Shabbos Chanukah: A Partnership for the Ages

My rebbi, Rav Yitzchok Hutner zt”l, often taught us (see, e.g., Pachad Yitzchok, Rosh Hashanah 2:1) that when two distinct matters share a time or space, one must carefully analyze if they remain detached or have in fact merged into a new entity. Although Shabbos and Chanukah exist separately, when they blend their kedushos, something very special occurs.

Rav Pinchos Koritzer zt”l (Imrei Pinchos 67) declared this unique time as a taste of Moshiach. The rebbe of Aleksander (Akeidas Yitzchok 17) taught that this new holiness is so powerful that it elevates even those souls who remain unmoved by either sanctity by itself. With Shabbos Chanukah almost upon us, it would be worthwhile to prepare ourselves to access this incredible gift so that we can maximize an annual opportunity.

Rav Aharon Friedman zt”l, the rebbe of Boyan (Toldos Aharon, page 62), shares with us an extraordinary explanation of this confluence. “Shabbos,” he tells us, “represents machshavah, the world of thought, as we recite every Friday night in Lecha Dodi: ‘sof maaseh bemachashavah techilah – last in deed but first in thought.’ Rosh Chodesh represents speech, for the Jewish month is created by the words uttered by the people who declare it to be “holy holy” (Rosh Hashanah 24a). Chanukah represents action. Thought, speech and action are the sum total of all the middos.” Obviously, the rebbe is presenting us with profound concepts and teachings in this brief epigram. However, we will only borrow what we require to understand the unique fusion we know as Shabbos Chanukah.

 The Sefas Emes teaches (Chanukah 5639, page 211) that “the word Chanukah stands for chanu kah, meaning ‘they rested on the twenty-fifth.’ This signifies that they had arrived at the level of menucha, tranquility. This spiritual plane indicates people who have achieved the perfection (sheleimus) that had eluded them during their arduous battles with Yovon. Since they did not have the ability to reach this lofty degree by themselves, Hashem miraculously caused them to climb to this madreigah.

“That is the meaning of the title Chanukah, when they were blessed with arriving instantly at the peak of cleaving to the source of celestial holiness. This is the consolation for our generation today, since we are witnessing the rapid descent of the generations. Despite this precipitous fall, our hope is great that when our redemption arrives, we can come to perfection in a single moment.”

The Sefas Emes’ powerful message leads us to the first level of understanding the union of Shabbos and Chanukah. He opens our eyes to the fact that the miracle of Chanukah is not primarily that we survived physically or even spiritually. It is that despite the debilitating effects of war, even if one has triumphed miraculously, achieving new spiritual levels is the greatest victory of all. Shabbos represents the yearning, hope and dream of arriving at the level of misdabek b’shoresh elyon. But it is Chanukah that provides the action that makes this happen. Yet, it is the partnership of thought and action that created this wonderful reality. Although we did our best, the Sefas Emes reminds us of the fact that “lo hayah koach liBnei Yisroel laamod al hasheleichus” – we simply could do not do it on our own. That is when Hashem performed a multifaceted miracle for us. We were saved physically from overwhelming odds. We had our spiritual stature restored despite our weakened (nechelash) metaphysical condition. But most importantly, we reached totally new strata of ruchniyus, which were outright gifts from our Creator. Shabbos Chanukah – or two such Shabbosos in certain years – celebrates the process that Klal Yisroel experienced during golus Yovon. Many people who tragically failed the test no longer yearned for their old ways and the path of their ancestors. But those who fought valiantly gained a new dimension of holiness, aspects of which we, too, can access in our time as well. As the Sefas Emes says, “when the geulah will come…it will take but a second for us to achieve the ultimate perfection.” However, a part of this “sheleimus called menucha” can be achieved even today.

Rav Shmuel Auerbach (Ohel Rochel, page 120) points out a fascinating aspect of Shabbos itself that relates to this concept. Only on Shabbos, of all the Yomim Tovim, the text of each Shemoneh Esrei changes throughout the day. We refer to this at the highest moment of Shabbos, during Mincha, when we recite, “You are One and Your Name is One, and who is like Your people Yisroel, one nation on earth.” Every Shabbos, we live through a process of spiritual growth whose crescendo reflects the perfection of Klal Yisroel’s status at the End of Days.

The Tur (292), as Rav Auerbach notes, explains that, indeed, the three tefillos of Shabbos reflect three prototype Shabbosos in our national continuum. Friday night represents the Shabbos of creation, Shabbos morning the Shabbos of Mattan Torah, and Shabbos afternoon the Shabbos of Moshiach. With this idea, we can understand the special status of Shabbos Chanukah, for the Gemara tells us that according to Bais Hillel, Chanukah represents spiritual growth as well. Each night we increase the Chanukah lights, reflecting a new Hallel and a new rung on the great spiritual ladder. Thus, when Shabbos and Chanukah coalesce, we are doubly blessed with spiritual growth and a new energy. Just as the Yevonim undertook to bring us down to their spiritual level, Hashem rewarded us for our efforts by concomitantly intensifying our level of ruchniyus (see, also, Kuzari 3:17, Genizi ed., page 185).

We are now in a position to understand the words of the Sheim MiShmuel (Chanukah, s.v. inyan). He quotes his father, the Avnei Neizer, who says that the Chanukah lights are the ultimate preparation for the lights of Shabbos. Chazal tell us that the purpose of the Shabbos candles is for shalom bayis. Our usual understanding of this is that they enhance the peace and tranquility between husband and wife. However, the Avnei Neizer understands this concept to apply within each person himself. There is a constant battle being waged between body and soul. Only on Shabbos does the body appreciate the pre-eminence of the soul and make peace with its superiority. This can be seen in the posuk (Tzefaniah 1:12) which states, “It will be at that time that I will search Yerushalayim with candles.” The Sheim MiShmuel goes on to explain that for this reason, we light the Chanukah candles and then the Shabbos candles. Chanukah shines the laser light of self-analysis upon ourselves and corrects what we need to uplift and repair. Then we can enter the Shabbos mode, where the soul reigns supreme over the body. This follows the approach of the Chiddushei Harim, as quoted by the Avnei Neizer that on Shabbos we must feel that all of our work is done, even the “work” of spiritual repair as well. Once, sometimes twice a year, we are aided in this sacred task by the preliminary hard work of the Chanukah laser beams and their restorative powers.

Thus, we learn that Shabbos Chanukah provides us with an annual process of growth unlike any other in our calendar. Every year – at least once – we are granted the ability to borrow from our ancestors, the “holy kohanim,” the power to ascend to the heights of perfection. Like them, we must do our hishtadlus, doing the best we can to enter Shabbos having examined our souls with the searching candles. This new entity known as Shabbos Chanukah can provide us with a serenity unlike any other during the year. We enter her domain bathed in the double light of tranquility and self-awareness, ready to radiate our own new light as we continue to shine as brightly as the menorah, which proudly joins our shimmering Shabbos candles. Their partnership mirrors the joyous companionship of body and soul serving Hashem together in peace.

Ah gutten Shabbos Chanukah to all.