Wednesday, Feb 1, 2023

Ah Lichtigen Chanukah

On Chanukah, people wish each other in Yiddish,Ah lichtigen Chanukah,” literally translated as “Have an illuminated Chanukah.” We wonder what the explanation of that blessing is and what it refers to.

The Rambam (Hilchos Chanukah 3:1) states that when the Yevonim ruled over Am Yisroel during the period of the second Bais Hamikdosh, they enacted various laws to prevent their Jewish subjects from following the Torah, while the Yevonim defiled their children and profaned the holy. Ultimately, the children of the Chashmonaim, the kohanim gedolim, rose up to battle their tormentors. With Hashem’s mercy, the small group of dedicated warriors defeated the superpower of the day and the Jews regained their freedom.

When the Chashmonaim recaptured the Bais Hamikdosh and purified it, they rededicated it with a celebration. They rebuilt the mizbeiach (Avodah Zarah 52), and they held an eight-day Yemei Hamiluim celebration (Meshech Chochmah, Beha’aloscha 10:10; Darkei Moshe 670:1). They relit the menorah with pure oil that survived the war and watched as it miraculously fueled the menorah for the eight days of the miluim.

The Gemara in Maseches Shabbos (21b) asks, “Mai Chanukah?” Rashi explains that the Gemara is asking for which of the many miracles that occurred at the time of Chanukah was the Yom Tov established? The Gemara answers that the Yevonim desecrated all the holy oil that was kept in the Bais Hamikdosh, and when the Chashmonaim emerged victorious, 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 light 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 follows this explanation of the basis for Chanukah. The tefillah of Al Hanissim which we recite on Chanukah also follows this approach. This supplemental prayer, recited during Shemoneh Esrei and Birkas Hamazon, mentions the miracles that took place during the battles with the Yevonim 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. We wonder why.

The Ramban, in Parshas Beha’aloscha, shares the explanation of the juxtaposition of the parsha of menorah and that of the chanukas hanesi’im. Rashi explains that Aharon Hakohein was upset that neither he nor his shevet were given a role to play in the dedication of the Mishkon.

Hashem placated Aharon by telling him that his role was greater than those of the nesi’im who participated in the consecration of the Mishkon, because he prepared and lit the menorah each morning and evening, while the nesi’im’s role in the avodah was limited to just that one time.

The Ramban brings from the Megilas Setorim of Rabbeinu Nissim, who quotes the Medrash (Beha’aloscha) that Hashem told Moshe to tell Aharon not to be upset that he wasn’t included in this chanukas haMishkon, because He will perform miracles at the time of the second Bais Hamikdosh through Aharon’s grandchildren and the rededication of the Bais Hamikdosh will be through them.

Additionally, the Ramban cites the Medrash Tanchuma (Beha’aloscha) that Hakadosh Boruch Hu told Moshe to tell Aharon that the avodah of bringing korbanos, which was initiated by others, will end with the destruction of the Botei Mikdosh, but the avodah of lighting the menorah will carry on forever.

This continues until our very day, our kindling of our menorah serving as a source of consolation to Aharon.

And the question remains: How is what came many hundreds and thousands of years later a comfort to Aharon that he had nothing to do with the chanukas haMishkon?

We often cite the teaching of the Ramchal in Derech Hashem (4:7) that on every Yom Tov, the Divine light that was evident at the time of the miracle that the Yom Tov commemorates shines again. The hashpa’os that empowered the tikkun that we celebrate on each Yom Tov exist again every year on the date of the Yom Tov.

Thus, we can explain that Chanukah is not the celebration of an anniversary when something supernatural transpired years back. Rather, on these eight days, as we light the menorahs in our homes, included in the celebration is that the tikkun and Divine powers that led to the Chashmonai victory and other miracles such as the neis pach shemen are evident now and we can tap into them.

Not only that, but included in the celebration is that the superior ohr haganuz that was evident at creation and then hidden (Chagigah 12a) was shining during the victory and chanukas habayis of the Chashmonaim. The Rokeiach (Hilchos Chanukah 225) writes that that special light shines brightly on Chanukah.

Acharonim (Maharal, Bnei Yissoschor and others) write that the light of the ohr hagonuz shines from the lights of the menorah. Each time we light a ner chanukah, we are bringing more of that light into the world, and if properly tuned in, we can benefit from it.

Perhaps it is this concept that consoled Aharon. Hakadosh Boruch Hu explained to Aharon that the tikkun that 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 Divine light and power that Aharon brought into the world would be brought into the world at the time of the Second Bais Hamikdosh and caused there to be an increase in the depth of Torah study during that period. It is also manifest every year on Chanukah, as Jews around the world light the menorah.

Aharon was consoled when he recognized that his shlichus would carry on eternally. The light and the powers that he brought to this world as he lit the menorah would continue for all time. Aharon’s avodah is eternal and remains vibrant still today.

Thus, our celebration of the chanukas haMishkon and our commemoration of the wondrous miracles evident in the Chashmonai war center around 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 kedusha implanted in Am Yisroel, instilled in the Jewish nation the ability to bring about holiness and spiritual light until our time in the darkness, decadence and immorality of golus comes to an end.

Thus, the great tzaddikim and Jews who take Yiddishkeit seriously are overcome with fervor and emotion as they light the menorah, for they recognize – as we all should – that when we light the menorah, we are not just striking a match and causing a wick to absorb oil and give off light. We are proving the promise of netzach Yisroel, as Hashem promised Aharon that Jews would be lighting the menorah on Chanukah until the end of time.

On these eight days, when we light the menorah, we are empowered to bring about and benefit from the special hidden light that generally remains hidden until the coming of Moshiach.

We are also proclaiming that the tikkun habriah introduced by Aharon Hakohein back in the midbar was perpetuated in the Botei Mikdosh and is reintroduced every year on Chanukah. If we dedicate ourselves properly to the mission of kedusha and taharah, we can obtain the ability to shine and see through the darkness, just as the Jews did in Mitzrayim in the time of choshech, as the posuk states, “U’l’chol Bnei Yisroel hoyoh ohr b’moshvosam.”

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 that manifests itself during these days, we must maintain purity of purpose and action. We cannot expect to be vehicles of light if our souls and bodies are swamped with nonsense and impure conduct.

Today, it is easier than in perhaps any time of our history to become corrupted in action and thought. Every time we dial into what is known as social media, we are setting aside our heritage from Aharon and the Chashmonaim of training our bodies, senses and intelligence to be focused on living lives of bnei and bnos Torah and allowing ourselves to be influenced by nonsense and worse. Without even realizing it, and by sticking to what we think are trivial pursuits of simple, superficial pleasure, we are in essence dialing down our thought process and corrupting our sense of right and wrong. Little by little, we lose the traits we are known for and become rude, crude, dishonest, untrustworthy, and unfaithful to our hallowed traditions and codes of behavior.

Our act of kindling the menorah is part of Aharon’s consolation, because through our lighting, we demonstrate that we want to continue his mission of bringing kedusha to this world and living the type of life that would bring him pride. We show that we are searching for the light and want to burn away the darkness of the exile with the light of holiness. We are proclaiming for all to see that we yearn for the ohr haganuz to once again light up our world as it did before.

That is why the Chanukah miracle is celebrated by kindling lights in our homes facing the street. That is why the mitzvah is to light the menorah as soon as the sun starts going down and darkness starts spreading across the sky.

That is why the shiur that Chazal gave for the duration of the lights is “ad shetichleh regel min hashuk.” The lights of the Chanukah menorah should remain lit as long as there are people out on the street.

As long as people are out in the public thoroughfare, we need to remind them of the miracle. We need to prominently remind them not to yield to the darkness.

We gather our families around us and light the menorah to proclaim that Hashem felled the mighty, the many, and the evil. They were demolished by the weak, the few, the just, and the holy.

Hashem had mercy 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 trap and kill us.

We have to be ever vigilant, for the forces of Hellenism are ever present. They cloak themselves in the guise of enlightenment and intellectual purity, as they accost us with cleverly worded prose, but their intention is to keep us in the darkness and prevent us from venturing forth to find and benefit from the ohr haganuz, the great light that outshines all the fake lights and fake interpretations of Torah and mesorah that the Soton puts forth to curb our historic growth and poison the minds of our young and old.

In our day, the modern Yevonim hide behind the power of the pen, the web, the blogs, and populist demagoguery to attack us. Misyavnim throw wild charges at us. As the Torah world that nobody ever thought would amount to much flourishes, Misyavnim seek to overwhelm us with glitz and glamour, encasing their messages with love and hate, Torah and, lehavdil, apikorsus, and plain old stupidity, all designed to weaken the bond and untie the knots that form the chain that stretches back to Aharon Hakohein on the day of the chanukas haMishkon.

I know I’ve cited this story before, but its message calls out to me as I light the menorah, so I shall share it again.

The Brisker Rov spent Shabbos in a hotel for the sheva brachos of one of his sons. The Rov, as is the habit of others, did not benefit from electricity on Shabbos in Eretz Yisroel because the electric production facilities are operated by Jews. A talmid volunteered to arrange for the hotel to provide a large room in which the electricity was off for them to daven and eat in.

For whatever reason, the job wasn’t done, and when the Rov walked into the room, the lights were shining brightly. He immediately left that room and found a small, dark area where there was no light. He announced that they would be using that room over Shabbos.

In obvious distress, the talmid approached the Rov to apologize. “I am so sorry that the large room is lichtig (illuminated),” he said.

The Rov responded with a surprised look on his face. “Dort iz lichtig?” he asked, indicating the first, well-lit room. “That room is illuminated? No, it is not. Doh iz lichtig!” he said, pointing to the small, darkened room around him where the people sat preparing to daven and celebrate the Yiddishe simcha.

The world calls out to us with all types of lights and flashing things, but we must remember that as far as we are concerned, those shiny objects are dark, for they really are. Where mitzvos are kept, where there is Torah, there is light, no matter what anyone says or thinks.

Always remember that and you will merit to benefit from the ohr haganuz, the great Divine light, this Chanukah and for eternity with the imminent arrival of Moshiach.

Ah lichtigen Chanukah.

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