This Shabbos, an abundance of kedusha is coming our way. As with all such gifts, we must prepare properly for this present from above or we may miss the opportunity to seize the riches that can be ours.
Klal Yisroel will be celebrating the confluence of Shabbos, Rosh Chodesh and Chanukah, with the bonus of removing three Sifrei Torah from the Aron Kodesh for three independent readings. Not only should we be glowing with joy over this rare occurrence, but we should realize that this moment in every shul in the world represents an incredible eis ratzon – a time of Divine grace and acceptance – for all of us.
Rav Elimelech Biderman (Be’er Hachaim, Chanukah, page 125) writes, “The Zohar (206a) teaches that whenever the Aron Kodesh is opened, it is an eis ratzon. We have a direct kabbolah from the Tzemach Tzedek, who heard from his grandfather, the Baal Hatanya, who heard from his rebbe, the Maggid of Mezeritch, who heard from his own rebbe, the Baal Shem Tov, that all prayers and supplications that are uttered when the Aron is open will be fulfilled in part or in full. All the more so when three Sifrei Torah are taken out, many students of the Baal Shem Tov testify that at that moment the gates of compassion are opened and great things can be accomplished.”
What exactly is the nature of the eis ratzon that is coming upon us this Shabbos, G-d willing?
Rav Shalom Noach Berezovsky, the Nesivos Shalom (Chanukah, page 86), explains how the neiros of Shabbos and those of Chanukah work hand in hand. “The light of Chanukah,” he writes, “elevates a Jew from the depths of lowliness to which he may have sunk. Then the ner Shabbos brings him up to the loftiest heights to which a person can hope to reach. That is why we first light the menorah on Erev Shabbos and then the Shabbos lights.”
Somewhat later (page 92), he quotes the Koznitzer Maggid, who says that for this very reason, the Chanukah neiros were originally meant to be kindled outdoors, as they are today in Eretz Yisroel. This represents the concept that “the Chanukah lights are meant to illuminate the souls of those who stand outside Judaism, outside the borders of holiness, who are simply incapable of perceiving kedusha. This is the role of the Chanukah neiros, which must be kindled below ten tefachim (about 40 inches).”
We might add that indeed, most Chassidic rebbes light large menorahs that stand on the floor, not high on a table or pedestal, for they are designed to lift up those who have fallen or perhaps have never even reached any level of spiritual stature.
The Nesivos Shalom (page 96) concludes by asserting that the three Torah readings this Shabbos correspond to the three evil decrees promulgated by the Greeks against us to eradicate the observance of Shabbos, Rosh Chodesh and bris milah.
All of this is true, but we must probe even deeper for the source of the eis ratzon when we carefully take three Sifrei Kodesh out of the Aron. The Gemara (Shabbos 23b) teaches us that “one who is rogil b’ner, accustomed to lighting Shabbos and Chanukah candles, will be blessed with sons who are talmidei chachomim. Many meforshim wonder why the Gemara uses this strange phrase “rogil b’ner, when concerning the rewards of other mitzvos, such as mezuzah and tzitzis, it uses the term zohir, meaning “one who is scrupulous.” Indeed, in the case of other mitzvos, the reward for conscientious performance of a mitzvah results in a concomitant result. For mezuzah, it is a beautiful home and for tzitzis it is a fine garment. However, the recompense of scholarly children for proper lighting of the Shabbos or Chanukah candles is somewhat incomprehensible.cccc
The answer may be hidden in another mystery. One of the Rishonim (Rokeiach, Hilchos Chanukah) reveals that the reason we light a total of 36 lights on Chanukah is because the ohr haganuz, the primordial light of creation, lasted for 36 hours during the earliest moments of the universe. This teaching is a reference to the words of Chazal (Yerushalmi, Brachos 8:5) that the light of the first day, which preceded the sun and all other physical sources of light, cast its celestial illumination for thirty-six hours. What happened to that special incandescence?
Rav Chaim Volozhiner (Nefesh Hachaim, note, end of Shaar 1) reveals that it was transferred into the Torah itself. There are two times when this light becomes most available to us.c
The Medrash (Tehillim to Mizmor 92) tells us that this light illuminated the entire first Shabbos of creation, when there was no darkness at all, and we have seen from the Rokeiach that Chanukah channels those 36 hours as well.cc
We may now examine why appropriate dedication to the Shabbos and Chanukah neiros are referred to as rogil. Actually, this would seem to be a pejorative term. The Chiddushei Harim notes that the Gemara in Shabbos refers to raglei Tarmudai – literally the feet of a certain group of businessmen – as representing the last time one may light the Chanukah menorah. He comments that raglei evokes the word hergel, which usually refers to one who performs a mitzvah out of rote and habit. Chanukah, however, represents hischadshus, renewal and freshness. The question therefore arises as to why we recite daily in the morning, “May it be Your will…shetargileinu beSorasecha – that You accustom us to [study] Your Torah.” Surely, hergel is the very embodiment of habituation and regularity, as opposed to exciting freshness and motivation. In fact, Rav Chaim Shmulevitz often writes of hergel as the most destructive way to approach Torah and mitzvos.
My rebbi, Rav Yitzchok Hutner (Sefer Hazikaron, pages 13 and 72), gives us the answer in a life-changing bit of advice, which explains the essence of Chanukah as well.
Rav Hutner notes that Dovid Hamelech’s punishment for having referred to the Torah as a song was that he forgot a halacha that even children know, namely that the Aron had to be carried on the shoulders, not on a wagon (Sotah 35a). Rav Hutner explained that in actuality, there are two seemingly opposite approaches to Torah study. One stresses the yoke of the Torah – the requirements and the obligation to fulfill the word of the Creator. The other is the tremendous pleasure of Torah study, the sheer joy of exploring the meaning and depth of His word.
Dovid Hamelech mistakenly stressed the joyous aspect over the yoke and so was shown that he should not denigrate the yoke by forgetting that the Torah must indeed be a burden upon one’s shoulders as well. Of course, he was not fully wrong about the Torah being a song or else the posuk declaring the Torah as a song would have been deleted from the eternal words of Tehillim. The words are infinitely true and should be repeated for forever, but Dovid Hamelech stressed them temporarily a bit too much.
As Rav Hutner once put it, at the time of Chanukah, Klal Yisroel was in danger of having aged to the point that their attitude to Torah had become somewhat ossified and settled into a dangerous hergel. Chanukah and the Chashmonaim restored the ohr haganuz, bringing back the youthful excitement and pleasure of the Torah. But at the same time, perhaps, there needed to be a rededication to the yoke of the Torah as well. That reference may be hidden in the raglei Tarmudai, the absolute obligation to light the menorah at a certain time and place. One must not only light the menorah, but one must become a ragil b’ner, learning at regular unbroken times, following a precise order, schedule and system.
Indeed, as Rav Hutner stressed, these two ideals must be carefully calibrated and balanced, not accentuating one over the other, lest one forget, as did Dovid Hamelech momentarily, the necessity of each ideal. It seems that Rav Hutner once felt that he required strengthening in the kabbolas ohl aspect of the Torah, so he spent several consecutive days learning Mishnah Berurah. He then returned to his regular world of adding chiddushei Torah and singing the joyous song of the Torah. The balance had been achieved and he was able to move back to the middle road.
Shabbos Rosh Chodesh Chanukah brings together the two interfusing roads. Rosh Chodesh and the new moon represent the ideal of freshness and renewal. A new month represents a totally new start, as did the rededication of the Bais Hamikdosh. Shabbos, however, represents that which is kevi’i vekaymi, that which is not manmade but eternal and constant. Chanukah itself combines the two ideals into one. The joy of Torah study, as represented by the menorah, counteracts the lure of Yovon and its call to imitate their philosophies and innovations. Yet, the mesirus nefesh of the Chashmonaim reminds us that the new and exciting cannot overshadow the ancient and time-honored.
The three Sifrei Torah of Shabbos Rosh Chodesh Chanukah are this year’s gift to show us that these seeming opposites are really one and can be reconciled, but are, in truth, the only path to kedusha. As we sing in the Shir Hakavod, “Vayechezu becha ziknah uvacharus – They envisioned in You agedness and virility.” May we emulate Hashem in both the yoke of Torah and the eternal joy of renewal and youthful dedication.