The Eternal Flame


rabbi-pinchos-lipschutzBy Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

As the joyous days of Chanukah are upon us, we should contemplate what it is that we are celebrating anwhy Chanukah is such a momentous period that has lasted throughout the ages, while holidays which were declared to commemorate other miracles have been forgotten [Gemara Rosh Hashanah 19b].

In truth, during the period of the Chashmonaim, Klal Yisroel experienced many miracles which we celebrate during the eight days of Chanukah. As the Rambam (Hilchos Chanukah 3:1) states, when the Yevanim ruled over Am Yisroel during the period of the second Bais Hamikdosh, they enacted many evil decrees to prevent the Jewish people from observing the Torah and fulfilling mitzvos. They stole their money, defiled their children, broke into the Bais Hamikdosh and profaned the holy. They tortured the Jews terribly, until Hashem had mercy on His children and saved them from the clutches of the evil Yevanim. The children of the Chashmonaim, the kohanim gedolim, battled the Yevanim, defeated them and rescued the Jews.

The Chashmonaim reestablished the Jewish kingdom and ruled for 200 years until the second Bais Hamikdosh was tragically destroyed.

When the Chashmonaim took back the Bais Hamikdosh and purified it, they rededicated it with a celebration, they rebuilt the mizbei’ach (Avodah Zarah 52), and they held an eight-day Yimei Hamiluim celebration (Meshech Chochmah, Beha’aloscha 10:10; Darkei Moshe 670, 1). They relit the menorah with oil miraculously found in a pure flask and watched it burn for the eight days of the miluim.

The observance of Chanukah, which celebrates the chanukas haMikdosh, evolves completely around the miracle of the pach shemen, to the exclusion of the other miracles that took place at that time. Why?

The Gemara in Maseches Shabbos (21b) asks, “Mai Chanukah?” Rashi explains that the Gemara is querying for which of the many miracles that transpired at the time of the neis Chanukah was the Yom Tov established by Chazal. The Gemara answers that the Yevanim defiled all the oil in the Bais Hamikdosh, and when the Chashmonaim defeated the Greeks, they found only one flask of oil possessing the seal of the Kohein Gadol. They poured the oil into the menorah, and although there was only enough oil to burn for one day, it miraculously burned for eight. To commemorate this miracle, Chazal established an eight-day Yom Tov of Hallel and hoda’ah.

The Rambam apparently follows this interpretation of the underpinning of the holiday of Chanukah. The tefillah of Al Hanissim that we recite on Chanukah also follows this approach. This supplemental prayer, recited during Shemonah Esrei and Birkas Hamazon, mentions the miracles that took place during the battles with the Yevanim and concentrates on the consecration of the Bais Hamikdosh through the lighting of the menorah.  The rebuilding of the mizbeiach and the Yemei Hamiluim celebration are conspicuously omitted from Al Hanissim.

The Ramban, in Parshas Beha’aloscha, shares an oft-quoted explanation of the juxtaposition of Parshas Beha’aloscha and the parsha of the chanukas hanesiim in the Mishkon. Rashi explains that Aharon Hakohein was upset that neither he nor his shevet had a share in the dedication of the Mishkon in the midbar. Hashem told him that his share was greater than those of the nesiim who participated in the chanukas haMishkon, because he prepared and lit the menorah each morning and evening.

The Ramban adds that the consolation was that the consecration of the second Bais Hamikdosh was performed by the offspring of Aharon through the lighting of the neiros of the menorah by the Chashmonai Kohein Gadol and his children.

This is difficult to understand. How was it a consolation for Aharon that his grandchildren would light neiros during a future chanukas haMikdosh? He was upset because neither he nor his shevet had any role in the chanukas haMishkon in the midbar. How does an assurance of his descendants’ involvement in a later event allay his disappointment?

An answer to this question can perhaps be gleaned from the words of the Ramchal in Derech Hashem (4:7), where he writes that on every Yom Tov, the Divine light which had been lit on the date which the Yom Tov commemorates burns again. The hashpa’ah which empowered the tikkun of the world that we celebrate on the particular Yom Tov exists once again on the date of the Yom Tov, even many years later.

With this we can understand that on Chanukah we don’t merely commemorate a miracle or event that occurred two thousand years ago. On these days, as we light the menorahs in our homes, we also celebrate the fact that the tikkun which was brought about by the Chashmonaim in their day is once again empowered in ours.

Perhaps it is this concept that consoled Aharon Hakohein. Hakadosh Boruch Hu explained to Aharon that the tikkun which he brought about every day through his kindling of the menorah in the Mishkon would be apparent and reinstituted in the second Bais Hamikdosh when his offspring would light the menorah after vanquishing the enemies of the Jewish people. That same koach which Aharon brought into the briah and was handed down to his offspring would also manifest itself every year on Chanukah as Jews around the world light the menorah, until the coming of Moshiach.

Aharon was consoled when he recognized that his shlichus in the briah would carry on eternally and wouldn’t end with the celebration of the chanukas haMishkon. The contribution of the nesiim had an expiration date. Aharon’s did not. It is eternal. It remains vibrant to this very day.

Though there were many miracles performed on behalf of the Chashmonaim during their battle with the Yevanim, and although there was a chanukas haMikdosh akin to the chanukas haMishkon, the tikkun that we celebrate is the one which heralds back to Aharon Hakohein. Therefore, in our celebration of Chanukah and our commemoration of those miraculous days, we feature and concentrate on the miracles pertaining to the finding and lighting of the pure crucible of shemen zayis that had the seal of the Kohein Gadol.

Aharon Hakohein, through his dedication to the Mishkon and the kedushah implanted in Am Yisroel, instilled in the Jewish nation the ability to bring about holiness and spiritual light until our day in the Diaspora.

When we light the menorah, we are not simply performing a mundane act of striking a match and causing a wick to suck oil and give off light. We are proclaiming that the tikkun habriah introduced by Aharon Hakohein back in the midbar was perpetuated in the Botei Mikdosh and can be present even in our times of golus and choshech if we dedicate ourselves properly to the mission of kedushah.

Much the same, Chazal make a point of informing us that the pach shemen was certified as pure by the Kohein Gadol, in order to teach us that to tap into the koach which manifests itself during these days we must maintain purity of purpose and action. We cannot expect to be vehicles of light in the darkness of the exile if our souls and bodies are nourished by impure and improper substances of sustenance.

Our act of kindling the menorah is part of the consolation of Aharon, because through our lighting, we demonstrate that we have purified ourselves in order to bring about holiness in this world. We show that we are prepared to light up the darkness of the exile with the light of holiness. We demonstrate our fidelity to the Torah which Aharon and his grandchildren, the Chashmonaim, gave their lives for. We are proving that we are prepared to do what we must to bring about the tikkun hashaleim, when the ohr haganuz vahashaleim will light up the world bevias Moshiach Tzidkeinu, bekarov. May it take place speedily, in our day. Amein.

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  1. It is fascinating how you build an entire religion and holiday based upon a Midrash. By not focusing on Pshat you missed the entire point of the Chanukah experience. When the mishkan was dedicated there was an all consuming fire that came out of the heavans which was a giluy shchinah
    and showed clal yisroel that the shchinah resided in the mishkan.
    When Shlomo dedicated the 1st Beit Hamikdash, a Cloud descended from heavan and filled the entire beit hamikdash. This event served as proof of HKB”Hs presence and was a giluy Shchinah.
    When the 2nd Beit Hamikdash was dedicated such an eventnever occured. Primarily because clal yisrael did not really care to be moser nefesh for the Beit Hamikdash.
    When the Chashmonaim led the revolt against the Yevonim, they were truly moser nefesh. As such they were earned so evidence of G-d’s presence in the Beit Hamikdash. Remember there was no longer any nevuah or open miracles. The Nes of the Pach Hashemen was migaleh G-d’s presence and served to sanctify the halls of the second beit hamikdosh.

    So this holiday is more about mesirat nefesh that earns the miracles.