hotel/motel should light in their room.

10. On all eight days of Chanukah, complete Hallel is recited. Al Hanisim is inserted in shmoneh esrei and bircas hamazon.

11. Everyone in the family lights their own Menorah, except a married woman whose husband lights for her. Sefardi tradition has just one menorah lit per family.

Dedicated by Tamara Ruth and Liam Piburn in honor of Shimon Yosef Piburn
Rabbi Lederman is spiritual leader of Congregation Kehillas Torah in San Diego

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