By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
The Chofetz Chaim foretold that before Moshiach’s arrival, there would be a few resolute individuals who would fight lonely battles. He said that while they might be few, they would be proud and effective.
Every individual has the ability to grasp an ideal and fight for it. We all have a singular mission in life, and if we are true to our core, we can summon the strength to realize and accomplish it. We must never lose sight of what our ultimate goal is, despite all the noise and static seeking to steal our attention. Challenges confront us, but we possess the ability to surmount them.
It is as true today as it was thousands of years ago, when the Chashmonaim confronted the masses to fight with dignity and pride in defense of Torah and mesorah.
On Chanukah, we celebrate the Chashmonaim and their mesirus nefesh for kedusha. The light source of the nation was blocked, and they rose to throw off the forces of darkness. They were the me’atim, the tzaddikim, the tehorim, the people who performed Hashem’s service in the Bais Hamikdosh and in the bais medrash.
We see wrongs in our world and are told that there is nothing we can do about them. Yet, if you look around, you will find many people who overcame odds, building Torah where no one thought it was possible, restoring lives others had given up on, and fighting abuse that people thought was part of life. We see teachers touching souls and impacting them forever. We see righteous men and women not taking no for an answer, standing up to an apathetic society, and awakening people’s consciences. We see people rallying to fight for those who have been wronged. We see people helping others hit by the pandemic and in need of support.
As we learn the story and halachos of Chanukah, we should recognize their relevance to us and our daily lives. The inspiration is there for those who seek it. If each of us would internalize the lesson of the Chashmonaim, we would be so much better for it.
People can wallow in self-pity, upset with their situation and worried about the future, or they can adapt the hopeful message of Chanukah to their lives. They will realize they don’t have to be down and can lift themselves up.
Some look around and see Covid lurking everywhere and fret, while others see it ending soon with vaccines developed in record time allowing the world to return to normal within a few months, hopefully.
The same situation can be viewed negatively and positively. To be happy and to be productive and accomplished, we need to be forward thinking, concentrating our focus on the positive, while being mindful of the negatives.
On Chanukah we celebrate that oil from a tiny flask burned longer than physically possible. A small amount of light overcame the darkness which overtook the Jewish people. The oil lasting longer than one day signifies that if you expend the effort and work b’mesirus nefesh, physical rules will not apply.
It is because of the mesirus nefesh of survivors that Torah and Yiddishkeit are stronger now than ever before. It is because of the dedication they instilled in their children and followers that we can publicly light the menorah with pride and without fear. There was a time not long ago when people were forced to light their menorah behind shuttered windows, lest the neighbors see and cause a very bloody commotion. Thankfully, today it is no longer dangerous to light the menorah where it is visible from the street.
The Rokeiach writes that the 36 lights that we light on Chanukah correspond to the 36 hours during which the great light, the ohr haganuz, shone in the world before Hashem hid it. That light is evident on Chanukah every year. When the world was created, a bright light shone. After man sinned, Hashem removed and hid that light. During the eight days of Chanukah, the brightness of the ohr haganuz, the ever-present hidden light, becomes evident once again, as the cover is removed for eight days. During these eight days, we have the ability to perceive things that most people cannot perceive the entire year.
Perhaps the lights show us who we are and what we are capable of becoming, mirroring the potential that lies hidden from view. The biggest impediment to emunah and bitachon and to improving ourselves is the mistaken belief that we are frozen in our level of ability and unable to raise ourselves and improve.
We fail to appreciate the possibilities and powers that each new day presents. We don’t realize that every day presents the opportunity to recreate ourselves and become a better, happier, more productive person.
Chanukah is a holiday of renewal. At its heart is the message portrayed through the Chashmonaim that a person can be a mechadeish and start over anytime. After many years of persecution, the Jewish people in their day became apathetic and didn’t believe that they had what it would take to fight back and earn their freedom. The Chashmonaim decided that they and their people had suffered enough at the hands of the Yevonim and, though they were few and physically weak, went to war to restore the ability to study Torah and perform mitzvos.
The Chanukah miracle transpired during the era of the second Bais Hamikdosh. Although the people had acclimated to the Greeks and accepted their leadership and way of life, the Chashmonaim sought to convince them that they were capable of improving themselves and their situation. The majority of the Jews had become Hellenized and comfortable with living the life of the advanced Greeks. They mocked the people who remained loyal to traditional observance. With their victory over the Greeks, the Chashomoim motivated the assimilated people who had been lost to their heritage to return to the practices of their grandparents and realize that they could recreate their lives and regain control of their own destiny.
The word Chanukah is rooted in the Hebrew word chinuch, which means inauguration. Chanukah is a time of chinuch, not only because of the chanukas haMikdosh, but also because the Chashmonaim were mechaneich the majority of the generation. The original kiruv organization, they brought the message of Torah Shebaal Peh to the people, motivating and educating them to undertake new beginnings and live a better, less hedonistic life centered around physical pleasures.
We are confronted by challenges. We have goals that we wish we could attain, but they seem distant and too difficult. We just need to recognize that we have the abilities and to believe in them and that they were given to us by Hashem. Once we know that, we can acquire the strength needed to overcome anything and attain any goal.
We should know that there is nothing as new as fresh resolve and nothing as promising and exciting as a new attitude. And that is what we celebrate on Chanukah: the opportunity to discover latent gifts within ourselves. Through contemplating them and seeing them for the first time, we allow them to shine.
We have to tap into the message of these days and their power. We can find a new light. We can find chiddush within ourselves. We can bring newness into our lives.
Things happen and we think we understand what is going on. The Medrash in this week’s parsha (Vayeishev 80:1) states that at the time the brothers were selling Yosef into slavery, Yosef was mourning, Reuvein was mourning, Yaakov was mourning, Yehudah was looking for a wife, and Hashem was working on creating the light of Moshiach. What we believe is a time for mourning, when we only see sadness, darkness and loneliness, can in essence be a step in the birth and revelation of Moshiach.
Even when a believer grieves, he knows that all is not lost and that the light of Moshiach is gathering fuel for its eternal fire.
Many people wish things would turn out differently for them. They have a flame inside of them, but it lies hidden and too often it is dormant.
They don’t believe that they have the ability to peel away that which covers the light. They don’t believe that they have the strength and stamina to improve themselves and their situation.
Chanukah is the time when the inner light is revealed in the world, in Torah, and hopefully within ourselves.
The Yevonim sought to separate the Jews from their observance of Torah. They targeted their spirituality and sought to convert them to lives of secular accomplishment and hedonistic luxury which they had introduced to the world. They were content to let the Jews live in peace. Their beef wasn’t with the Jews as people. It was with their fidelity to Torah teachings and behavior.
To accomplish their goal, they enacted laws against Shabbos, bris milah and Rosh Chodesh, and succeeded in spreading their culture throughout Eretz Yisroel. While many resisted the attempted indoctrination and forfeiture of tradition, many more – those referred to as Misyavnim – became Hellenized. They joined the campaign against their brethren who remained loyal to Torah, actively seeking to bring them over to an enlightened civilization.
No doubt they used Hellenist literature to bolster their arguments. Marshaling their modern-day intellectual proofs, the enlightened ones sought to undermine the old-fashioned beliefs and practices of the backward Jews who clung to their traditional ways. They bombarded the faithful with theories and images intended to dislodge them from their firm grasp of the Tree of Life.
“We are not out to destroy you or force you to engage in harmful conduct. On the contrary, we’re interested only in improving your lives,” the Misyavnim taunted them.
“Don’t you understand that if you would abandon bris milah as it was practiced for thousands of years, your children would be healthier?” the campaign went.
After all, who should know better than the educated, advanced Greeks who brought civilization to the European world. No doubt they began their campaign by attacking mitzvos they didn’t like. Then they brought testimony from prominent Misyavnim to prove their contentions. They claimed that it was only because they cared about the Jews and their children that they sought to ban the practices.
Matisyahu Kohein Gadol decided that it had gone far enough and that he would do everything in his power to halt Jewish subjugation to the Greek gods and philosophies. Armed with the mission of shevet Levi to be shomrei mishmeres hakodesh and the knowledge that Hashem sides with those who fight battles lemaan Hashem without personal agendas, Matisyahu rallied his brothers to his cause. The small band of faithful took on the forces of the Hellenist enlightenment.
As the victories of the traditionalist forces mounted, Misyavnim began returning to their roots. Eventually, almost all the Jews were brought back to rabbinic Torah Judaism.
Yovon is referred to in the Medrash as a force of darkness. The Medrash states that the posuk of “Choshech al p’nei sehom” refers to Yovon. It alludes to Greek mythology, philosophy, art, gymnastics, Olympics – everything perceived by the world as representing advancements in mankind’s so-called evolution from pre-historic times.
The miraculous military victory over Yovon is a dramatic example of how the laws of nature are suspended when singular dedicated souls join together and enable light to triumph over darkness. That reversal of the natural order in their day was made possible by the great acts of courage and heroism carried out by one person, Matisyahu, and his tiny group of followers.
That victory was thus part and parcel of the same dynamic that brought about the miracle of the pach shemen. A flask of oil, which according to its physical and chemical attributes can only burn for one day, can last for as long as is necessary, just as the forces of good, though outmatched by evil in terms of numbers and strength, can thoroughly eviscerate the forces of darkness.
At times, when attempting to solve problems, we are told that we cannot do this or that, or that what we are proposing cannot work. Yet, we see people who are not limited by logic or the laws of nature. They tread where no one has dared step before and they succeed where lesser people vowed that it was impossible.
When we celebrate the miracle of Chanukah by kindling lights in our doorways and on our windowsills facing the street, we are sending out a message of hope to all. This is why the mitzvah is to light the menorah at sundown, as darkness spreads across the city. We are saying through our actions that people need not become depressed when things appear to be bleak and dark, as there is always room for hope that the light can be brought back. Those who heed the message of optimism and work towards a positive goal with emunah and bitachon can and do succeed.
That is why the time of lighting the menorah is “ad shetichleh regel min hashuk,” as long as there are people in the public thoroughfare.
As long as people are out there, we need to remind them of the Chanukah miracle. We need to prominently remind them not to yield to the temptations of darkness.
Don’t surrender to defeatism, we call out to them. Don’t regard what you do as being of minor consequence. Remember that Matisyahu started out as one lonely man of faith with all the forces of the world stacked against him. Because he did not let defeatism overtake him, the Yevonim and Misyavnim were conquered and the forces of good prevailed.
We gather our family around us and light the menorah to proclaim to the world that Hashem felled the mighty, the many and the evil. They were demolished by the weak and the few, the just and the holy.
Hashem had rachmonus on us and fought our battles, causing the zeidim to fall into the hands of the oskei Torah. We sing songs of thanksgiving and Hallel, and we remind ourselves that in our day as well, the Yevonim, in other guises, continually attempt to ensnare us.
We have to be ever vigilant, for if we falter, the forces of Hellenism are waiting to ambush us. They attack upon us with glib propaganda which weakens traditional sensitivities and practices.
Yevonim use all manner of media – social and mainstream – to overwhelm us and cause us to slip in Torah observance. The lights of the menorah proclaim to us to seek out the people who carry the flag of Torah and the Matisyahu ben Yochanan Kohein Gadols of our day and rally around them.
May the message of Chanukah provide us with the resolve to use our abilities to inject greater purpose into our lives and help light up with world with goodness and kindness.