The Yom Tov of Chanukah is almost upon us; beginning this Sunday evening. A fuller understanding of the special days helps us appreciate and enjoy them better. The basic story of the miracles we commemorate during these days are well known; we’ve been hearing them for as long as we can remember.
Although the eight-day celebration was established by Chazal of that period and the Yom Tov has the status of a mitzvah miderabonon, there is no shortage of oblique references to Chanukah in the Torah.
The Ramban in Parshas Beha’aloscha famously connects Aharon Hakohein’s lighting of the menorah in the Mishkon to the lighting of the Chanukah menorah in our day.
Additionally, in Moshe Rabbeinu’s final brocha to Klal Yisroel, he says to shevet Levi, “Boreich Hashem cheilo – Bless his army, Hashem” (Devorim 33:11). Rashi explains that Moshe was referring to the Chashmonaim as they set out to battle the Greeks. Moshe was asking Hashem to cause the righteous ones to defeat a much larger, better trained army of scoffers.
Throughout the parshiyos of Bereishis, which we have been studying since Sukkos, there are hidden references to Chanukah available for us to study and add to our exhilaration and anticipation of the special chag.
The Zohar Hachodosh, at the end of Parshas Noach, sees the miracle of Chanukah in the interchange (Bereishis 8:8) between Noach and the yonah sent from the teivah to see if the waters of the Mabul had receded.
Rabi Pinchos says that Hakadosh Boruch Hu wanted to test the Jewish people. He sent them into exile in Bovel, as the posuk states, “Vayishlach es hayonah mei’ito – And he sent the dove away.” The veiled message is seen in the words. Vayishlach refers to Hakadosh Boruch Hu, and yonah refers to Knesses Yisroel.
The posuk continues, “Velo motzah hayonah manoach lechaf ragla vatoshov eilov el hateivah ki mayim al pnei ha’aretz.” The simple translation is that the dove could not find a place to rest its feet, so it returned to the teivah, because the earth was covered with water.
The Zohar Hachodosh explains a hidden message of the Torah, stating that Klal Yisroel was sent from Eretz Yisroel into Bovel, but the king of Bovel made their lives unbearable, causing them hunger and thirst, and murdering many of the righteous people. Because of the torture they endured, “vateishev eilov el hateivah,” the people repented, and Hashem allowed them to return to the “teivah,” to Eretz Yisroel.
But upon their return to Eretz Yisroel, the Jewish people continued to sin and Hashem once again sent them away. This is seen in the Torah, as the posuk tells us that the yonah was again sent out from the teivah: “Vayosef shalach es hayonah.” This is a reference to the next time the Jews were sent away, which was during the time of the Yevonim when they lost control of Eretz Yisroel.
Then, similar to when to when they went into golus Bovel, Knesses Yisroel returned, as the posuk says, “Vatavo eilov hayonah le’eis erev – And the dove returned towards evening time.”
The Zohar explains that the Yevonim darkened the faces of the Jewish people, so to speak. Just as transpired to them the first time, when they went into golus, this time, as well when they were under the control of Yovon, they were tortured, and their righteous people were killed. Everything turned black for them, as they had lost the tzaddikim who brought them light. Therefore, the yonah, which was sent into the clutches of Yovon, returned in the darkness [of evening] to its home.
But this time, there was a difference: “Vehinei alei zayis befiha – There was an olive leaf in her mouth.” The Zohar says that had Hakadosh Boruch Hu not awakened the spirit of the Kohanim [referring to the Chashmonaim at the time of the neis Chanukah] to kindle lights with olive oil, there would have been no place of refuge for the Jews.
Had the Kohanim not had the spirit to battle Yovon, resurrect the kedushas haMikdosh, and light the menorah again with shemen zayis, we would have been destroyed by Yovon.
The Zohar concludes that each time the yonah returned – at the time of golus Bovel and at the time of golus Yovon – Klal Yisroel did teshuvah and was accepted back. However, says Rabi Pinchos, the third time the yonah was sent, it did not return: “Omar Rabi Pinchos, chutz min galusa reviah d’adayan lo shovah vehakol taluy b’seshuvah.” The Jewish people have not yet returned from the fourth and final golus, and the return back home is dependent upon [and awaiting] their repentance. [For an understanding of this Chazal, see Shiurei Rabbeinu from Rav Moshe Shapiro on Chanukah.]
Perhaps with this we can gain a deeper understanding of why of all the yomim tovim (enumerated in Megillas Taanis) which were established to celebrate miracles which occurred during the times of the Beis Hamikdosh, were annulled after the churban, but Chanukah (and Purim) endured. It is because through the Kohanim’s kindling of the shemen zayis zoch in the menorah, Klal Yisroel survived the tyranny and darkness of the Yevonim. We are celebrating the endurance of Knesses Yisroel, that we survived that period of darkness and hester and did not disappear during those awful years thanks to the fortitude of the kohanim and the miracles they engendered.
Another place where baalei Kabbolah see a reference to Chanukah is in the cryptic exchange between Yaakov and Lovon, when they part from each other at the end of Parshas Vayeitzei. The Torah recounts that they formed a mound of stones as testimony to their agreement to keep a safe distance from each other. Lovon referred to this monument as Yegar Sahadusa, while Yaakov called it Galeid, ostensibly the Lashon Hakodesh version of the name Lovon gave it in Aramaic.
The Megaleh Amukos, who, as the name of his sefer suggests, reveals all sorts of deep secrets in his work, explains that the numerical value of the word “Yegar” is 213. He says that this is a reference to the 213th year of the Second Bais Hamikdosh. It was then that “gavra haklippah,” the forces of evil were strengthened to the degree that the wicked Antiyochus was able to slaughter a chazir in the Bais Hamikdosh. Lovon was anticipating that sad day when he said “Yegar.”
Yaakov Avinu beheld the same historic moment and beseeched Hashem for mercy. He called the pile Galeid, hinting to the Chashmonaim, who would rise up to avenge the act of Antiyochus and his decrees. By giving the pile that name, Yaakov was asking for Hashem to hear their tefillos and cause them to win their battles, just as he would hear the tefillos of Shmuel in Gilad.
Like many of the accounts in Sefer Bereishis, this one, as well, is replete with historical significance and import. The era of the neis Chanukah was foreseen and influenced by Yaakov Avinu.
Additionally, the sefer Tzeidah Laderech quotes the Maharshal, who saw another connection between Yaakov Avinu and the neis Chanukah. When Yaakov crossed the Yaabok River to retrieve his pachim ketanim, Hashem said to him, “You sacrificed for the sake of pachim ketanim, small jugs, and I will repay your children with a miracle involving pachim, small jugs,” referring to the pach shemen tahor with which the Chashmonaim re-consecrated the menorah in the Bais Hamikdosh.
Beneath the surface of the pesukim depicting our forefather Yaakov, Kabbolah masters see the neis Chanukah playing itself out. Although we aren’t mekubolim, we can benefit from the messages they uncover.
In this week’s parsha of Vayeishev, we learn the story of Yosef, widely referred to as Yosef Hatzaddik, the righteous one. He is identified for his piety for having the fortitude to withstand the challenge as presented in the nisayon involving aishes Potifar.
Yosef’s spiritual heroism and strength are relevant to us in our day. Isolated in a foreign land and an unfriendly environment, Yosef, at the age of seventeen, was separated from his beloved father, who was his prime role model and teacher.
Yosef was a lonely teenager sold by his own brothers into servitude in the most impure country. If ever a young man had an excuse to fall hard, it was he.
From where did the rejected, hated, handsome young man find the inner fortitude to muster the ability to rise above his nisayon?
The Gemara (Sotah 36b) relates that when confronted by aishes Potifar, Yosef stood at the edge of a spiritual cliff, engaged in a fierce battle with his yeitzer hora. Suddenly, he beheld the image of his father: “Be’osah sha’ah bosah deyukno shel oviv.” Yosef saw the image of his father, Yaakov. Seeing the picture of his father propelled him to the status of a tzaddik.
Like a flash of lightning on a stormy night, it showed him the way.
Yaakov was the last av, the third of the three avos who imbued nishmos Yisroel with the strength to endure. Yosef was the first of the next generation to tap into those kochos, bringing them to the fore and making them a reality.
Yosef was the first Jew sold into exile. Lonely and seemingly forgotten, he nevertheless was able to make the choice of seeing something bigger and remembering a different time and the message it sent. As he engaged in a fierce battle with his yeitzer hora, the image of his father was before him, saving him from succumbing to the evil one.
When he saw his father’s image, he was reminded that his father believed in him and saw in him the potential for greatness. He thought of his father’s years in the house of Lovon and remembered him saying, “Im Lovon garti, vetaryag mitzvos shomarti, velo lomadeti mimaasov haro’im.”
His own father was also forced from his father’s home, chased, oppressed, and all alone in a foreign land surrounded by impurity. Yet Yaakov never permitted the rasha, in whose home he lived, to influence him.
The memories of his father and his image empowered Yosef to resist the temptation to forsake his heritage. He was reminded from where he came and where he was headed. Thus armed, he was able to resist succumbing to the moment and preserved himself for eternity.
The images of Yaakov and Yosef were the inspiration for the tzaddikei bais Chashmonai, the heroes of the neis Chaunkah. Yovon had taken hold of Eretz Yisroel, the Bais Hamikdosh, Am Yisroel, and everything holy. Antiyochus had sacrificed a chazir on the mizbei’ach.
We can only imagine the reaction of the people around them as the Chashmonaim announced their intention to resist the progressive Hellenists and fight for kedushas Yisroel and kedushas haMikdosh.
“The battle is lost. Give it up,” the overwhelming majority of Jews told the determined and stubborn Chashmonaim. “The people aren’t with you. You have to accept the fact that we are not in control and that the people lined up against us are more powerful, better armed and better organized than us.”
Like the yonah that returned le’eis erev, in the time of darkness and hester ponim, most Jewish people looked around and saw darkness. They saw Yovon gaining on them. They felt weak and small, their actions inconsequential.
Like Yosef Hatzaddik, the Chashmonaim refused to let themselves be influenced by the Yevonim and succumb to their entreaties and philosophical arguments. They were inspired by Yosef’s example of a Jew living in golus, surrounded by temptation, dominated by a heathen, hedonistic culture. And just as he had done, they channeled support from Yaakov Avinu. Empowered by his example, as well as his tefillos and zechuyos, they embarked upon an impossible task.
Like Yaakov Avinu, who understood that even the smallest jugs can belong to the side of kedusha and was therefore moser nefesh to ensure that they also had a tikkun, the Chashmonaim fought valiantly for the sanctity of the Bais Hamikdosh, to take back Hashem’s earthly abode, re-consecrate it, elevate it, and cleanse it of the profane. Just as Yaakov stared down Lovon and Eisov’s angel, they had the courage to face a foe much more powerful than they and triumph.
Confronted by the forces of Eisov, they saw Yaakov. They summoned the tefillos of Yaakov from way back when at Galeid and went to war against the prevailing tumah.
They didn’t let their minds and hearts be influenced by the prevailing propaganda. They lived lives of correctness and justice in a period dominated by corruption, banality, immorality and evil.
At this time of the year, as we celebrate their battles and victories, we are inspired in our own personal and communal battles with the forces of darkness, hedonism and physicality to resist the many temptations the yeitzer hora devises to throw us off the path we have been following since the days of Noach.
Chanukah is unique in that it has a birkas haro’eh, a special brocha for one who simply sees lit neiros Chanukah. Perhaps it is because the Yom Tov owes its existence to those who saw beyond their immediate surroundings and glimpsed the light of truth, the Ohr Haganuz, which is concealed all year round but revealed in the Chanukah lights.
We live in a time when, once again, gavra haklippah. But we know that the light shines bayomim haheim bazeman hazeh, now as then. We look into the flames and we behold their timeless message.
As we flounder in golus, we are reminded that Noach – referring to Hakadosh Boruch Hu – awaits the return of the yonah, which was sent away from the teivah into golus and has yet to return. The teivah – Eretz Yisroel – waits for us to do teshuvah and be allowed to return to where we belong.
At the beginning of this week’s parsha, we read, “Aileh toldos Yaakov, Yosef.” Rashi quotes the Medrash, which explains that Yaakov saw the armies of Eisov approaching and wondered how he would defeat them. The Medrash answers with the words of the novi Ovadiah (1:18): “Vehoyo vais Yaakov aish, uvais Yosef lehovah, uvais Eisov lekash.” One spark will emanate from Yosef and will incinerate the approaching armies of Eisov.
That spark is evident every year as we light the menorah. It is the light of the Ohr Haganuz, created at the beginning of time, but hidden after man sinned. The light with which it was once possible to see misof ha’olam ve’ad sofo has been dimmed every day of the year. The holy seforim say that the light of the Ohr Haganuz is evident on Chanukah in the flickering flames of the menorahs we light in our homes. That tiny spark can illuminate our lives and the world if we contemplate and absorb the messages it bears.
The same light in our menorah is the light that shined at the time of creation from one end of the world to the other. It is the same light that was lit by the Kohanim Chashmonaim, saving the Jewish people from being destroyed in the times of Golus Yovon. It is the same light that Aharon Hakohein kindled at the time of the chanukas haMikdosh and the same light that good Jews have been lighting ever since in the Bais Hamikdosh, in Bovel, in Yovon, and in all the places where we have found ourselves over the millennia until this very day.
As we activate the Ohr Haganuz with our menoros, we have the ability to cause that light to shine again across the world. As we kindle the lights, which the Torah hints to and which are delineated in the Gemara Shabbos and elucidated by Rishonim, Acharonim and their talmidim until today, let us be reminded of the greatness we embody.
We live in a time of darkness and hester but have within us the ability to overcome them with light and teshuvah, so that we can quickly be ushered back home to Yerushalayim ihr hakodesh bimeheirah.