Four thousand years ago, Yaakov fought the sar of Eisov in the eternal battle of emes against sheker, just against unjust, right against wrong.
Two thousand years ago, the war between the Jews and the Yevonim was once again a war of ohr neged choshech, light against darkness, right against wrong, moral against immoral.
It was less than a century ago that six million of our brothers and sisters were brutally murdered by the Nazis and their evil cohorts. The world said that they would never again permit a holocaust such as that to occur. To assuage their guilt, they gave the Jewish people rights to a country in Eretz Yisroel and stood by them for some years.
And here we are, once again, fighting choshech and evil in our time. G-d’s chosen people, blessed with Torah and mitzvos, living according to a higher moral code and calling, we are constantly and viciously attacked by the nations of the world.
Two months ago, in front of the eyes of the world, we were once again brutally attacked on a massive scale. Over 1,200 people paid with their lives, and many others with their limbs, for the crime of being Jews. Initially, the world was appalled and stood by Israel as it declared that it was going to wipe out the evil named Hamas from the world. But as the war intensified and more portions of the land given to the so-called Palestinians in the name of peace were overtaken by Israel, the nations of the world, publicly and privately, began working to undermine the aggrieved country fighting for its life.
Raising old canards, fictions, and lies, the Jews are being accused of genocide and worse. Jews around the world are targeted for harassment and cruelty. In the days of old, pogroms were perpetrated by illiterate peasants as the upper classes cheered from the side. Today, active anti-Semitism is practiced not only by the lower classes of society, but by the literati themselves.
Yovon is referred to by Chazal as choshech, darkness. The battle between the Maccabim and the Yevonim is referred to as a war between the forces of light and the forces of darkness.
We may wonder: Torah is light, since it provides light to our world and guides us in life. But why is Yovon considered a dark force? After all, they brought culture to the world, including philosophy, mathematics, music, medicine, literature, drama, sports and the Olympics. They gave birth to Western culture. Why do we call them choshech?
There are many ways to answer the question, but for anyone who follows the news and saw how the presidents of three of America’s leading universities contorted themselves in front of Congress and the world last week, the answer is obvious.
It is assumed that university presidents are intelligent, accomplished, cultured individuals with clear morals who are able to tell right from wrong and defend and educate what is right. You would think that such people are articulate, especially when it comes to giving one-word answers to the simplest of questions. You would also think that they are kind and good-hearted, and when appearing for a public hearing on anti-Semitism in their schools and others, they would be prepped to offer the perfect sound-bite responses that make their schools look good.
Instead, when asked whether calling for the extermination of Jews violates their school’s rules on bullying and harassment, not only did they not condemn such calls – that would be asking too much –they couldn’t even say that they were opposed to the calls. Instead, they provided heartless, inane, absurd, halting, rigidly expressed, lawyerly, bizarre answers. The responses were stunningly pathetic utterances emanating from the very symbols of accomplished inteligencia, whose schools are the highest institutes of learning in the country.
Instead of providing light, they demonstrated that they provide darkness. Not a shred of honesty, morality, decency and intelligence was on display. People see what is happening at the Ivy League schools of this country, as their students vilify and bully Jews, surround Jewish students with an aura of fear, and march for a free Palestine and genocide of the Jews. They engage in other crude, anti-Semitic behavior as the school’s administrators sit by apathetically, in silence.
While universities should be producing educated, thoughtful, decent people committed to the promotion of democracy and moral values, with foundations of conviction and a just sense of purpose, instead they educate in platitudes and liberal fictions, contributing to the woke darkness that has taken hold of the Western world.
So once again, the people of the light, the Torah and the menorah are under attack by the forces of darkness and evil. Not only are we assaulted, beaten and butchered, but our way of life is mocked and ridiculed. What do we need to do to empower the forces of light and right to overcome the darkness and evil that seek to overwhelm us?
And even as Israel fights an existential war against 30,000 terrorists sworn to its destruction, America publicly expresses its support, but behind the scenes, it is seeking to prematurely end the conflict, working with the Palestinian Authority to hand Gaza over to them to administer with Hamas, according to the PA so-called prime minister.
From where do we derive our strength? What is it that keeps us going throughout the ages, from the time of Eisov through the domination of Yovon and Bovel, Yishmoel and Edom? From where did we get the strength to defeat Yovon and to survive the churban and all these years of golus?
It is only through Torah. Not only do our lives revolve around Torah and its precepts, but Torah is the fuel that powers our engines and our people. Nothing can operate without fuel, and without Torah we are done. Without Torah, we would lose our light source, our energy, our fuel, as well as the reason for life. We would lose what makes our lives worth living and what gives us life.
Back in the time of the miracle of the Chashmonaim, many of the Jewish people had gone dark, becoming disconnected from Torah. They went over to the side of their occupiers. They were slipping away from Jewish life and becoming lost to their people. The Yevonim were gaining in their objective, and had the Chashmonaim not come along and battled their oppressors, who knows what would have happened to our people?
On Chanukah, we celebrate the Chashmonaim and their mesirus nefesh for kedusha. They rose to throw off the forces of darkness from the nation that was blocking their light source. They were the me’atim, the few, the tzaddikim, the tehorim, the pure and holy. They were the people who performed Hashem’s service in the Bais Hamikdosh and in the bais medrash. How were they able to win?
We declare the answer in Al Hanissim when we thank Hashem for the miracles and the strength He blessed us with and for the military victories. We state there the purpose of the Yevoni takeover of Eretz Yisroel. It wasn’t simply to add to their empire and have a new source of income. Rather, it was to cause the Jews to forget the Torah and veer away from observing the mitzvos.
We thank Hashem for standing by us in our trying time, fighting our battles, taking revenge for us, handing over the strong ones to the weak ones, the many to the few, the defiled to the holy, the wicked to the righteous, and the disdainful to those who studied Torah.
The culmination of what Hashem did for us at the time of the Chashmonai battles is that He handed the victory to the ones who were diligent in their Torah study. This seems to indicate that what caused their victory was their dedication to the study of Torah.
When Chazal established the Yom Tov of Chanukah, they did so by citing the primacy of the miracle of the tiny oil flask. The drops of oil that were sufficient for only one day lit the menorah for eight days. This is evident in the Gemara (Shabbos 21b), which questions what Chanukah is and responds with the miracle of the oil.
In the wording of the question in that Gemara (ibid.), “Mai Chanukah? What is Chanukah?” The response to the Gemara’s question is, “Detanu rabbonon, the rabbis learned.” Some see in this a lesson in the power of Torah. They read the Gemara to be saying, “How did the miracle of Chanukah come about? Detanu rabbonon. It was because the rabbis were studying Torah.” It was the study of Torah that empowered the Jewish people to win the war, though they were weak and few. It was their Torah and mitzvos and righteousness and purity that caused them to be victorious over the superior forces of Yovon.
This is celebrated through lighting the menorah, for Torah is compared to light and oil is compared to Torah, which provides light. Therefore, the miracle for which Chazal established this special holiday was the one pertaining to the holy oil and the light it allowed to burn. The war was all about Torah. It was fought to enable the Jews to study Torah once again, and the Jews were victorious in the merit of the Torah.
It is often stated that in the word Chanukah, there is a hint to the war, for in Hebrew, the word “chonu” means to rest, and chof hey in Hebrew is the number twenty-five. If you spell out Chanukah in Hebrew and break it up, it means they rested on the 25th.
But it’s not so simple, because there is a dispute between the Rishonim as to which day the war ended and when victory was declared. So, according to those who hold that the war ended on the 24th day of Kislev, why does Chanukah begin on the 25th of Kislev? It should begin on the 24th.
We can say that since the war was based on the Torah and the ability to study Torah, and Torah was what allowed them to win the war, therefore, although the war ended on the 24th, they were not able to commence studying Torah until the 25th, and that is why the Yom Tov begins on that day.
All through our history, as Rav Saadia Gaon so eloquently expressed, “Ein umoseinu umah ela bishvil Torah,” we are only a people because of the Torah. Torah is what defines us and also what keeps us going. We would not have lasted all these years had we forsaken the Torah. Through all our years of tragedy and plenty, we have remained loyal to the Torah, and that is what has provided for us and earned for us the right to persist and exist.
In our time as well, and especially now as our brethren in Eretz Yisroel are engaged in a desperate battle to beat back the evil forces of darkness who seek to destroy us, we must remember that the might of Israel is dependent on Torah.
Tens of thousands of soldiers are battling savages, and everyone understands that they need support teams, as well as tanks, howitzers, ammunition, food, morale boosters and much else to keep them going. But we also cannot forget that the fuel that powers the soldiers and the army is Torah and tefillah. Without them, they don’t stand a chance.
At a time of war, everyone is drafted and deployed. Us too. Even those who don’t serve in the army have to kick in and do their share. As our brothers are dying in battle, we need to ramp up the support system and provide the fuel they need to advance.
In a time of sakanah, such as we are presently in, we must increase our study of Torah. We have to learn better and learn more as a source of merit for the fighters in Gaza and for the people of Eretz Yisroel. We need to make kabbalos to improve our kiyum hamitzvos, also as a source of merit and fuel. Regardless of whether we ourselves can learn and whether we can improve the quality and quantity of our learning, we have to do what we can to allow and support others to learn.
Rav Elya Brudny, one of the leaders of the Torah world here in America, told me that Rav Dov Landau, who has assumed the mantle of leadership of the bnei Torah in Eretz Yisroel following the passing of Rav Gershon Edelstein, recently wrote a letter. Rav Landau lamented that he heard from roshei kollel who returned home from fundraising trips abroad that their income this year is not matching income of previous years. He writes that the economic situation in Israel is currently weak due to the war and the effect it is having on the country. He fears that if there is not sufficient support from the United States for yeshivos and kollelim in Eretz Yisroel, the learning will suffer, and at a time when we need to increase limud haTorah, the opposite can happen, r”l.
So, to those who care about Eretz Yisroel, those who care about our brethren in that country, those who are working on themselves to increase achdus and ahavas Yisroel and Torah study and observance – and who isn’t? – we all have a responsibility now to add oil to the flame, fuel to the fire, and energy to the cause by doing whatever we can to help and support those whose lives are dedicated to limud haTorah, at all times and especially now.
The menorah and its light should serve as reminders to us that we each have the ability to help the light overcome the darkness, the right overcome the evil, the good defeat the bad, and the kedusha defeat the prevalent tumah, so that we will be zoche for this war to end well and for Moshiach to swiftly arrive to fight the war of all wars and ignite the strongest light ever, bimeheirah beyomeinu. Amein.