First time in English: A testimony for Eternity

Fifth of the late Chief Rabbi Avraham Shapira's essays on Hanukkah: 'The reason the Menorah stands testimony, is by virtue of the fact that it is located in the Heichal, the place that both the Written Torah and the Oral Torah were given.'

Harav Avraham Shapira zts"l, | updated: 15:11

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

For previous Hanukkah essays by Rabbi Avraham Shapira zts"l, translated for the first time and posted exclusively on Arutz Sheva, click here and here. For a film about the Rabbi, click here.

The Ramban comments on the passuk in the beginning of Parshas B’haalotcha,

B’haalotcha – “When you kindle.” Why is the parsha of the Menorah written next to the parsha of the korbanot (offerings) of the Nesi’im – tribal leaders? Because, as Aharon saw the role the Nesi’im played in dedicating the Mishkan, he became upset that neither he nor his tribe had been involved in the dedication. Hashem said to Aharon, “Your role is greater than theirs, for you prepare and light the candles morning and night.”

This is Rashi’s commentary based on the Midrash Aggadah… And I also saw in “Yilamdeinu” and in the Midrash Rabbah that Hashem said to Moshe, “Go tell Aharon, do not worry, for you are destined for even greater things. The korbanot are kept only while the Beit Hamikdash exists. But the candles will shine forth from the Menorah forever, and all of the blessings which I have given you to bless my children with, will not be nullified forever.”

It is clear that when the Beit Hamikdash is destroyed and there are no longer korbanot, the candles of the Menorah there will not be lit either. However, this is a hint to the candles of Hanukkah in the time of the Hashmonaim, which will be performed even after the destruction and exile.

From the Ramban’s commentary, it seems as if the lighting of the candles is comparable to bringing korbanot, and just as the korbanot brought about the dedication of the Mishkan, also the lighting of the candles brought about the dedication of the Menorah. As such, Hashem first comforted Aharon by telling him about the lighting of the Menorah in the Beit Hamikdash.

The question arises, why was Aharon upset about not bringing a korban along with the Nesi’im? If he had wanted to, he could have; he was permitted to enter the Beit Hamikdash at his will, and bring korbanot whenever he chose. One possible explanation is that at first, Aharon did not want to bring a korban together with the Nesi’im, because such a thing is against halakha – it is forbidden for an individual to bring the ketoret, and it is forbidden to bring a korban on the outer mizbeiach. However, the Nesi’im did so anyway, in a case of hora’at sha’ah, as it says in the passuk, “I [Hashem] have eaten my sugar cane with my sugar.”

Rashi explains this, saying:

Regarding the ketoret, it says that the Nesi’im brought the ketoret individually on the outer mizbeiach, and it was accepted. Yet, this is not established as being acceptable for future generations. Therefore, the passuk says, ‘I have eaten my sugar cane with my sugar,’ for there are plants which grow in canes… where the honey is sucked out and the cane discarded. But due to my affection, I have eaten the sugar cane along with the sugar, the stem along with the honey, what is not proper along with what is proper, the voluntary ketoret along with the se’irei chattat brought by the Nesi’im. Even though a korban chattat is not brought as a voluntary korban, I accepted them on that day.

The Nesi’im brought their korbanot due to their great enthusiasm, but enthusiasm is short-lived, and does not come from the Torah, and so Aharon did not want to join them. Even Moshe Rabbeinu had not wanted to accept their korbanot at first, until Hashem instructed him to accept them. The Midrash tells us that the Nesi’im had aligned their intentions to fulfill Hashem’s will, even though the Torah does not say so outright, and due to Hashem’s affection for the dedication of the Mishkan, He instructed Moshe to accept their korbanot. However, Aharon reasoned that it was not possible for there to be a Divine instruction with which Moshe was unfamiliar, and so he did not want to participate in the korbanot of the Nesi’im. Only after seeing Hashem instruct Moshe to accept their korbanot, did Aharon get upset that he had not joined them.

Hashem comforts Aharon by instructing him to light the candles. With the Hashmonaim as well, Hashem approves of their deeds, and they merited aligning their actions with Hashem’s will. This ability, to align one’s actions with Hashem’s will, and to merit Divine approval, is a blessing given specially to the Kohanim. On the passuk, “And I will bless them,” Rashi elaborates, “I will agree with the Kohanim.”


From here we can understand the minhag to begin the Torah reading on Hanukkah from the parsha of Bircat Kohanim, immediately preceding the korbanot of the Nesi’im, despite that fact that it seems irrelevant to the theme of Hanukkah.
From here we can understand the minhag to begin the Torah reading on Hanukkah from the parsha of Bircat Kohanim, immediately preceding the korbanot of the Nesi’im, despite that fact that it seems irrelevant to the theme of Hanukkah. For it is in the parsha of Bircat Kohanim in which Hashem’s approval of the Kohanim’s actions is revealed.

In response to Aharon’s disappointment, Hashem tells him, “Your portion is greater than theirs.” The korbanot of the Nesi’im did not last for generations, while Aharon’s candle lighting would endure forever with the rededication of the Beit Hamikdash in the time of the Hashmonaim. This answer that Hashem gives to Aharon needs clarification. It sounds as if the lighting of the candles by the Hashmonaim on Hanukkah is a continuation of the lighting of the candles in the Beit Hamikdash, and yet, why is this so? These are seemingly two separate mitzvos; after the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash the mitzvah of lighting candles there was nullified, while the lighting of the Hanukkah candles is a new mitzvah, completely unrelated. Lighting the candles in the Beit Hamikdash, however, while it was comparable to any other service, served a deeper purpose, which was, as we mentioned earlier, to testify to the world that the Shechinah dwells among the Jewish people.

The reason the Menorah stands testimony, is by virtue of the fact that it is located in the Heichal, the place that both the Written Torah and the Oral Torah were given. On the passuk, “When Moshe arrived at the Ohel Moed to speak with Him, he heard the Voice speaking to him from atop the Kapporet that was upon the Ohel Moed, from between the two Cherubim, and He spoke to him,” Rashi explains,

In a case where two p’sukim contradict each other, a third passuk will come along and resolve the contradiction. One passuk says, “Hashem spoke to Moshe from above the Ohel Moed, which is outside of the Parochet – dividing curtain.” A second passuk says, “I spoke to you from above the Kapporet – cover.” Then, this [third] passuk [in Sefer Bamidbar] comes along to resolve the contradiction: "Moshe came to the Ohel Moed, and there he heard the Voice come out from above the Kapporet."

The first thing Moshe heard there, was the parsha of lighting the candles of the Menorah. It is the first piece of Torah that he hears in the Heichal, which he then uses to comfort Aharon, for the Menorah has the ability to shine forth the light of the wisdom of Torah, due to the strength of the mitzvah performed by it. The source for this is in the Gemara, which says, “A person who wishes to acquire wisdom, should head southward… and the sign for this is the Menorah in the south.”

When Moshe Rabbeinu came to the Heichal to hear the Voice speak to him, he also received the Oral Torah. This revelation of the Written Torah and the Oral Torah is the revelation of the Shechinah among the Jewish people. It is to this that the Menorah stands testimony – for the giving over of the Oral Torah and for the revelation of the Shechinah. Therefore, it is clear that the Hanukkah candles are a direct continuation of the candles in the Beit Hamikdash, for these signify the continuity of the Oral Torah.

The war of the Hashmonaim against the Greeks was a war regarding the endurance of the Oral Torah, which the Hanukkah candles symbolize, and as such, “your portion is greater than theirs” – for your candles symbolize the eternal revelation of the Oral Torah, and as such, they will be lit eternally.





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