Chanukah: Questions and Answers
by Rabbi Hershel Solnica
The Nerot of Chanukah have a very special and hidden meaning in Talmudic sources. They are not simply lights of the Temple, and they are more than the miracle of one cask of oil that remained lit for eight days, instead of its expected one day.
Our Rabbis teach (Ateret Zekeinim): “Kol Hamoadot Yihiyu Beteilim Chutz Michanukah UPurim… Vizeh Anu Mevorchim Lehadlik Ner Shel Chanukah Moreh Gam Al Heatid…Al ‘Hamizmor Shir Leyom Hashabbat’… Leyom Shekulo Tov,” “At the time of the Messiah, all biblical holidays will be cancelled, except Chanukah and Purim…and therefore we make the blessing to light the Nerot which teaches us to look to the future…to the day where all will be good…”
The Sefat Emet (the Rebbe of Ger) commented that light usually comes at the cost of residue or ash. However, the light that was created by Hashem, Or Hamaor, is in the category of Meir Ve’eno Soref, that which is lit but leaves no residue. Therefore, Hashem hid this light for the future reward of the righteous. “Ukemo Kein Beneis DeChanukah Shehayah Doleik Beli Shemen, Af Kan Hu Bechinat Or Haganuz,” “Similarly, in the miracle of Chanukah, the Nerot stayed lit without additional oil, and this is similar to the light that is the future reward for the righteous.” This explains why our Rabbis stated that in the time of the Messiah, Chanukah will still be observed: the Nerot symbolize the light of the future.
This fits very well with the Parsha that speaks of understanding the dreams of Pharaoh’s dreams. The dreams are not simply examples of the past, but rather are signs and prophetic visions of the future. This should be a life lesson to each of us. What we face today gives us the incentive and the inspiration to succeed tomorrow.
This concept of looking to the future permeates every aspect of life. Our rabbis in Pirkei Avot extol “Haroeh Et Hanolad” one who can anticipate the future. When daily occurrences do not inspire us to grow and to learn, we are doomed to suffer from their consequences. In every respect, our daily experiences and existence must focus on the future.
I feel that an entire class of questions begs to be answered but is left out to dry! The learning of Torah scholarship must lead us to improved values. Have we started to reach such heights? Has our outstanding secular education led us to appreciate all that Hashem created? Has our knowledge given us “food for thought” in planning for life’s lecture?
When will our Torah knowledge and secular background be put together to produce a Jew with a higher level of humanity? Isn’t this the concept of Or Beli Pesolet (light without residue)? When will we appreciate the gifts of our good health, loving parents and beautiful pleasures, as God’s presence is a gift to each of us? When will we truly appreciate the love of our parents, devotion of our teachers and incredibly positive direction of our beloved Yeshiva? These questions are some of those that Chanukah begs of us to note and then to seek meaningful solutions. May we be Zocheh to realize the Kedusha (and the message) of the Nerot and to grow in our Avodat Hashem.
Yosef’s Hakarat Hatov
by Ely Winkler
When Yosef is finally released from prison, he has to fix his personal appearance before he sees Pharaoh. The Chumash records how he changes his clothes and, of particular note, shaves after his time in prison. Rashi comments that Yosef shaves out of respect for the king. But do we not already know this? Why is Rashi’s comment so necessary? In order to understand Rashi, we might recall the statement of Chazal that Yosef came out of jail to see Pharaoh on Rosh Hashanah. However, if the forefathers kept all the Mitzvot, as we know they did, how could Yosef have shaved on Yom Tov?
Rav Hershel Schachter quotes the Chatam Sofer who explains that the Avot did keep the entire Torah, but they were not completely bound to it; there were certain circumstances under which they were permitted to override it. Thus, for something obligatory such as respecting the king, Yosef was allowed to shave on Rosh Hashanah. However, why is respecting a king an obligatory event?
Rav Simcha Zisel Broyd, Rosh Yeshivat Chevron, lists a few reasons why Kavod Hamelech could be considered so important that it would allow Yosef to violate Hilchot Yom Tov before visiting Pharaoh. The first reason is that Hashem gave these human kings their kingship. Therefore, if the King of Kings chooses to give this person respect, how could we not? A second reason Kevod Hamelech is so important is that it enables us to increase our appreciation for Hashem. Since we are just Basar Vadam, we need something more than an abstract understanding to recognize what Hashem does. Thus, by giving us kings, who are physical in form, Hashem shows us, in a slight way, what He does.
This issue of Kevod Hamelech has strong ties to one’s general attitude. If one does not care about anything and makes fun of things that he should be taking seriously, he will ultimately become set in those ways and he will come to violate the entire Torah. Fortunately, the same is true the other way. If one is truly virtuous and recognizes the quality of good in everything, he will come to follow the Torah. The only way to truly make progress in life is through Hakarat Hatov, through seeing the differences between good and bad and appreciating the different levels of good. Every person has the obligation to recognize what is really great and recognize the One Who controls it all.
The Chatam Sofer’s comments regarding the importance of Kevod Hamelech seem to fit with another comment he makes. In his Teshuvot, he says that letting Mitzvot such as Purim and Chanukah, which are only Miderabanan, pass by without recognizing them would be considered negligence on a Mitzvah Mideorayta. Based on the Chatam Sofer’s comment mentioned earlier, one could say that one who overlooks Chanukah would also be ignoring everything that was learned from Yosef regarding Kevod Hamelech. If one does not take note of the miracle of Chanukah and the good that Hashem did for us during this time in history, he would be disregarding the kind of Hakarat Hatov that Yosef exemplified. Therefore, we must develop an automatic response to the good things, or else we will lose our place as true Torah students and Ovdei Hashem. -Adapted from a Shiur presented at TABC and YU by Rav Daniel Feldman
The Missing Holiday
by Moshe Zharnest
Chanukah is discussed very little in the Mishnah or Gemara. Many often ask, “Why is Chanukah mentioned so briefly throughout the Gemara when there is a whole Masechta on Purim?” To answer this question, we must first explain an issue with the Gemara.
The Gemara starts its discussion of Chanukah by asking simply, “What is Chanukah?” As Rashi explains, it is wondering what miracle we celebrate on Chanukah, and why it was originally established. But why would the Gemara ask that question at all? It is certainly not the typical kind of question the Gemara raises! The Gemara raises this question because in the times of the Amoraim, the fundamentals of Chanukah were not clear. Why were the fundamental issues pertaining to Chanukah’s origins so uncertain during the Amoraic period? One possible explanation is that Rabi Yehuda HaNassi (who authored the Mishnah) was a descendant of David (see Shabbat 56a), and we know that after the Chashmonaim defeated the Syrian-Greeks, they took the kingship over Am Yisrael, which was supposed to stay within the family of David. Since the Chashmonaim assuming the role of king was wrong (as the Ramban states in his commentary to Breishit 49:10), Rabi Yehuda HaNassi did not emphasize it, so the details regarding the Chanukah story were not so well-known during the time of the Amoraim. It is possible that because of these reasons, Chanukah does not appear often in the Mishnah or Gemara.
Another suggested answer for our original question is that even though the fundamentals were clear and Chanukah was adequately stressed, the Mishnah was written very close to Churban Bayit Sheni. Therefore, people still felt the trauma of the destruction, so they did not want to write very much about it. Not wanting to sadden people, the authors of the Mishnah and Gemara did not deal with Chanukah at length. Perhaps they also did want a repeat of the Bar Kochva rebellion at that time, which modeled itself after the Chashmonaim’s miraculous victory against the Syrian-Greeks.
Even though the Gemara devotes relatively little attention to discussing the laws of Chanukah, the Rambam did stress them in his Mishnah Torah. He writes that whoever is obligated in the law of hearing the Megillah is obligated to light Chanukah candles. He also states that Chanukah is an opportunity to praise God, and in fact one is required to sell the clothes off his back to make sure he has enough oil for the eight days. This sounds like an extreme statement, but the Maggid Mishnah explains that the Rambam gets this idea from Pesach. One must sell his clothing to make sure he has enough for the four cups of wine on Pesach. The Rambam believes that just as one must go to the extreme for that Pirsumei Nissa, so, too, one must to do so for the Pirsumei Nissa of Chanukah. Thus, even though it is hardly mentioned in the Gemara, Chanukah is an extremely important holiday. It demonstrates our praise to God, and must not be neglected! Thus we are indebted to the Rambam for restoring Chanukah to its original glorious luster.
Why Yosef and Chanukah?
by Shlomo Tanenbaum
It is well-known that Chanukah always coincides with the Parshiot that describe the Yosef episodes. Since nothing is coincidental in Torah life, we must ask: Why does Chanukah always fall out on a Parsha concerning Yosef? What is the underlying theme that connects Yosef to Chanukah? Moreover, why is Yosef the one who is singled out to go down to Mitzrayim; why could it not have been any other brother?
The threat of Torah being destroyed and removed from Am Yisrael by the Greeks and Hellenists is a major theme of Chanukah. As Al Hanisim states numerous times, the goal of our oppressors was to eradicate Torah and Talmud Torah from Jewish life. However, their efforts were unsuccessful as the Kohanim overpowered them and restored Jewish heritage, knowledge, and pride. But why did it have to be the Kohanim and not any other segment of Am Yisrael who defeated the Hellenists? (This is clearly not an insignificant fact, as Al Hanisim strongly emphasizes the role of the Kohanim in the victory.) It is because the Kohanim’s primary role is to teach Torah and proper Middot to Am Yisrael. This is evident in Parshat Vezot Haberachah from Moshe’s blessing to Shevet Levi. The Pasuk says (Devarim 33:10) that Levi will “teach laws to Yaakov and the Torah to Yisrael. They will put the Ketoret before You and the offerings on the Mizbeach.” The Pasuk first mentions teaching Torah to Israel and subsequently states that they will do the Avodah! This shows that the primary function of Shevet Levi is not to do the Avodah, but rather to teach Torah to Am Yisrael. Shevet Levi has no portion in Eretz Yisrael because they have to be spread out among all the Shevatim in order to effectively teach Torah to Am Yisrael. This may also be why by Chanukah the Menorah and not any other aspect of the Beit Hamikdash is singled out. It is because the Menorah (and light) represents Torah and Talmud Torah, as the Pasuk says in Sefer Mishlei (6:23), “Kir Ner Mitzvah ViTorah Ohr.”
However, the question still remains: what does Yosef Hatzadik have to do with Chanukah? To answer this question, we first have to understand more about Yosef Hatzadik. Chazal (see Targum Onkelos to Bereishit 37:3) tell us that Yosef was Yaakov’s brightest and most diligent pupil. Yosef absorbed more of Yaakov’s Torah than any other brother. In addition, Yosef was the greatest one among the brothers in terms of Ruchniut (spirituality). Hence, Yosef was singled out to go down to Mitzrayim because he alone would be able to resist the intense Egyptian influence upon him. Being the strongest in Talmud Torah, he was the only one among the brothers who would not be overwhelmed by the immense pressure from Egyptian culture. This explains why Chanukah almost always falls out on Parshat Mikeitz, when Yosef is raised to his illustrious position and Paroh puts great pressure on Yosef to abandon Judiasm and become an Egyptian (see Breishit 41:42-45). Yosef remained a Jew because he was dedicated to Torah, which is the most potent way to resist foreign influence.
Chazal (see Rashi to Bereishit 46:28) teach that before Yaakov went down to Mitzrayim, he sent Yehudah ahead to establish a Beit Midrash in Mitzrayim. Yaakov realized that he and his descendants were about to enter Egypt for a long time and that they would be pressured greatly to assimilate and accept Egyptian ideology and beliefs. Therefore, he sent Yehudah ahead before he moved to assure that his descendants would never stray far away from Talmud Torah and would be able to withstand the pressure and influence to assimilate.
The Greeks tried to destroy our Torah and cause us to assimilate, but the Kohanim’s Zerizut (enthusiasm) and dedication to Torah saved Am Yisrael from slipping and being swallowed by the intense pressure from Greek culture.
This is not a mere coincidence, but a valuable lesson in how to survive against open and subtle attacks on Jewish beliefs and ideology. The element that saved Yosef as well as the Jews during the second Beit Hamikdash was Talmud Torah. Chanukah means rededication, a rededication of the Mikdash and a rededication to Talmud Torah. Moreover, the idea that Talmud Torah saves Am Yisrael from assimilation is not limited just to Yosef or the Kohanim. This great principle is relevant for all periods in Am Yisrael’s history of exile, and especially nowadays. Therefore, the next time you light, think of what the candles mean and what Chanukah is all about, and rededicate yourself to Talmud Torah and Shmirat HaMitzvot.
Halacha of the Week Twentieth-century Poskim (see the opinions cited in Rav Shimon Eider’s Halachos of Chanukah) disagree as to whether Yeshiva students should light Ner Chanukah in the dormitories or in the dining hall. One is supposed to light Ner Chanukah in one’s home. However, it is difficult to decide which place is considered the students’ “home. ” Rav Moshe Feinstein believes that the dormitory is the proper place and this was the practice at Yeshivat Har Etzion when I studied there from 1981-1983. On the other hand, Rav Aharon Kotler rules that the dining room is the proper place for lighting. Rav Yehuda Amital told me that he heard Rav Schach rule that the dining room is the proper place for kindling. Rav Amital told me (in 1986) that one may rely on this view in a case when fire regulations forbid one from lighting in the dormitory. The Rama (677:1 and see Mishnah Berurah 677:12) seems to support the ruling of Rav Kotler and Rav Schach, although there is room to defend Rav Moshe’s opinion as well.
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