Giant Menorah publicizes Miracle of Chanukah
Giant Menorah publicizes Miracle of ChanukahIsrael news courtesy of Jacob Richman

Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein

Generally, when Hashem performs miracles for us, we are in dire straits, when there is no other way to overcome an imminent danger or find an alternative solution short of Hashem's intervention. Yet, as Rabbi Bernstein points out in Illuminating the Night, there were two halachically acceptable ways to avoid necessitating a miracle to light the menorah in the Beit Hamikdosh after the Maccabees victory over the Greeks. In this emergency, the priests could have used impure oil, or they could have waited until pure oil could have been produced, since the circumstances prevented them from proper, permanent lighting of the menorah. Yet, the Hashmonaim refused to accept these leniencies. They refused to contaminate the sanctity of the mitzvah by lighting the menorah with impure oil. Yet, they would not wait patiently to perform this mitzvah, and the Hashmonaim kindled the menorah with what should have been sufficient oil for only one night, even though it would take eight days to produce the pure oil used in the Temple's menorah. They had full faith in Hashem, and seeing this devotion, Hashem reciprocated by performing a miracle; Hashem had that one day's supply burn for the full eight days. The sanctity the Hashmonaim created in those days is carried forth to these times, to this Chanukah season every year, writes Rabbi Fryman in Shaarei Derech, and we declare that connection every year as we light the menorah, says Rabbi Roth in Sichot Eliyahu.

The connection between those days and this time can be explored on three different levels, using the acronym מלך/king. We are meant to be king, to be masters of all aspects of our being: מ = מח, our intellectual capacity, ל = לב, our heart and emotions, and כ = כליות, the kidneys, the source of passion.

There were certainly miracles in the Beit Hamikdosh, but they were all initiated by Hashem. But the miracle of Chanukah was initiated here below through the passion of the Hashmonaim, writes Rabbi Rothberg in Moda Labinah. That same energy to go against the natural order to do the will of Hashem exists every year at this time. This is the time that, if we have the will to enhance the honor and glory of Heaven, Hashem will help us as He helped the kohanim at that time. This is the involvement of the kidneys, the source of passion.

But there is also a deep lesson to be learned from the Chanukah experience. In Chanukah: Capturing the Light, Rabbi Immanuel Bernstein insists that we are required to assess the victory over the Greeks not merely as a means to rekindling the menorah, but as a miracle in its own right. Rabbi Bernstein quoting the Maharal, suggests that the miracle of the oil was actually meant to highlight the miracle of the military victory, to keep us from haughtily proclaiming that our advanced strategies were the source of our victory rather than Hashem's involvement. The miracle of the oil was a means of publicizing the miraculous defeat of the many by the few. That is why "Men of understanding established eight days for song and jubilation" [Maoz Tzur] rather than just seven days of the miracle of the oil. They were able to intellectually discern from the miracle of the oil that the military victory was equally miraculous. Accordingly, the first day of Chanukah commemorates the military victory while the remaining seven days commemorate the miracle of the oil.

In truth, continues Rabbi Bernstein, the miracle of the oil occurred daily in the Beit Hamikdosh, with the flame lasting beyond its allotted tome. However, as the connection between Bnei Yisroel and Hakodosh Boruch Hu weakened, the flame lasted less and less time. When the Hashmonaim went to war and so passionately wanted to reestablish the strong connection to Hashem, Hashem responded by "reestablishing" the previous miracle. The war was the result of wanting to reestablish the connection.

The message of the Chanukah candles, writes Rabbi Kluger in My Sole Desire, is to see that Hashem is always with us in whatever dark situation we may be in. The candles themselves may not be used for any purpose, for they have inherent holiness. We must just see them and believe that Hashem is with us. This is our response to the Greek voice within us that wants us to declare, "We have no part in Hashem." Our response, like that of the Maccabees, must be, "Mi laHashem Elai/We are connected to Hashem." As the Lubavitcher Rebbe zt"l noted, a candle is the most spiritual of all things in the world, and the most appropriate to convey the presence of Hashem in this world. The flame is proof of Hashem's continuous presence within us, and the symbol for our resistance to the Greeks insisting we deny that allegiance.

The Greeks celebrated nature and believed that nothing, not even man, could rise above nature. Judaism renounces this view. By fighting and winning this war, writes Rabbi Bernstein, we proved that with his free will, man can indeed rise above his nature. Even nature itself can rise above itself, as did the oil that continued to burn beyond its natural life.

Hashem had taken Avraham Avinu outside and, instructing him to count the stars, Hashem told Avraham, "כה יהיה זרעך/Thus will be your offspring." They too will be directly under God and defy the natural order. When will this be proven? On Chanukah, on the כה/25 of Kislev, writes Rabbi Schorr in Halekach Vehalebuv. We have the ability to defeat Yavan/Greece and rise above nature.

Given the power of Chanukah, Rebbetzin Smiles suggests that this is a good time to select one challenge, whether it be tendency to anger, to speak loshon horo, or to mindless eating, and resolve to fight that urge once or twice a day during Chanukah. Hashem invests "supernatural strength" in us at this time.

If Chanukah represents light, then Greece represents darkness. Even before creation, there was "darkness on the face of the deep." This darkness, explain Chazal, is Greece who "darkened the eyes of Bnei Yisroel" with their decrees. Rabbi Eliyahu Roth in Sichot Eliyahu sheds light on this Chazal.

Why did the Greeks want the Jews to write on the horns of an ox, "We have no part in the God of Israel?" Because, being an agricultural society, the ox was a symbol of nature. They felt that everything followed natural law; everything was part of this world only, a world we consider a world of hiddenness and darkness. In contrast, the Jews would turn constantly to pray to Hashem, whether for a cure, a wife, or sustenance. The Greeks wanted to convince us we don't need prayer. People control the world. If you're sick, take a pill, for everything is cause and effect; there is no such thing as God. Chanukah counters their belief and reinforces ours.

The Sichot Eliyahu continues, citing the homiletic interpretation of the Maharsha, on a statement of Rabbi Yossi. The world rests on pillars that rest on water, that rests on mountains that rest on the wind. Obviously, this is not geographical. What does this mean? It gives the purpose of the world. The pillars refer to the pillars cited in Avot, the pillars of Torah, avodah/service and gemillat chasadim/acts of kindness. These three pillars rest on the waters of Torah, and the Torah stands on the mountainous shoulders of our Patriarchs. We "lift our eyes" not only to the הרים/mountains, but to the הורים/parents. And they are supported by the wind, the spirit, the free will of man. These provide meaning to life. The Greeks knew science and chemistry, the what and how of life, but not the why that gives meaning to life. Even that which appears like nature is actually only a manifestation of God's will.

There are three "keys" that remain strictly in God's control and were not given to man: the keys to childbirth, to rain, and to resurrection. Hashem put these into a form of structure that we call "the laws of nature." Without these "laws", the world would be in chaos and man could not function or plan. However, these laws are not independent. Any weatherman will admit that his predictions are only speculative, that he cannot predict when there will be a drought or when there will be flooding. There is no set pattern. Doctors often cannot explain why some couples are fertile and others not, and certainly cannot explain why conception occurs in a particular month and not another. And certainly, we cannot resurrect anyone dead [although we can sometimes revive someone who has been declared clinically dead for just a few minutes]. Just as Hashem controls these, so does He controls all of creation.

When the Greeks heard of the miracle of the oil, they could find no scientific reason for it. This open miracle was the proof of the hidden miracles and of the miracle behind the war they had just lost. The miracles Hashem wrought in those days of darkness must remind us that in these days of darkness as well, Hashem is in control. It's not enough for us just to light the candles. The flames should help us contemplate all Hashem's miracles, hidden and overt, and lead us to sing praises, and to ignite gratitude for our relationship to Hakodosh Boruch Hu. We must thank Hashem's messengers, such as doctors, but we must understand that their ability comes from Hashem, "Ki Ani Hashem Rofecha/For I Hashem are your Doctor/Healer.

Finally, we must engage the heart, feel an emotional connection to Hashem. The era under Greek domination was a dark period in our history, a period of God's concealment. The Chanukah miracle was a reassuring hug from Hakodosh Boruch Hu that is meant to carry us through the exiles, writes Rabbi Hofstedter in Dorash Dovid. Although He may be hidden from view, He assures us that He is still with us. Just as Hashem gifted us with eight days when the veil of concealment was removed in those days, so is Hashem also with us in this time. Therefore we continue to celebrate with eight days of joy and gratitude every year to tune in and feel Hashem's love.

Interestingly, while we should try to do all mitzvoth in a beautiful manner, lighting the Chanukah candles is the only mitzvah that we are commanded to do in the most elegant and beautiful way possible. The Lubavitcher Rebbe zt"l explains that because Hashem performed these miracles for us that demonstrated a love that was above and beyond what was necessary, we reciprocate with love that is also beyond the mere requirements of the mitzvah.

Feeling this love strengthens an emunah/faith that will support us in our personal dark times, writes Rabbi Edelstein, citing Rav Dessler. We appreciate light only after darkness. As we light the candles at night, we get a glimpse of the hidden, primal light of creation. We can tap into this connection with Hakodosh Boruch Hu as we gaze at the candles in the menorah. By davening beside this special light, we open the pathways for Hashem to send His blessings to us, writes Rabbi Z. M. Silverberg in Sichot Hischazkus.

The trust that the Hashmonaim put in Hashem is a model for us to strengthen our trust in Hashem during these dark times in our generation, teaches us Rav Olshin.

When we serve Hashem passionately, feeling His love and returning it, and understanding His presence and care for the world through the logic of our minds, we build pathways of connection to the Ribbono shel Olam. This connection is clearly demonstrated with the annual eight day lighting of the Chanukah candles.