First time in English: The radiance of Torah on Hanukkah

First time in English, late Chief Rabbi Avraham Shapira's illuminating writings on Hanukkah: 'The miracle of Hanukkah is that there was an aspect of Matan Torah all over again: the ability of the Oral Torah to expand and develop had returned.'

Harav Avraham Shapira zts"l, | updated: 08:39

הרב אברהם שפירא זצ"ל
הרב אברהם שפירא זצ"ל
צילום: ישיבת מרכז הרב

To read the first article in this series, Hanukkah - The celebration of the Oral Law, click here. Note: Footnotes have been omitted due to programming restraints.

In the time of the second Beit Hamikdash, revelations of the Oral Torah came about which had never appeared before as the Sefer Heikhalot describes, “From the day the Torah was given, its glory, preciousness, greatness, honor, splendor, its fear and awe, its richness, pride, intellectual brilliance, might and strength were not given over until the building of the second Beit Hamikdash.”

In the time of the first Beit Hamikdash, the people were on a higher level, there were Nevu’ah and the Urim v’Tumim, and yet the strength of Torah, its glory and splendor, were not given over until the second Beit Hamikdash. The Pirkei D’Rabi Eliezer brings a list of eleven things that were present in the second Beit Hamikdash and not in the first. This is because the second Beit Hamikdash had no Nevu’ah, and when Nevu’ah ceased, new aspects of Torah were given over from Heaven. The glory and splendor of Torah that existed only in the second Beit Hamikdash were the Chiddushim, new decisions derived from the Oral Torah.

The Secret of Torah

The Sefer Heikhalot explains that in the time of the second Beit Hamikdash, not only did the Jewish people receive Chiddushim from the Revealed Oral Torah, but they also received secrets of the Unrevealed Oral Torah. As Hashem says, “I know what you request, and My heart understands for what you yearn. An abundance of Torah you request, and you wish for a profusion of its secrets.” This request was, in fact, granted, as Hashem continues to tell the Jewish people:

"A secret emerged from My house of treasures, and undisclosed Torah crept out of My hidden treasures. I reveal them to My beloved nation, concealed for them from the beginning of time, ready for them since the days of Creation. I had not thought to give them over to any generation until now; they have been reserved for this generation.'


It is very important for us to mention the independence of the Jewish people in Al Hanissim, for without it, the revelation of the Oral Torah in its full splendor would not have been possible.
We say in Al Hanissim on Hanukkah: U’le’amcha Yisrael asisa teshu’a gedolah u’furkan k’hayom hazeh – “You have affected a great deliverance and redemption for Your people, Israel, to this very day.” Purkan refers to independence and freedom. It is very important for us to mention the independence of the Jewish people in Al Hanissim, for without it, the revelation of the Oral Torah in its full splendor would not have been possible.

The Gemara tells us that the first kingdom, of the Hashmonaim, lasted 70 years, and the second kingdom, of Herod, lasted 52 years. Yet, this seems strange, for the kingdom of the Hashmonaim in truth lasted over 200 years, as the Rambam writes, “The Kingdom of Israel was restored for over 200 years, until the destruction of the second Beit Hamikdash.”

Rashi clarifies:

Although it says in the sefer Seder Olam that the kingdom of the Hashmonaim lasted 103 years and the kingdom of Herod lasted 103 years, the main component of their honor and glory, in which no other nation ruled over them, did not last as long.

Rashi explains that the splendor of the Hashmonaim’s kingdom lasted only 70 years, for it is only for this period that they were not subjugated to the slavery of the Roman Empire. So it is regarding the splendor of Torah, which flourishes and develops under conditions of freedom and independence from the nations of the world. Only then that can we attain spiritual independence, and the Torah can attain its full magnificence, as it develops and springs forth Chiddushim from the Oral Torah and of the Unrevealed Torah.


The Radiance of Wisdom

The miracle of Hanukkah is that there was an aspect of Matan Torah all over again: the ability of the Oral Torah to expand and develop had returned. The Hashmonaim’s victory led to the strengthening of the Torah against the darkness that the Greeks had tried to enforce. As the Midrash says, “‘The camel’ refers to Bavel ‘for it brings up its cud,’ for it raised Daniel… ‘And the rabbit’ represents Greece… for it raised Tzaddikim – righteous people.”


The Ramban explains the Gemara, saying that there is Nevu’ah through wisdom.
The Gemara teaches us, “From the time of Rabi Yochanan ben Zakai’s death, the radiance of wisdom was lost.” Rashi writes that he doesn’t know what that is. It seems that we can explain, in light of that which has been mentioned previously, that in the second Beit Hamikdash, the “radiance of Torah” was given over. Rabi Yochanan ben Zakai. who was the last of the Tannaim in the second Beit Hamikdash, and as long as it stood, the giants of Torah encompassed the radiance of wisdom.

This is the strength of Torah which was revealed in its full splendor in the time of the second Beit Hamikdash. Nevu’ah had ceased, and yet the wisdom of Torah existed and flourished. In fact, the wisdom of Torah came in place of Nevu’ah, as the Gemara explains, “Although Nevu’ah was taken from the Nevi’im, it was not taken from the Chachamim.” The Ramban explains the Gemara, saying that there is Nevu’ah through wisdom.

The Dwelling of the Shechinah Among the Jewish People

The Ramban brings the words of Chazal, our Talmudic Sages, who tell us that Aharon the Kohen became disappointed that he did not participate in the sacrifices of the Nesi’im – the leaders of the tribes. Hashem comforts him, saying, “Your role is greater than theirs.” The Ramban explains that Aharon was promised the job of lighting the Menorah in the Beit Hamikdash, which would last for generations, for even when there would not be a Beit Hamikdash, the lighting of the Menorah would continue every year on Hanukkah.

There is a need to clarify what makes the lighting of the Menorah so important.

The Gemara explains that the Menorah is a testimony to the fact that “the Shechina dwells among the Jewish people.” Yet what exactly is the meaning of this phrase? Further, why is this concept mentioned specifically regarding the Menorah? The explanation can be found in Parshat Be’ha’alotcha, the first parsha that Moshe learns in the Mishkan after the days of Milu’im, as explained by Rashi regarding the juxtaposition of this parsha to the parsha of the korbanot, offerings, of the Nesi'im.

The Midrash explains that in the Ohel Moed, Moshe is addressed, “Moshe came to the Ohel Moed and heard the Voice come from above the Kapporet – covering of the Aron.” The concept of Torah is that Hashem’s Shechinah dwells among the Jewish people, which expresses itself specifically with regard to the Menorah. This is also mentioned in the Gemara, Harotzeh l’hachkim, yadrim – “A person who wishes to acquire wisdom, should head Southward.”

Within the Torah’s wisdom exists an inherent connection between Hashem and the Jewish people, and as such, the Shechinah dwells among them. In addition, the Hanukkah candles represent how the Jewish people succeeded in maintaining the Shechinah’s presence among them via their continued Torah learning, contrary to the Greeks’ ambition to cause them to forget their Torah.

The Torah is the vehicle for Hashem’s Shechinah to dwell among the Jewish people. It is against this specific notion that the Greeks fought so strongly. Regarding the phrase L’hashkicham Torasecha – “To cause them to forget Your Torah,” the Abudaraham writes that, “The Greeks wanted to
When we learn Torah, Hashem learns with us.
cause the Jewish people to forget the Name of Hashem.” Yet, the words of the Tefillah are, “To cause them to forget Your Torah,” not, “To make them forget My Name.” In truth, though, the desire to cause the Jewish people to forget the Torah is really a desire to cause them to forget their G-d, for Hashem and the Torah are one. Therefore, “Hashem’s Torah” is equivalent to “Hashem’s Name.”

Proof for this can be found in the Gemara, which asks, “What is the source for the requirement to make a bracha before learning Torah? It says in the passuk, ‘When I call out the Name of Hashem, ascribe greatness to our G-d.’” The question arises, where is Torah mentioned in this passuk? And the answer is, that the name of Hashem is Torah. According to the Abudaraham, this is the meaning of the phrase, “to cause them to forget Your Torah,” for the Torah and Hashem are one.

Another important factor worthy of mentioning is the dwelling of the Shechinah while a person learns Torah. Chazal tell us that Torah should be learned in small groups, and yet even an individual who learns alone merits the Shechinah’s presence with him. As it says in the passuk, B’chol makom asher azkir es shmi, avo eilecha u’verachticha – “Wherever I mention My Name, I shall come to you and bless you.”

The explanation of this Gemara is based on what we mentioned previously, that the Torah is the Name of Hashem. Yet, why does the passuk then say azkir – “I mention My Name,” when it seems to make more sense for it to say tazkir – “you mention My Name” since it refers to the person who is learning? The answer is, that an important principle can be learned from this: when we learn Torah, Hashem learns with us. Any place in which Torah is learned, it is as if that person is learning with Hashem. The Shechinah appears at the time of learning, with the learning.

This concept appears again in another passuk, Haben yakir li Ephraim… midei dabri bo – “Is Ephraim a son who is dear to Me? ... For whenever I speak of it…” What exactly does the phrase “speak of it” mean? The Targum Yonatan explains that “speak of it” refers to the Torah, that when a person learns Torah, Hashem speaks the words of Torah along with him.

Translated by Chaya Ben Rachamim




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