The Fifth Fire

Focusing on the fifth night of Hanukkah, the night when the light begins to overpower the darkness, and shed some of the Hanukkah light on the deeper significance of this day.

Rabbanit Shira Smiles,

Judaism Young women study Torah
Young women study Torah
Flash 90

Every night of Hanukkah brings with it a special glow imparted not only by the candles we light but also by the inherent beauty and significance unique to each night. For example, each night can be symbolically paired with one of the garments of the High Priest, for both the days of Hanukkah and these vestments consist of eight. We will focus on the fifth night of Hanukkah, the night when the light begins to overpower the darkness, and shed some of the Hanukkah light on the deeper significance of this day.

It is interesting that of all the days of Hanukkah, only the fifth day can never fall on Shabbat. Rabbi Strickhoff in Inside Hanukkah notes several ideas related to this fact. First, quoting the Lubavetcher Rebbe,  the fifth day never has the added light of Shabbat and its candles, it has the potential to create more light on its own, teaching us that in the darkest night and circumstances, we can find the potential for light and salvation. Further, the custom of giving children Hanukkah gelt money was a custom observed by many great rabbis on this night. After all, since it was never Shabbat on the fifth night on Hanukkah, money could be handled and distributed.

Rabbi Strickhoff traces the origin of the custom of Hanukkah gelt (today more generally transformed into gifts) to a historical and spiritual foundation. We know that the Greeks tried to tear us away from Torah, so it is only appropriate that we increase our Torah study and show how we value that Hashem saved us from the fate of a Torahless life. Hanukkah coins were originally distributed to teachers in recognition of their teaching our children Torah, and to children as rewards or bribes for Torah study. Children would thus come to realize how much we valued Torah study and would incorporate that value into their own lives.

An alternate theory for the custom of distributing money on Hanukkah is presented by The Belzer Rebbe who reminds us that lighting Hanukkah candles is  not a mitzvah that one can easily disregard because of extenuating circumstances because inherent in the mitzvah is the idea of publicizing the miracle. In order to enable the poor to buy candles for the Hanukkah menorah, the Rabbis would distribute some money, and, so as not to embarrass the poor, they would distribute coins to everyone.

Let us now move from the practical to the symbolic. The Tolne Rebbe discusses an idea from Rabbenu Bachaye. Since there are eight days of Hanukkah and the miracle was brought about through the High Priest, one can perhaps correlate one garment of the eight piece High Priests vestments with each day of Hanukkah according to the order they are listed in the Torah. The fifth garment mentioned is the ketonet, the shirt which had a boxed design. Rashi explains that the designs purpose was noy/beauty. One can easily recognize here the anagram forYovon/Greece.

However, there is a contrast between the Torah concept of beauty, as represented by the priestly, boxed garment, and the Greek concept of beauty. Jewish beauty is white, simple and pure, and focuses inward where true beauty lies. Greek beauty is external, outwardly visible and flashy, loud and boisterous like the physical games in the arenas. The Greeks exercised no physical restraint. But Jewish beauty is contained and restrained, invigorating the inner life of humanity. Jews learn to set boundaries, and it is indeed sad when these lines become blurred.

Taking this idea Rabbi Zev Leff, in Festivals and Light traces these national characteristics back to the progenitors of all mankind, the three sons of Noah. Shem, the ancestor of Jews and the Semitic people, means name, and the name of a thing represents its essence. Further, the letters shin and mem are the center letters of neshama, the inner essence and soul of man. Yefet, ancestor of Yovon/Greece, means beauty, and Noah blessed Yefet that he should be enlarged and enhanced in the tents of Shem, imbuing his physical beauty with structure and spiritual essence. Cham, ancestor of Canaan and Egypt, is the heat of passion and must be tempered by the body and soul if they are not to be destructive.

The Greeks chose to separate themselves from anything Shem represented, elevating external, physical beauty upon a pedestal, to stand alone. However, without a framework and unity, without any internal essence, the Greeks were destined to disintegrate. The Hebrew letters themselves, yud, vov, nun, are merely straight, parallel lines containing nothing and going nowhere except down. It is the neSHaMa within, the SHeM, that is the true essence of a human being as well as of a nation, not the external, physical conditions.

If we now move on to the Torah readings for each day of Hanukkah, we will note that they correspond to the  days of the dedication of the Tabernacle in the desert when the head of each tribe brought his gift for the Tabernacle. As presented by Rabbi Silverberg in Sichot Hitchazkut, there are mystical parallels between the tribe of the day and the essence of the day.

Since we are discussing the fifth day of Hanukkah, we will discuss its connection to Shimon, the tribe whose chief brought his offering on that day.

The focus of the name Shimon is hearing and listening, as Leah said in naming him, Ki shoma Hashem  - That Hashem heard …”The power of the fifth day of Hanukkah lies in our ability to hear and listen effectively. From our declaration at Sinai to do and to hear to the adjuration that Moshiach can come this very day im bekolo tishmau, if we will only heed (listen to) His voice, listening is central to our lives as Jews.

Since part of the mitzvah of lighting Hanukkah candles is publicizing the miracle, it was customary to place the menorah at the entranceway to ones home opposite the mezuzah where all passersby would see it. Rabbi Silverberg notes that there is a greater logic behind this placement. The light of the menorah must be informed by the content of the mezuzah whose first verse is our declaration of faith, Shema Yisroel, Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad  Hear O Israel, Hashem our God Hashem is One. We must internalize the words of the mezuzah and reflect them outward by living our lives with Hashem as our guiding light.

Further, the month associated with Shimon, based on the configuration of the camps in the desert, is the month of Av, the month in which we begin the teshuvah process that climaxes with Yom Kippur but, according to hassidic tradition, actually ends with the eighth day of Hanukkah. What is central to the entire teshuvah process is listening, most notably to the sound of the shofar, but more importantly to the voice calling to us daily from Sinai. The thirty six candles are to remind us of Hashem, to remember that Hashem wants to pray with us and to learn Torah with us, for it is Torat Hashem befichah, the Torah of Hashem in your mouth. Our prayer and our learning is our personal dialogue with Hakodosh Boruch Hu. The light of the fifth day helps us look within ourselves to find our inner light. As Rabbi Schorr writes in Halekach Vehalebuv, look deep inside yourself to discover the areas you need to work on and begin the process of teshuvah. The menorah is at the doorway, illuminating the entrance for our return.

Shimon is a model for teshuvah. When we ask Hashem for forgiveness, we recite His attributes, the fifth of which is Chaninah, mercy. While it was Shimon who recommended killing Yosef, it was also Shimon who later recognized his sin and confessed that, We are at fault for not listening to his voice when he pleaded with us (behitchaneno). Shimon understood that he had not practiced chaninah, mercy, showing favor (the response to the behitchaneno). He atoned fully not just by verbally acknowledging his sin but by offering to remain a slave to Yosef in place of his brother Binyamin, and Hashem was chonen and accepted his teshuvah. One can also recognize an etymological link between chaninah and Hanukkah.

The game of dreidel itself offers hope to those who have sinned egregiously, notes Rabbi Biderman in Beer Chaim. It doesnt matter how many times the dreidel revolves or how long it spins. What matters is where it ultimately lands.

Building on this theme, Rabbi Feldman in The Juggler and the King notes that the world was created with the letter Heh (BeHiborom). Why is this significant? The Hebrew alphabet is so unique that even the configuration of the letters conveys deep truths. A case in point is the letter Heh, representing the number five. The Heh is always open and offers a means of return. Further, a scribe will tell you that the Heh is really a composite of two other letters, a Daled with an upside down Yud inside it. The Daled, formed by the connection of a horizontal with a vertical line, represents the three dimensional, physical world. The Yud, on the other hand, is a mere point, without dimension, existing only as an idea of the mind, just as spirituality exists without dimension and physical perception. Although we live in a physical world, writes Rabbi Feldman, we must imbue our physicality with holiness and spirituality, represented by the Yud.

The eight days of Hanukkah also pair up with the seven Ushpizin (guests) of Succoth, writes Rabbi Silverberg. Our fifth guest is Aharon, the original High Priest. Aharon, who died in the fifth month of Av, was the ultimate peacemaker. How was he so successful? He would see the inner light and beauty in the neshama of every individual for the soul of man is the candle of God, and, if there was strife between neighbors, friends or spouses, he was able to illuminate that beauty and value of each to the other. How could they remain angry? Similarly he would bring peace between husband and wife, bringing the light of the candle to man and his household.

As Hanukkah approaches, may we work to merit seeing the return of the primal light of the first thirty six hours of earths existence, alluded to in the thirty six candles of Hanukkah. May we fan the flames hidden in our neshamot so that all aspects of our lives are meaningful and shine with the light of Hashem.

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