Chanuka Today

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Rabbi Asher Bermatz


The Gemara in Shabbos (21b) states: “What is the reason of Chanukah? The Rabanan taught: On the twenty-fifth of Kislev, the eight days of Chanukah begin, on which hespedim and fasting are forbidden. For when the Yevanim entered the Heichal, they defiled all the oil and when the Chashmonaim defeated them, they searched and found only one pach shemen which still had the seal of the Kohen Gadol, but it contained enough for only one day’s lighting. Yet a neis happened and they lit the Menorah with it for eight days, the following year these days were made into a Yom Tov with Hallel and Hodaah.”

We say Hallel during Chanukah “because of the neis,“ in the words of the Gemara in Eruchin (10b). However, it seems that the reference is not to the neis of the pach shemen alone, because even for much greater nisim than that, we don’t find a chiyuv to say Hallel.

And besides, it is only appropriate to say Hallel for a neis that brought from slavery to freedom, or from death to life as its says in the gemara in Megilla (14a) and also in Pesachim (117a)  “For every trouble that it should not fall upon the Jewish people, and for when they are saved, they say it about their redemption. “

Therefore we must say, that the point of saying Hallel is mainly about the redemption from the heavy burden of the wicked Greek empire. And so we see that in Al Hanissim, we emphasise the story of victory in the war and the neis of the pach shemen is only mentioned at the end “And they lit lamps in the court of your sanctuary.”

If so, we need to ask, why did they designate saying Hallel for the redemption from the Greek empire specifically for these days, the days of Chanukas HaMenorah & Chanukas Hamizbeach?  After all, Megillas Ta’anis is full of dates that celebrate the victories of the Chashmonaim over the Yevanim, throughout the whole year?

If you want to suggest that it was because the 25th Kislev is when they rested from fighting their enemies and the war ended, as it sounds from the Al Hanisim ”Vachar Kach Bau Banecha…”, it’s simply not true, as it is well known from the books of the Chashmonaim and Josephus, that even after the conquering of Yerushalayim and the Chanukas Hamizbeach, the presence of Yevanim in Eretz Yisroel did not cease, and there were more wars for many years.

It seems that we can learn from this, that the main event was not the physical victory, or the political independence, but rather the return to Hashem’s Torah and to the Beis Hamikdash. Especially since the Greek empire came to destroy us not with the killing and destruction of our bodies, but with the destruction of our souls: “Lihaskicham Torahsecha.”

Indeed, there were wars before and after, but the turning point was considered to be the moment of the restoration of the Beis Hamikdash. That was why the reading of Hallel was set for these days.

They based it on the neis of the pach shemen that happened to them because it is a symbol of this idea of Ruchniyus. For the Menorah has a flame, something that is not tangible, that is attached to the oil and wick, which is the main component, similar to the Neshama which is connected to the body. That is why the Neshama of man is called a lamp, and the Torah is called a lamp, and the Menorah is a symbol of the Torah and it’s wisdom, as is well known.

We must add that this place of spirituality is in the Beis Hamikdash, in which the Neshama of Klal Yisroel, the Shechina, dwells. As the Vilna Ga’on states (in the Likkutim at the end of the Sifra D’Tzniusa, page 38): “From the time that the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed,our spirit, the crown of our heads, departed from us, and we were left with with only a body without a soul.”

According to this it seems to be quite clear, why the neis happened specifically with the Menorah, for it is “a testimonial to all who come to this world that the Shechina is resting upon Klal Yisroel,” (Shabbos 22b) through the Ner Maravis, which was constantly lit. For the Shechina and the Menorah that remained lit, both are an example of the Neshama to the body. And the same is true about the neis of Chanukah, as we have explained.

From this we can learn an important lesson for today, when we were zoche with Hashem’s kindness to the beginning of the final redemption, with the ingathering of many of Klal Yisroel to Eretz Yisroel,  the rebuilding of many of its cities & ruins and many other Nisim. Yet, we must still realise that the main point is still missing. And even though the “bones” have come together and the “sinews” have grown upon them etc, but still, “there was no breath in them,” as in the words of the Navi (Yechezkel 37:8).

All this is when the government is without Torah and the Beis Hamikdash is not standing, and we are like a body without a soul, which it too cannot possibly survive. Until the Nevuah will be realised through us: “And I will put My spirit in you, and you shall live,” (Yechezkel 37:14).

But of course, just like with the work necessary to reach Kedusha for any individual, ”it starts with discipline and ends with receiving it as a gift,” as Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato, the Ramchal, writes in Messilas Yesharim, beginning of Chapter 26, so it is with the drawing down of the Shechina. It is our full responsibility to search and seek out, and to do as much as we possibly can, and then we will be zoche to its final completion as a gift from above.

In the same vein, Rabbi Yisrael of Shklov,  a talmid of the Vilna Gaon, writes in his letter to the Aseres Hashvatim, “we have a Kabalah from our teachers in the Yerushalmi, (Ma’aser Sheni 5:2), that the Beis Hamikdash will be rebuilt before the reinstatement of Malchus Beis Dovid.” From here he proves that there is no need to avoid making Aliyah to Eretz Yisroel due to the concern of “Shelo Yaalu B’Choma,” i.e., en masse. After all, it was obvious to him that the Beis Hamikdash must be rebuilt by Klal Yisroel before the arrival of Moshiach.

As the Chofetz Chaim writes in the Hakdama to his sefer Likutei Halachos: “and when Hashem sees that Klal Yisroel His nation is preparing themselves to know all the Halachos of the Avodah and are standing ready and waiting for when they will be fulfilled in practice, certainly He will speed up our redemption and will build the Beis Hamikdash. For since we have done our part, He will certainly do His, and return to us B’Rachamim.

This article originally appeared in the Hebrew monthly, “Kedushas Tzion” and was written by R’ Asher Bermatz, a Talmid Chacham from Yerushalayim. The “Kedushas Tzion” which is published in Eretz Yisroel, is led by R’ Yehuda Epstein Shlita and provides Mamrei Chazal & Divrei Chizuk on restoring Klal Yisroel to its ultimate calling in Eretz Yisroel, which is the unique opportunity & responsibility that has been presented to our generation.  For more info please email thekedushastzion@gmail.com

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