In Berditchev the Grand Rabbi’s lighting of the menorah was a public event. Students of Rabbi Levi Yitzchok, other great sages, and simple townsfolk would all gather to witness his devotions when he would kindle the Chanukah flames. One year, right when Rabbi Levi Yitzchok was to begin, the Rebbe (Grand Rabbi) seemed to needlessly delay. Eventually, Chatzkel the unsophisticated attendant of the Poritz (the Russian landowner) entered the room.
“Chatzkel, where are you coming from?” R. Levi Yitzchok called out.
“I just arrived from the home of the Poritz.”
“How’s the Poritz doing?” asked the Rebbe.
“Oh, life is good for him. He has expert chefs from Germany, Italy, and France who prepare for him the finest delicacies. And his table, what a table! The cutlery glitters and shines, and his plates are the finest china.” Chatzkel enthused.
“How does the Poritz sleep?” continued the Rebbe. “Wow! The Poritz sleeps well, he has it good”, gushed Chatzkel. “Rebbe, you sleep on a pile of straw. The Poritz has a mattress like the czar and a beautiful bed, with beautiful sheets, warm blankets, and soft pillows. And what a room! The floor is covered with antique Persian rugs, the walls are adorned with antique art and tapestries, and the ceiling supports the most exquisite chandeliers. Rebbe, the Poritz has it good!”
Finally, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok asked “Does the Poritz light Chanukah candles?” “Of course not,” replied Chatzkel with a laugh.
Rabbi Levi Yitzchok grew animated and shouted with fervor, “The Poritz stuffs himself with food, sleeps with feathers instead of hay? That is the good life? Without Chanukah candles!? We have it good! We have the joy of God’s Menorah!” With that, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok began to shout with delight the words of the blessings for lighting the Menorah.
Reb Levi Yitzchok’s nefesh habahamis was transformed. For him pleasure from Mitzvah observance dwarfed the physical comforts of the Poritz.
Rav Aharon Karliner’s Poritz loved sleigh riding. One summer he brought thousands of bags of sugar (a rare commodity) to simulate snow and he rode in his sled on the mounds of the confection. A Chasid once wistfully told the Rebbe about the pleasure the Poritz must experience when riding a sled in the heat of August. The Rebbe responded, “That pleasure is not nearly as powerful as the enjoyment I feel when I recite on Shabbos the prayer of “Nishmas Kol Chai Tivarech Es Shimcha Hashem Elokeinu” (“The souls of every living creature will bless your name God our Lord.”)
According to the Talmud, holidays are times when half of one’s day should be spent for oneself, engaged in physical pleasure, chetzyo lachem. The other half of the day should be dedicated to God and His service, chetzyo lahashem.