There are various terms used in Hebrew to refer to our nation. The one that is used most often is the singular “Yehudi,” or the plural “Yehudim.” In fact, the Nazis chose the German variation of the name Jude, pronounced Yoodeh, for placement on the infamous yellow star that Yehudim under their power were obligated to wear.
In Parshas Vayishlach (36:2-5), the names of Eisov’s wives are listed. However, Yehudis bas Beiri, who had previously been mentioned as the woman Eisov married when he was 40 years old (Toldos 26:34), is not included in the list of Eisov’s wives in this week’s parsha. Rashi (36:2) explains that the wife referred to in Parshas Vayishlach as Oholivama is Yehudis. Rashi says that Eisov changed her name to Yehudis in an attempt to fool his father, Yitzchok, into thinking that she was not a believer in avodah zorah.
Presenting her name as Yehudis was the best way Eisov could find to demonstrate to his father that she was not into avodah zorah and could be accepted into their family.
The Chiddushei Harim explains that the reason Yehudim is the eternal Jewish name is because when Leah named her son Yehuda, she said, “Hapa’am odeh es Hashem.” The name was a term of gratitude, thanking the Almighty for enabling her to give birth to this boy. Yehudim, Jews, are defined as a people who live to express the glory of Hakadosh Boruch Hu and their appreciation of Him.
The Arizal discusses the idea that each of the seven middos of Hashem’s hanhogah of this world corresponds to a different Yom Tov. The middah of hod, which is comprised from the same shoresh as Yehuda, relates to Chanukah.
Let us examine the connection.
Hod relates to the middah that defines the ability of the Jew to allow the Divine light to shine through him, submitting to a Higher Calling. His own essence is a vehicle to bring honor to his Maker. The Hebrew word hoda’ah has two definitions, admission and gratitude. The definitions are related to each other. A Yehudi admits that Hakadosh Boruch Hu created and watches over him, and for that he is always grateful.
The middah of hod, Divine splendor, is mirrored in man’s ability to allow his personal splendor, referred to as his p’nimiyus, to shine through. This is accomplished by the Yehudi subjugating his own identity and honor to the reality of Hashem’s Presence. One who practices hoda’ah is capable of allowing the middah of hod to reflect through his being.
Hod is the middah of Chanukah, a Yom Tov of hallel vehoda’ah, when we ponder and appreciate Hashem’s kindness towards us as we contemplate the lights of the menorah.
With this appreciation of the middah of hod, we can arrive at a new understanding of the tefillah of Al Hanissim which is specific to Chanukah.
The tefillah begins by saying that “in the days of Matisyohu ben Yochanon Kohein Gadol Chashmonai and his sons…the evil Yovon empire rose up against Your nation Yisroel to make them forget the Torah and to deter them from following Your laws.” Yovon sought to tear the Jewish people away from Torah and mitzvos.
The tefillah continues: “With Your great mercy, You stood by the Jews in their time of need. You waged their battles, defended their rights, and avenged the wrong done to them. You delivered the mighty into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the impure into the hands of the pure, the wicked into the hands of the righteous, and the sinners into the hands of those who occupy themselves with Your Torah.”
As it approaches its conclusion, the tefillah relates, “You made a great and holy name for Yourself in Your world, and brought about a great deliverance and redemption for Your people Yisroel to this very day.”
And then the tefillah ends with these words: “After all that, Your children went into the Bais Hamikdosh, cleaning and purifying it, kindling lights there, establishing the eight-day holiday of Chanukah, lehodos ulehallel leShimcha hagadol.”
Why is it that the only time the Chashmonaim are mentioned in Al Hanissim is almost in passing, as if providing a time frame for when the story of Chanukah took place? There is no mention of anything the Chashmonaim did. It is as if they played no role in everything that transpired.
On Motzoei Shabbos, there is the custom to light two candles and eat the melava malka meal. People recite beautiful tefillos and bakashos. One particularly magnificent zemer speaks of the saintliness of Eliyohu Hanovi, who will redeem us from the bitter exile. The rhythmic song/prayer pays tribute to the “ish soch acharov, Hashem Hu Ha’Elokim,” a man who caused others to proclaim Hashem’s greatness.
Rav Yitzchok Yedidya Frankel, the rov of Tel Aviv, shed light on the depth of this particular phrase.
One of the more spectacular moments in the extraordinary life of Eliyohu Hanovi was the showdown on Har Hacarmel. Under the influence of the wicked King Achav, the Bnei Yisroel had fallen to a very low level. While maintaining a belief in Hashem, they also worshiped the heathen gods of Canaan. Eliyohu challenged the ovdei avodah zorah to a contest between himself and the 450 prophets of the Baal. King Achav accepted the challenge (Melochim I, 18:19).
Eliyohu proposed that each side – he and the nevi’ei haBaal – slaughter a bull as a korban. Each one would place theirs atop their mizbei’ach, while leaving the firewood there unlit. The group to whose mizbei’ach a fire would descend from heaven to consume the korban would be acknowledged as the correct religion for all to follow.
Word quickly spread and multitudes converged on Har Hacarmel to witness the showdown.
Eliyohu offered the nevi’ei haBa’al to go first, since they had the overwhelming majority of followers. That wasn’t hard to figure out. Eliyohu was all alone. They took one of the bulls, slaughtered it, prepared it for their mizbei’ach, and then proceeded to call upon their god Baal all through the morning. They jumped, chanted and danced, cutting themselves until they bled, in the manner of their worship. “Yet there was neither a sound nor any response from heaven” (Melochim I, 18:25-26). Their altar remained unlit.
At noon, Eliyohu mocked the priests of Baal, asking if their god was asleep. They continued their efforts until the time of Mincha, to no avail. There was no response.
Then Eliyohu Hanovi invited the people to draw close and he made his preparations. At the moment of Mincha, he shechted his korban, placed it upon the mizbei’ach, and recited a prayer “that this people may know that You…are G-d.”
Hashem sent a streak of heavenly fire to consume the korban, the wood, the stones, the dust and the water. The posuk recounts that the people saw this and fell on their faces, calling out, “Hashem Hu Ha’Elokim.”
Imagine the scene. It was Eliyohu Hanovi’s finest hour, as he stood firmly and courageously facing hundreds of prophets and a powerful king, undaunted. He performed a miracle in full view of the people. No doubt, the prestige enjoyed by Eliyohu was great. The people were in awe of him and his abilities. They were overcome with emotion and longing for repentance.
Yet, their reaction wasn’t to extol the virtues of Eliyohu and exclaim that Eliyohu is a tremendous tzaddik, baal mofeis, and miracle worker for the ages. They didn’t shout out Eliyohu’s praises as you would imagine they would have. Instead, all who had gathered for the showdown reached the same conclusion and proclaimed in unison what would become an eternal declaration of faith: “Hashem Hu Ha’Elokim!”
In fact, that was the greatest tribute to Eliyohu Hanovi, who knew that the role of a Yehudi is to act as a conduit to cause people to focus on the Source of miracles and might.
With this, we can understand the tefillah of Al Hanissim and the avodah of Chanukah.
The Chashmonaim were the conduits for the miracles that led to freeing the Jews from the domination of the Yevonim. But they made sure that the celebration was about Hashem, not about them. Their mesirus nefesh in battle brought about the proclamation that “Hashem Hu Ha’Elokim.” The victory didn’t come about because the Chashmonaim were effective warriors and baalei mofeis. Their mission was to lead to a condition of lehodos ulehallel leShimcha hagadol, and therefore they were victorious.
This is the middah of hod, splendor, which allows the truth to shine through. Man becomes a vessel, transparent and unnoticed as he reflects the light of Hakadosh Boruch Hu. This is the avodah of Chanukah and, perhaps, the meaning of the Al Hanissim prayer.
The story of Chanukah wasn’t about the Chashmonaim and their military accomplishments. It was about making great the name of Hashem. The reverberations of that victory echo through the generations.
Homiletically, perhaps that is also the reason we chant “ein lonu reshus lehishtameish bohem” as we light the menorah. We sing about the fact that it is forbidden for us to derive any benefit from the lights, because those lights are being mefarseim the neis that occurred to signify that Hashem Hu Ha’Elokim. The miracles weren’t performed to prove our greatness or for our benefit. The neiros burn brightly, giving off their clear luminescence, proclaiming our acknowledgement that Hashem is the One and Only Power.
As we light the neiros Chanukah, we recite the brochah, “She’osah nissim la’avoseinu bayomim haheim bazeman hazeh.” The holy seforim explain the reference of the brochah to “bayomim haheim bazeman hazeh” as alluding to the idea that the same force that enabled miracles back then, bayomim haheim, returns every year at this time, allowing for nissim of our own in our time, bazeman hazeh.
We can all tap into that power. We can become people of hod, focusing on bringing glory to the One Who made us, not keeping it for ourselves. If we do that, we will succeed in our missions and merit miracles. Look around at people involved with the klal, in chinuch yaldei Yisroel, in building, teaching and supporting Torah, those who put their own interests aside and work lesheim shomayim are those who succeed.
When Rav Yitzchok Hutner assumed the leadership of Mesivta Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin, Rav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz called a meeting of his board of directors at Mesivta Torah Vodaas. He indicated a map and drew a line between Brownsville, where Chaim Berlin was located, and Williamsburg, home to Torah Vodaas. He gerrymandered the districts.
“All the boys who live on this side of the line will enroll in Chaim Berlin,” said Rav Shraga Feivel. “That’s their new yeshiva. We will not be accepting them anymore.”
And then, after this act of selflessness, he looked at two of his generous board members, Reb Yehuda Leib Falik and Reb Eliyohu Fruchthandler, and said, “And you two will join Rav Hutner as his baalei batim!”
Rav Shraga Feivel generated miracles, because it wasn’t about him. It wasn’t about his yeshiva. There was no me and no my and no mine. It was all about Hashem.
The renaissance of Torah after World War II arrived might well be traced to selfless decisions such as that one. Mesirus nefesh, the negation of self for a greater cause, generates extraordinary results. Speak to people who have succeeded in planting Torah; being mekarev Jews; establishing talmidim; building successful schools and yeshivos, and you will detect selflessness at the root of their hatzlocha. Work for Hashem and He will help you; work for yourself and you will find out the explanation of the posuk in Koheles (19:1), which states “Lo lechachomim lechem.”
The Bach at the beginning of Hilchos Chanukah (Tur, Orach Chaim 270) writes that there was a gezeirah to permit the Yevonim to torment the Jews and attempt to separate them from Torah observance because Klal Yisroel was weak in their avodah.
Their laxity in avodah resulted in the gezeirah to take away the avodah from them. When they did teshuvah and demonstrated that they were prepared to be moser nefesh for avodah, as they did for the mitzvah of hadlokas hamenorah, Hashem sent their salvation through the Chashmonaim, who, as kohanim, were ba’alei avodah.
In our generation, people of commitment are few. Scoffers are louder, more numerous, better connected, and more adept at generating publicity than we are. Yet, we remain undaunted.
We know that the lights ignited by Aharon Hakohein in the Mishkon are as bright now as they were back then. We know that the lights lit by his descendants in the Bais Hamikdosh are still giving off light in our day.
And we know that the power of the miracles performed in the days of his descendants, the Chashmonaim, are effectual during the days of Chanukah. We can tap into that power.
Our mission in this world is to serve Hashem with temimus, each person in his own way. Our job is not to win every battle, but to remain focused on our task, doing what we can to bring about kiddush Shemo Yisborach. We judge success not by headlines and public accolades, but by a barometer that has nothing to do with the here and now.
Those of us who are motivated by pure motives, don’t engage in improper behavior, chicanery and subterfuge to further our goals. Just as the Chashmonaim held out for pure oil to concentrate the Beis Hamikdosh, people who work lesheim shomayim don’t use impure means to fuel their enterprises.
The posuk in Mishlei (6:23), states “Ki ner mitzvah vetorah ohr,” mitzvos are candles and the Torah is light. In order for the Torah to light and shine, it has to be fueled by proper fuel. When the funding sources are not in conformance with the mitzvos, the Torah will not take hold and will become exhausted and flame out.
We are not the focus of our life missions. It is not about temporal praise and honor to us, but rather about bringing honor to Hashem by being mekadeish Shemo Hagadol. We fail to be impressed by the fleeting flattery of fork-tongued people, mocking us behind our backs, as they smile broadly to our faces. Yehudim are not pragmatic about their Yiddishkeit, even if that means being sidelined and marginalized by the wealthy and powerful.
The Telzer rosh yeshiva, Rav Elya Meir Bloch, lost his family and yeshiva in the inferno of Europe, but he forged on, determined to plant Telz d’Lita in America. He reestablished the Telzer Yeshiva in Cleveland, then a stronghold of secular Judaism, with not more than a few talmidim.
During the early period of the yeshiva, as he was struggling mightily, Rav Elya Meir made a local appeal for funds. Very few people participated and the response was dismal. Someone advised him to soften his message and speak kindly about those whom he perceived to be enemies of traditional Torah values. If he would do so, the man told him, he would gain more support from the local community and might even be able to convince some families to send their boys to learn in Telz.
Rav Elya Meir wouldn’t hear of it. “Nowhere does it say that the Ribbono Shel Olam needs me to be a rosh yeshiva, and whether or not I have financial support or talmidim is His decision,” he said. “However, I do know that Hashem needs me to be an ehrliche Yid, even one without talmidim. That part is not up for negotiation or compromise.”
It wasn’t about him. He didn’t build a yeshiva for himself. It was about Hashem and his Torah. If he was the right shliach, he would succeed, and if he didn’t, then it wasn’t meant to be. But no matter what happened, his principles, honesty, forthrightness and fidelity to a hallowed creed were not negotiable.
We have to remain focused, dedicated shlichim to the One Who sent us here and not become impressed by the modern-day pragmatists and Misyavnim. We don’t need to be victorious to win. We need to hold our heads upright, moving forward and ignoring the enticements and mockery that we are old-fashioned, misguided and stubborn. Their inducements do not lure us. Their lies do not impress us. There is but one truth and it cannot be compromised.
There was no doubt that there were many good Jews who disagreed with the Misyavnim, and were horrified by their actions, but they lacked the confidence to cry out. They shrugged and looked away, thinking they had no choice but to accept the new reality.
The Chashmonaim had the courage to identify the danger for what it was. They weren’t impressed or swayed by the advanced Greek culture and the false smiles of entreaty. They weren’t intimidated when they were mocked for being out of touch and not with it.
The Gemara in Maseches Shabbos states that the Chanukah lights must burn “ad shetichleh regel min hashuk,” until everyone has gone home and there is no one left in the street to see the neiros and remember the neis of Chanukah.
Yehudim see the neiros Chanukah and are reminded that no matter the nisayon of the day and the powers stacked against them, if they follow the will of Hashem, they will triumph. They witness the menorah burning brightly on Chanukah and remember that although the Chashmonaim were vastly outnumbered and universally mocked, they remained loyal to the truth of Torah and were thus able to defeat the forces of darkness aligned against them.
There are poskim (Moadim Uzemanim 2:141) who rule that if there are no Yehudim in the street when the menorah is lit, the brachos cannot be recited. Akum are not bnei hoda’ah. The purpose of lighting is pirsumei nisa, to publicize the Chanukah miracle in order to bring about hallel and hoda’ah. Only Yehudim recognize their place in creation and are thankful for it.
When Yehudim see the lights of Chanukah, the middah of hod shines through, causing us to engage in hallel and hoda’ah. We recommit ourselves to the mesirus nefesh required to execute our roles of spreading the light of Torah throughout the world. We are thankful and joyful.
May this be the last year we are mefarseim the neis in golus.