This Shabbos, we all have a rare opportunity. Since it is Shabbos Rosh Chodesh Chanukah, we will take out three Sifrei Torah from the Aron Kodesh. We know from the Zohar Hakadosh (2:206a) that whenever the Aron is open, it is a propitious moment for everyone in the shul. As Rav Meilech Biderman (Be’er Avrohom, Chanukah, page 124, note 8) reminds us, this is multiplied threefold on such a Shabbos. He quotes from the Sadigura Rebbe, Rav Avrohom Yaakov, that this Shabbos elevates us, so to speak, to the incredible level of being mechutanim with Hashem. The reason is that Shabbos is Hashem’s gift to us. We have nothing to do with creating its sanctity and it is totally from Hashem. On the other hand, Rosh Chodesh is established by Klal Yisroel though bais din and may therefore be considered our gift to our Creator. Thus, this reflects a profound stage in our relationship and mutual love. This is also reflected in the Gemara (Brachos 6a) that Hashem and Klal Yisroel actually always have this mutually reciprocal affinity of absolute affection.
The question is: Where does Chanukah fit into this process? Since neither the Sadigura Rebbe nor Rav Biderman address the question, it behooves us to explore it during this amazing week. The Maharal (Sefer Ner Mitzvah, Part II, page 74) teaches us that the Yevonim had a special animus for the Bais Hamikdosh. The question therefore (as raised by Rabbi Yehoshua Dovid Hartman in footnote 6) is: Why didn’t they destroy the Bais Hamikdosh in their enmity?
My rebbi, Rav Yitzchok Hutner zt”l (as cited in the footnote as well), answers (Pachad Yitzchok, Chanukah 6:4) that “it must first be noted that unlike all the other enemies of Klal Yisroel, the Greeks subjugated us in our own domain… The inner meaning of this distinction is that Yovon was not so much opposed to Klal Yisroel per se as to the havdalah between us and the nations. Yovon did not destroy the Bais Hamikdosh but defiled it (Yechezkel 7:22; Avodah Zarah 52b). Yovon did not spill out the oil. They contaminated whatever they could find and ruin.”
Thus, both the profound danger of the Yevonim and, conversely, the importance of the miracle was that the uniqueness and singularity of Klal Yisroel was established through Chanukah and the restoration of the Bais Hamikdosh and especially the menorah. This also follows the Maharal’s own explanation (as Rabbi Hartman references later in footnote 363) why he included in his sefer about Chanukah a major section about avoiding the wine of gentiles. Since the essence of Chanukah relates to our havdalah from the rest of the world, discussions about Chanukah appropriately include all matters relating to that havdalah.
We may now begin to understand the place of Chanukah in a Shabbos that is already graced by the kedusha of Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh. As we learned from the Sadigura Rebbe, Shabbos is Hashem’s gift to us and Rosh Chodesh is our gift to Hashem. Chanukah, however, is the moment when we established the exclusivity of this relationship. The Maharal (Ner Mitzvah, page 40) is also our source for this idea when he discusses the Greek decree (Bereishis Rabbah 2:4) that we should “write on the horns of an ox that we have no part in the G-d of Yisroel.” He explains that the horn was meant as a reminder that, we too, committed idolatry when we made the Eigel. Therefore, claimed the Yevonim, we were no better than them. Here, too, we can see clearly that all the Greeks wanted was to “erase the boundary between themselves and Am Yisroel” (Pachad Yitzchok ibid). They did not even claim superiority over us, only parity.
This, then, is the place of the Chanukah Torah reading this Shabbos. Even after we have established the mutual love between Hashem and His people, there is still the danger of foreign influences and adulteration between us. The Yevonim tried to come between us, but the Chashmonaim, with their mesirus nefesh and kedusha, established for all time that our love for Hashem leaves no room whatsoever for any other commitments or entanglements. The error of the Yevonim, as the Maharal points out elsewhere (see Netzach Yisroel, chapter 11, page 299) was that they thought that our relationship with Hashem is something superficial and ephemeral. However, on His side, Hashem has promised us that He is our Father and we are his children for eternity and in perpetuity (see Ner Mitzvah, page 39). On our side, the “Holy Kohanim” mentioned in Al Hanissim established through their spiritual heroism and self-sacrifice (see Rashi, Devorim 33:11) that even if we periodically fall into sin, it is never to sever our elemental relationship. Sometimes we will falter, being human beings, but we will always return to our one and only Father and Creator. That is the contribution of the Chanukah laining to the madreigos already established through Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh.
We may get a sense of this Chanukah contribution to our eternal bond with Hashem from a story from Churban Europa. It was the 25th of Kislev in the horrific Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. The word had spread like wildfire that there would be a Chanukah lighting of the menorah in barracks A2 of the camp. Swiftly, despite the danger and even uncertainty of what was happening, dozens of emaciated skeletal Yidden filled the tiny room with anticipation. An elderly Jew with a radiant face strode in with pride and joy, despite his bent and gaunt shriveled frame. The Bluzhever Rebbe took out a small sardine can in which some oil had been preserved from many so-called Nazi prisoner meals. He pulled a thin thread from his “uniform” and, amidst bitter cries and tears, began to recite the first two brachos on the “menorah.”
Suddenly, the rebbe stopped and could not go on. Some thought that he lost his courage. Other looked around furtively, thinking that they had been caught. However, after a moment, the rebbe – even more full-throated than before – recited the brocha of Shehecheyanu. After the hadlakah, a non-religious accosted the rebbe. “I understand, he began severely, “to some extent how you were able to say the first two brachos. But how in the world could you say Shehecheyanyu in this Gehennom?”
The rebbe looked at the lost soul with compassion and love in his eyes. “You are right,” he responded. “I, too, stopped before saying those ancient words. After all, what is there to be thankful for when so many of our brothers and sisters, sons and daughters have just gone to their deaths in the gas chambers and crematoria? But then I looked around at the shining faces of those who were so anxious to perform a mitzvah even under these circumstances. I saw that their faith was firm, their bitachon healthy and intact. It is on that dedication that I was able to bentch Shehecheyanu vekiyemanu lazeman hazeh. I made a brocha on the holiness of Jews, affirming their love for Hashem no matter what” (Sefer Ani Maamin, Shailos Unteshuvos M’emek Habocha, Otzar Hasippurim, page 613).
Rav Yerucham Levovitz, mashgiach of the Mir (Daas Chochmah Umussar 2:17) sees our unshakable relationship with Hashem as the essential difference between ourselves and our enemies. He quotes Chazal (Bereishis Rabbah 69:3, 89:4) on the posuk relating Paroh’s dream. He had a vision that “he was standing on the river” (Bereishis 41:1). The Medrash contrasts this with Yaakov’s dream, where “Hashem is standing above him” (Bereishis 28:13). Chazal declare pithily, “The wicked see themselves as standing over their idols, but we always picture Hashem as being above us.”
Rav Tzadok Hakohein of Lublin (Resisei Laylah 25) also understands this contrast as teaching that while our enemies are obsessed only with what is good for themselves, we are prepared to do anything for Hashem. The Chovos Halevavos (10:1) writes movingly of a certain pious man who was suffering terribly. He stood up in the middle of the night and declared, “My G-d, You have starved me and abandoned me in the darkness. Even if You see fit to burn me in fire, I will not cease to love You.” These are the Chashmonaim of the ages who carried on the tradition and mandate that no matter what happens, we are loyal to our Father in heaven. This is the third laining of this Shabbos and our part of the covenant with Hashem. May we be zocheh to share only simchos and light with our heavenly Mechutan.
Ah freilichen Shabbos Chanukah.