Wicks trump wickedness

Chashmonai-spirit says that nothing is too insignificant for those who love Life to get involved in.

Rabbi Dr. Aryeh Hirsch

Judaism Chief Rabbi Lau lights Hanukkah candles with disabled children at Shalva
Chief Rabbi Lau lights Hanukkah candles with disabled children at Shalva

"All wicks are kosher for Hanukkah lights even if the oil does not draw well into the wick". (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 773, 1).

"They would tear and make wicks for the Temple from the worn out trousers and belts of the Kohanim… only during the Simchat Beit Hashoeva" (in the Temple on the Sukkot holiday) - Tractate Shabbos, 21a.

"Today, December 6, 2017, President Trump recognized Jerusalem, the ancient capital of the Jewish people, as the capital of the State of Israel…this historic action by the President.."

The President's above declaration stirred up much controversy, as expected. I was astounded, though, that even young graduates of a US Day School education, spending a year in Israel learning Torah, were blasé about it, feeling it "was not as significant as they make it out here in Israel- just words". Pointing out parallels to the once- every -millennium declarations by angels (Genesis 32; 27, 30), Cyrus, Balfour, Truman, etc. didn't ring any historic bells. I should've tried Churchill's January 1, 1941 response to FDR during Britain's most trying period of World War II:

"I feel it my duty on behalf of the whole British Empire, to tell you, Mr. President, how lively is our sense of gratitude and admiration for the memorable declaration which you made to the American people and to the lovers of freedom in all continents. We cannot tell what lies before us, but with this trump (my note: pun intended)et-call we must march forward heartened and fortified, and with the confidence which you have expressed that in the end all will be well for the English-speaking peoples and those who share their ideals."

Substitute "Hebrew-s speaking for "English", and the Hodaah, thanks, owed President Trump is fully expressed. 

This current event occurred during the yearly Hanukkah season, our Rabbinic holiday of thanks- historically, thanks to the Lord for granting the Hashmonian victory and restoration of Jerusalem and its Temple to Jewish sovereignty. Nowhere in Halakhah are the motivations for Rabbinic decrees so evident, and so deeply thoughtful, as in the laws of Hanukkah.

In previous years, I've shown the bliblical sources for the rules of Hanukkah: who lights, how many lights are lit, when to light; Hanukkah gelt( maot Hanukkah),etc. This year I'd like to look at the above rule for wicks:

The Talmud says that wicks that are kosher for Shabbos lights, were kosher to be used in the Temple. Such wicks had to draw up oil smoothly, so that the flame would not flicker. However, once a year there was no such requirement: during the joyful celebrations of Sukkot , called the Simchat Beit Hashoevah. The trousers of the Kohanim, the priests, were made from wool. Oil does not draw well into a woolen wick, and so could not normally be used for lights in the Temple; but during the Beit Hashoevah celebrations, they could be used.

Why? The reason is the holiness of Yerushalayim:

Rav Kook, as explained by Rav Tzvi Tau in Emunat Iteinu,volume 11, pages 136-139, notes that there are two levels to Kedushah (holiness): one, חסין קודש (Chasin kodesh) is the source of holiness ( we sing to this aspect of the Almighty in the Ana B'koach song each Friday night); the other, all  holiness derived from the source. 

The source is the קדש הקדשים , the Holy of Holies in the Temple in Jerusalem- and although no Temple now exists, the site certainly exists- in modern Jerusalem. Rabbinic teachings say it is more than just the source of holiness: it is the foundation stone of all existence, of our Universe. As such, it can unite in holiness all details of Existence, uniting in it the holy and the non-holy/impure /material/secular into one unit. This is the power of the Jerusalem that President Trump recognized as the ancient and modern center of the Jewish people.

Rav Kook explains that the Priest's Temple-trousers, being worn to cover the lower parts of the Priest's body, represent human lower bodily functions, and as such would not be fitting to serve as wicks. Moreover, they were made of wool, and would not be kosher to be used as wicks in the Temple: the wick represents the physical body, not under the sway of Sechel, man's soul and intellect (which are symbolized by the flame of the light). Ideally, the flame should burn with a constancy in the wick, uplifting the physical "wick/-body- but wool is incapable of burning thus, and so in normally not kosher as a Temple wick. 

However, in the holy Temple (the Chasin Kodesh), during the time of the holy Simchat Beit Hashoevah celebrations, even worn-out woolen priestly trousers can be used as wicks. Also, as noted in the opening of this essay, the Shulchan Aruch says that these woolen wicks are kosher for Hanukkah lights.  After serving their lower, physical service, these garments and woolen wicks will, on their own "volition", as it were, progress to their higher purpose, to serve Sechel ( see my: Imagining Hanukkah, this website, Dec .21/2008 ) and holiness.         

Of course, it won't really happen "on their own". Rav Kook: to reach Chasin kodesh is only possible with the help of the One above. And this leads us, again, to Hanukkah, when we pray: " You Lord, saw our plight, how they persecute us, how they insult us- and You רבת את ריבם, fought our fight". With G-d's help, on Hanukkah, the "impure (Greeks) were delivered into the hands of the pure (Chashmonaim) ".

As Rav Matis Weinberg brilliantly explains: 

The prophet Hagai lived at the time of the rebuilding of the Second Temple. After giving Jews the soaring message that " greater than the glory of Solomon's Temple, will be the glory of this seemingly puny second Temple building ", the Almighty tells Hagai to give an amazing test to the Kohanim who will serve in the new Temple.  "Ask them the following: if an impure animal (sheretz) touches sacrificial meat, which touches bread, which touches a stew, which touches sacrificial wine, which touches holy oil or food - will the last item become impure?" 

The Kohanim answered: "Pure".

Rav says (Talmud Pesachim 17a) that the answer the Kohanim gave was wrong. They were then given another question, which they answered correctly: "Impure". G-d then says that He considers them and the whole nation, impure. This is a prophecy for the future, that the Jews in Second Temple times will become impure through sin. Important, says Rav Weinberg, is the date of that prophecy: "the 24th day of the 9th month (Kislev, in the second year of Deryovesh II, or year 3407)". Kislev 24 is the date, in the year 3622, of the final battle that allowed Judah Maccabee to conquer Jerusalem and its Temple from the Syrian-Greek forces of impurity and wickedness. 

Rav Weinberg finishes by noting that those great Chashmonaim were able to risk acting and getting physically involved in the battle, because they were Tehorim, pure; thus they could trust ( have bitachon)  in the Lord. Even a seemingly insignificant  shred of impurity, of a "small impure animal touching a bit of meat, touching a bit of bread, etc." risks the whole enterprise, and inhibits men from acting (he notes the attitude of King Chizkiyahu, who judged himself not up to the high standards of his ancestors- Kings Yehoshafat, Asa and David- and so didn't act against Senacheriv of Assyria. Paralyzed into inactivity, he and his city, Jerusalem, went to sleep- and awoke the morning of Passover to a miraculous Divine gift of deliverance). 

So we've come full circle, from wicks in Jerusalem; to the confident Chashmonai  spirit and salvation in Jerusalem; to this Hanukkah, 2017, in Jerusalem. As Rav Weinberg finishes, that Chashmonai-spirit says that nothing is too insignificant for those who love Life to get involved in,  and to thank G-d for- including long-overdue recognition of our, 2017, Jewish, Israeli Jerusalem.

As the prophecy to Hagai finishes: "I will  shake Heaven and Earth, overthrow kingdoms , destroy mighty nations, overturn chariots and riders, , bring down horses and riders, each man by the sword of his fellow. On that day I, Lord of Hosts, will make you, my servant Zerubavel, Prince of Jerusalem (Malbim), into My Seal and into the pinnacle of Creation – for I have chosen you".