Upon the Yahrtzeit of Rav Yitzchok Hutner zt”l
Last year, upon the 36th yahrtzeit of my rebbi, Rav Yitzchok Hutner zt”l, the 20th of Kislev, I quoted in this newspaper a few lines from the end of the third Chanukah maamar in Pachad Yitzchok: “One of the singular aspects of Chanukah is that it is chronologically the last of the Yomim Tovim to have occurred in Jewish history. Our general understanding of this is that with the introduction into Klal Yisroel and the Jewish calendar of the lights of Chanukah and its accomplishments, the road and bridges to Acharis Hayomim, the End of Days, have been completed. This is reflected in the ancient words we sing in Maoz Tzur, ‘Az egmor beshir mizmor – I shall complete with a song of hymn.’ In other words, Chanukah represents the gemar, the final link in the chain, toward Moshiach.”
Last year, we explored one aspect of this seminal view of Chanukah. I would like to suggest another aspect of the conclusive and ultimate nature of this incandescent Yom Tov.
Rav Dovid Cohen, rosh yeshiva of Chevron (Yemei Chanukah, maamar 8), discusses an extraordinary quality of Chanukah, relating its special illumination to the Ohr Hagonuz, the primordial light of creation that preceded the sun itself. The Rokeach writes in Hilchos Chanukah that the 36 lights we kindle over this Yom Tov correspond to the 36 hours that “the good light” prevailed at the beginning of the world. Now, one must wonder: What exactly is this correlation between these two seemingly disparate sources of light?
Rav Tzadok Hakohein of Lublin (Resisei Lailah) quotes the Pirkei Heichalos (chapter 27), which states that Chazal say that “even though the Shechinah was not present in the Second Bais Hamikdosh, the main beauty and glory of the Torah was only present in the Second Bais Hamikdosh, for they refused to build until Hashem promised to reveal to them the secrets of the Torah.
The Leshem Shevo Ve’achalama (Klalim 2:3:9) cites the same Medrash even more sharply: “Our forefathers determined not to place stone upon stone until [the heavens] agreed to reveal to them the secrets of the Torah.” The Leshem himself adds that “from the very beginning of the second Bais Hamikdosh, the gates of the Torah opened, revealing the hidden wisdom, and permission was granted to all who had prepared themselves properly with holiness to understand the secrets of the Torah.”
Rav Tzadok Hakohein (Pri Tzaddik, Chanukah) explains that those who lived during the time of Chanukah, which occurred during the second Bais Hamikdosh (see Rambam, beginning of Hilchos Chanukah), merited this intense explosion of wisdom because of the suffering and evil decrees they underwent. For this reason, concludes Rav Tzadok, Chanukah coincided with the inception of Torah Shebaal Peh.
Rav Cohen derives from all this that since the Bais Hamikdosh is considered to be “oro shel olam – the light of the world” (Bava Basra 4a with Maharal), and that light had been severely diminished with the removal of the Aron, representing the Torah, the builders did not want to rebuild without some kind of exchange for the lost light. That became the light of the Oral Law and the glow of Chanukah.
We are now in a position to understand the second reference to Rav Hutner’s remark that Chanukah is the “kevius ha’acharona besidrei zemanim shel moadei hadoros – the final link in the establishment of Yomim Tovim for the generations.” The Ramchal tells us in many places that the goal of all of Jewish history is the ultimate return to the pristine condition of Adam before his sin. That spiritual stature can only be achieved through the restoration of the lost primordial light, which is hidden in the Chanukah neiros. We are witnessing in our days an explosion of the learning of pnimiyos haTorah, the inner esoteric aspects of the Torah. Perhaps, as Rav Tzadok said about the time of the second Bais Hamikdosh, we have merited such seforim and revelations through the incredible suffering of recent generations, beginning with Churban Europa. Surely, Rav Hutner had a hand in helping to ignite this eternal flame.
A third level of understanding Rav Hutner’s reference to Chanukah as “the final Yom Tov” may be seen in a number of Chassidic seforim. The Ropschitzer (Zera Kodesh, second Ner, “Chashomoim”) writes that “the entire essence of Chanukah is to prepare for the future redemption through Moshiach.” The Sefas Emes (Miketz 5640), also, writes that “the rabbis ordained that the menorah be lit near the door. This custom reflects the teaching of Chazal (Yoma 29a) that Esther represents the end of all miracles, but we know that Chanukah happened even later. Therefore, it must be that Chanukah is but the preparation and key to the ultimate redemption.”
The Bnei Yissoschor (3:3) picks up upon the name Chanukah as stemming from the word chinuch, which literally means training or education. Just as we slowly train a child to accomplish certain tasks and to perform mitzvos, so is Chanukah our training ground to accustom ourselves to the light of Moshiach. The Imrei Chaim of Vizhnitz in many places stresses that the renovating and purification of the Bais Hamikdosh at the time of Chanukah is the harbinger of the future and permanent rebuilding at the time of Moshiach. All of this is also embedded in Rav Hutner’s powerful words.
Finally, to end with a gematria: The Kotzker Rebbe (Emes Ve’emunah 834) notes that the word Moshiach and the letters on the dreidel both add up to 358. This signifies that Chanukah represents the turns and spins of life and history, all of which lead to the coming of Moshiach. There are ups and downs, seeming losses and seeming wins, but all lead to the “great miracle that happened there.”
Chanukah causes us to perceive and understand the miracles in our lives.
We can understand the Kotzker’s lesson with the Maharal’s approach to the double miracle of Chanukah. Why, of all the Yomim Tovim, did Chanukah require two miracles to create a celebration? He answers that, in truth, we only commemorate the miracle of winning the war against overwhelming odds. However, since in every war there is a winner and a loser, the power of human rationalization convinces people that what was actually an open miracle can be attributed to strategy, cunning, experience and even luck. To obviate this possibility, Hashem made an irrefutable miracle to shed light quite literally upon the war so that we were not blinded by our distorted vision. This is the transition to the World to Come and the final battles.
We must remember that just as with Chanukah, Hashem did it all. We did but a bit of hishtadlus – the most minimal of effort – and Hashem saved us. So it will be in the time of Moshiach.
Perhaps the dreidel also reminds us that when we look at Jewish history, there were times when it seemed as if we were, G-d forbid, down and out for the count. Rav Yaakov Emden refers to this in his short review of Jewish history. There he declares that the greatest miracle in Jewish history is simply our survival itself. That is Chanukah, the last step before Moshiach, for it signifies the final spin, when we realize that Hashem has been holding us from above, making sure that we will arise again, this time for eternity, speedily in our days.