Mrs, Smiles - Chanuka: Light of Clarity 5771/2010

Rav Schwadron, the Maggid of Yerushalayim, presents several questions in relation to the mitzvoth and celebration of Chanukah based on the Al Hanisim liturgy. Since the essence of the observance of Chanukah is giving praise and thanks to Hakodosh Boruch Hu, and we thank Hashem for our deliverance, it seems strange to thank Him for the war itself, in addition to the salvation and victory. It would seem logical to assume that gratitude for the war would be subsumed under the generalization of “deliverance”. Further, since we did indeed experience a physical salvation from Greek tyranny, why did our Sages not mandate a festive meal, a seudah, the symbol of physical joy, for Chanukah?

Rav Schwadron begins his analysis and his answer by comparing the Greek strategy against Torah observance to a military war. In both, the best strategy is to postpone a direct frontal assault until the enemy has been weakened through indirect attacks. The Greeks did not begin by forbidding Torah study, or barring brit milah, Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh observances; they knew that such an egregious assault on Jewish life would mobilize the Jewish people against them. Instead, they allowed Torah study, perhaps even encouraged it. But the focus of Torah study would be as an intellectual and philosophical pursuit rather than as a means of connecting to Hashem and observing His commandments. They were going to draw us away from “Your” Torah rather than from Torah in general. In a similar vein, the Greeks did not dispose of the purified oil; they merely contaminated it, made it impure. Light your menorah in your Temple, but keep sanctity out of the process. The learned among the assimilated Jews agreed. According to halacha, they argued, it would have been permissible for congregational needs to light the menorah, even in the Beis Hamikdosh, with impure oil. Extending that philosophical analysis, the Greeks further argued that if one could sacrifice an animal in the Beis Hamikdosh, a pig was not different from an ox and the Greeks therefore sacrificed a pig on God’s altar. If everything was important only in the physical sense, then indeed there was no difference between a pig and an ox. The strategy of the Greeks worked, and indeed many Jews assimilated. While they retained the outer trappings of Judaism, the spiritual core and cleaving to Hashem was gone.

The Chashmonaim recognized the danger within the Greek strategy. They knew they had to step in at the top of the slippery slope and stop the slide into spiritual oblivion before it gained further momentum. They understood that Torah observance must include an emotional component to avoid being mere sophistry. And so the Chashmonaim girded themselves for battle not to retain the outer trappings of Torah and mitzvoth but to retain its heart, the purity of its soul. They fought the battle for the soul of Judaism. When the physical war was over, they dedicated themselves to reestablishing the spiritual essence of the Beis Hamikdosh and the mitzvah of lighting the menorah. Under these circumstances, impure oil, although halachically permissible, would not be appropriate; only pure, untainted oil would be acceptable. It is for the stirrings within the souls of the Chashmonaim, the war for the spirit and our connection to Hakodosh Boruch Hu that we praise Hashem even more than for the physical victory over the Greek armies. With the focus of the holiday being the spiritual salvation, our Sages did not mandate a festive meal, a physical celebration for a physical victory.

As for the candles themselves, although we have a mitzvah to light candles on Chanukah, except for the blessing over the lighting itself, there is no mention of this mitzvah in our Chanukah liturgy. The candles and the miracle of the oil remain the symbol of the actual struggle and the outward, physical manifestation of our inner gratitude, ”For the candle of God is the soul of man.” As the flame is always searching for the last drop of fuel to keep it continually striving upward, so did the Chashmonaim draw on every last bit of their inner strength to fight the onslaught of assimilation into Greek culture. So must we today, as we light the Chanukah candles, continuously draw on our inner strength to combat the encroachment of the mores of western culture. As the Saba of Naharvodok declared, “ I never think am I able to do something, but rather must  I do it. For if I must do it, then I am truly able to do it,” and by such resolve was able to accomplish many great things in the face of tremendous hardships.

Rabbi Dov Yoffe builds on this concept in Leovdecha b”Emes – Chanukah. When we light our Chanukah candles and ponder the miracle of the oil and the miracle of the victory, we realize that nothing is impossible if Hashem so wills it. We must keep this thought in mind as we go about our day to day lives, for if I believe Hashem is always beside me, we take nothing for granted and nothing remains impossible, and there is no ceiling to my spiritual growth. Chanukah becomes a gentle wake up call to Hashem’s omnipotence and omnipresence in our lives, much as Rosh Hashanah is the loud alarm wake up call to awareness of His presence.

The Tolne Rebbe takes a somewhat different approach, based on the work of the Sefas Emes. He maintains that it is specifically the darkness of our troubles, of our daily battles, for which we must thank Hashem, for it is only through these dark times that we learn to recognize and appreciate the salvation provided by God’s presence. When we realize we are always in Hashem’s presence, we are filled with joy and are aroused to thank Hakodosh Boruch Hu for all the chessed He shows us, even for the struggles and challenges, for they bring us closer to Him.

In fact, explains the Netivot Shalom, all gratitude must have its basis in joy. He cites both Psalm 100, “A Psalm of Thanksgiving, … serve Hashem with gladness, come before Him with joyous song,” and the Psalm for the dedication of the Beis Hamikdosh itself, as King David foresaw it, (Psalm 30) which contains the acronym for simcha, joy, in its first four words, “Mizmor SHir CHanukas Habayis …” as proof of the presence of joy in the Chanukah celebration, in the rededication of the Temple as it was in its original dedication. The Chanukah lights are a present day reflection of the lights in the menorah of the Beis Hamikdosh which were themselves a reflection of the primordial, hidden light of creation.  As Hashem’s presence was palpable in the Beis Hamikdosh, so too should we sense His presence throughout Chanukah, especially on the eighth day. As the Beis Hamikdosh was the place for thanking Hashem and singing His praises, says the Sifsei Chaim, so too do the days that reflect the light of the original menorah in the light of our Chanukah menorahs offer us an expanded opportunity to thank and praise the Almighty.

The Greeks wanted to silence this song, so sever our connection to the Creator of all. The Chashmonaim would not let the fire of God within their souls and within the souls of Bnei Yisroel be extinguished. They strove and fought to keep that holy flame alive. That light, hidden from the days of creation, revealed in the Beis Hamikdosh, reflected in the light of the Chanukah menorah, will again be fully revealed in the days of Moshiach when all will again recognize Hashem with the clarity of absolute knowledge. At that time, says Rav Reiss, the yetzer hora will no longer have any power and the battle against the Greeks and other assimilating forces will no longer need to be waged. We will always constantly thank Hashem and sing His praises, as we were always meant to do. We will IY”H again dedicate a pure holy temple in His Name and the kohein gadol will light that menorah as Aharon lit the original. May it be so speedily, in our days.

Summary by Channie Koplowitz Stein

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