Beit Midrash

  • Shabbat and Holidays
  • Laws of Hanukkah
To dedicate this lesson
At the Shabbat Table

Burning Passion

How did Yisrael Cohen light the menorah during the holocaust in Auschwitz?


Rabbi Daniel Kirsch

Kislev 20 5781
"Grandpa, what’s this spoon doing over here?"
Yisrael looked up suddenly from the box that he had been going through. The attic storage area had been neglected for too long. His grandson, Ephraim, had been more than happy to help out his beloved grandfather. They had spent a cozy afternoon together, sorting and chatting pleasantly. Ephraim’s discovery of the spoon, however, had caught Yisrael by surprise.
"Ephraim," Yisrael began. "If it’s OK with you, I think we should take a little break. Let’s go into the dining room. You can take the spoon with you."
Yisrael sat down slowly, and closed his eyes. So many memories from one little spoon. "Ephraim, it may not look like much, but the spoon that you’re holding is worth more than any piece of silverware you’ll find in the world.
"When I was transferred out of Auschwitz, I managed to take this spoon with me. It was much more than a way to eat the watery soup that we were given. It was a way of maintaining a sense of humanity. I was assigned the task of installing lighting in the camp. Because I now had access to tools, I was able to fashion my spoon to help me even more. I formed the handle of the spoon into a sort of knife. After that, I was able to help my bunkmates divide the chunks of bread that we were given into even pieces, so that everyone would receive an equal amount.
"It was when Chanuka came, though, that my spoon took on a whole new significance. A bunch of inmates decided that, come what may, we needed to light a menorah! It was just a matter of how. One man donated a piece of margarine, to serve as fuel. A number of us unraveled a few strands of our uniforms to form wicks. What would we use for a menorah, though?
"I delicately handed my precious spoon to the group. One man recited the blessings and lit the wick. The glow that emerged from that spoon-and-margarine menorah merged with the glowing faith, the burning passion, which the accursed Nazis could never extinguish from our hearts."
As Yisrael looked at his grandson once again, he saw that Ephraim’s tear streaked face mirrored his own. The silence that passed between them spoke volumes.
"Grandpa," Ephraim finally spoke. "Chanuka is coming soon. Can we use your spoon to light, the first night of Chanuka? It looks like it should hold enough oil to burn for the half hour minimum amount of time necessary."
"Are you sure, Ephraim?" Yisrael gasped. "You have a beautiful menorah to light with! Is it appropriate to use this spoon, instead?"
Answer of Rabbi Avigdor Nebenzahl, shlita:
Lighting with the spoon that Yisrael used as a menorah during the Holocaust would be a very special way to beautify the mitzva.
A similar story is told about the rabbi of Levov, Rabbi David Segal, known as the Ta"z. The Ta"z had a tallit which was very old and worn out. Rather than purchasing a new tallit, the Ta"z chose to continue using his old one, because it was with this tallit that he had prayed many heartfelt prayers.
Similarly, in our case, despite the fact that the spoon is seemingly less beautiful than a standard menorah, the superhuman self-sacrifice and dedication of the men who lit it during the Holocaust gave the spoon much more beauty.
(This answer applies only on the first night of Chanuka, when only one candle is lit. On the remaining nights of Chanuka, Ephraim should use his regular menorah.)
In summary: Ephraim should use his grandfather’s spoon "menorah," the first night of Chanuka.
(This story is based on an article published on, adapted from the book Destined to Survive by I. I. Cohen.)

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