1.

During the entire Chanukah, three times a day, we add a special prayer in the Shemoneh Esrei known as Al hanisim. In addition when we eat a meal that requires Bircat Hamazon — Grace after Meal — we include the prayer, too. In it we speak of the great miracles Hashem performed on behalf of the Jewish people during the time of Antiochus and the Greeks. We speak about the fact that Hashem handed over the mighty in the hand of the weak and the strong in the hand of few, etc. Then we say “for Yourself you have made a great name and a great redemption for your people.” We conclude with saying “v’achar kach ba’u banecha — and after that, your children came to the Beit Hamikdash and purified your Sanctuary, etc.”

This prayer is most appropriate as it offers a full description of the battles and victory that took place in the days of the Hasmoneans. But there is a question that begs clarification.

Why did the Rabbis who authored this prayer include the two words “v’achar kach,” — “and after that” — which seem to be superfluous? It could have just said “u’ba’u” — “and they came.”

I once heard an interesting thought on this from my friend and colleague, Rabbi Yaakov Yehudah (J.J.) z”l Hecht, (which he also printed in his book “Brimstone and Fire).

For a moment let us picture the situation: We find a mighty army ready to do battle with the people of Israel, who are absolutely unprepared militarily. They possess neither the numbers nor the arms to prevail against the enemy. We can imagine what took place when a man left his home to go to the battlefront, knowing his side was outnumbered and unprepared to win the war. His family, of course, is broken-hearted. His wife, children, and in many cases brothers and sisters bid farewell to the young man with trepidation, not knowing whether or not they will see him alive again.

Finally the battle takes place and a miracle occurs. The tide is turned. Instead of the many being victorious over the few, the mighty over the weak, it is the other way around. Matityahu’s sons and the Hasmonean armies are victorious and win the war. Now, it stands to reason that the first reaction from the soldiers should be to immediately rush back home and tell their families that they are alive, safe and sound.

However, it wasn’t so. After winning the war, these men first went to the Holy Temple to rid it of impurities, re-establish its sanctity, and try to bring back the G‑dly light of the Menorah. Therefore, our Rabbis tell us “v’achar kach” — “and after that” — i.e. after it was over — they did not run home to their families and bring them the good tidings. No, they first went to the Holy Temple, for they knew that winning a physical battle wasn’t everything. They felt that until the house of Hashem was put in order, their victory was not complete. Our Rabbis wanted to impress upon us that these men who went out to battle realized that the greatest accomplishment would be to put the House of Hashem back in order. And this was the first obligation they proceeded to fulfill immediately after claiming victory.

My dear Bar Mitzvah, for months you have been preparing for this milestone. You studied to be able to read the Torah portion in public. You memorized a maamar — Chassidic discourse — you delivered a pilpul — Talmudic dissertation — and we heard from you a speech in honor of the occasion. You excelled in all your undertakings and made your family proud of you. Now comes the great question “v’achar kach” — “and after this” — what follows, what is next?

For many American Bar Mitzvah boys, unfortunately, there is no follow up.

There is a joke that I once heard about a number of shuls in a Jewish neighborhood that had a problem with mice infestation, which the exterminators failed to clean up. The Rabbis called a meeting of their colleagues to discuss the problem. One Rabbi came in very happily and told the assembled “In my shul we no longer have the problem.” Surprised, all asked him, “How did you do it”? He smiled and said “I called them all to a meeting and made them a Bar Mitzvah, so they no longer come to shul.”

As funny as this may sound, this is the sad fact with many American Bar Mitzvah boys. Unfortunately, there is no “v’achar kach” — “and after this.”

For you, however, my dear Bar Mitzvah, there is a “v’achar kach” — and that is to go to the holy Torah sanctuaries of the Yeshivah and Beit Midrash and immerse yourself in diligent and assiduous Torah study. Your goal should be to achieve the level that the Rebbe set out for you with his berachah, to become a Chassid, yirei ShamayimG‑d fearing Jew — and a lamdan — a Torah scholar.