Parshat Miketz/8th Day of Chanukah
December 6th-7th, 2002
2 Teves, 5763
After lighting the Chanukah menorah last night with
my family, I commented on how beautifully expansive the illumination of
seven neros (candles) was [not counting the shamash, or "helper" candle].
My father-in-law responded that he felt a little bit sad at the sight:
after all, the increasing number of lights signals the quickly approaching
end of the festival. (No two people--especially Jews--think alike!)
In truth, we were both on the mark.
There is a special beauty and inspiration in the increase of candles each
night. For as our commentaries explain, the nes (miracle) of the oil in
the Beis Hamikdash [Temple] became more and more glorious (and immense) as
each day passed. G-d’s reassuring message to the Jewish people ("I’m with
you even in the darkness of exile and persecution…") became progressively
sharper and clearer as the one-day supply of oil continued to burn on.
Certainly by the eighth day, the revelation of a governing Hand above
natural law--the Hand that formed that law in the first place, and
continues to sustain its workings throughout time--was unambiguous. And
for us, too, then, there is the potential each year to feel greater and
greater delight as the number of candles (and the extent of the miracle
they commemorate) increases with each day of Chanukah.
At the same time, though, I share some of my father-in-law’s sadness at
the prospect of putting away the menorah for another year, and heading
into the long, dark days of winter until another joyous rabbinical holiday
(Purim) will clasp us in its inspiring (if inebriated) embrace!
WHICH MAKES IT THAT MUCH MORE INCUMBENT ON US TO TAKE SOMETHING WITH US
FROM CHANUKAH ON THE LONG, UPCOMING JOURNEY. Each holiday we observe (and,
indeed, each mitzvah we do) is supposed to leave a lasting impression on
our souls, and strengthen us in our service of G-d. As the S’fas Emes
[great Chassidic commentary on the Torah] writes, we need to receive the
spiritual light of Chanukah into our selves, incorporating the insights
and inspiration we gained into our personalities. In short, we are
supposed to have something left over from these eight days.
The good news is that it is still not too late to gain some illumination
from this special season. In fact, some sources (I believe) say that the
amount of spiritual light accessible during a festival is greatest, and
most potent, at its end specifically. (Just as the finale of every
fireworks show has the most intense and brilliant display!) So here are a
couple of special Chanukah perspectives that we can take with us as
provisions on our journey into the rest of the Jewish year.
Renewal and Rededication.
What does the word, "Chanukah," even mean? It is related to the Hebrew
word for, "dedication" or "inauguration," since this holiday was
established after the Jewish people regained control of the Temple--circa
138 B.C.E.-- that had been in the hands of the Syrian-Greek forces for the
previous few years (and converted into a site of pagan worship). The
Divine service--including, famously, the lighting of the Menorah--was
resumed, and the Temple as a whole re-dedicated to its original and holy
purpose. The purity of our Jewish service unto G-d (symbolized by the one
flask of pure olive oil that had escaped the defiling hands of the
Syrian-Greeks) was re-established and renewed.
On a spiritual level, then, this is the enduring power of the days of
Chanukah: to serve as an inspiration to renew our service unto G-d
(especially through prayer), to aid us in regaining the purity of our
desire to be more loyal and committed Jews--even in the face of powerful
opposing forces in society (and in our own personalities). Through
striving to better serve G-d--yes, some degree of effort on our part is
involved--we can kindle the inspiration in our own souls to be true
yehudim, those who thank and praise the Almighty in all the circumstances
of life. We can be certain that our sincere efforts at "rededication" at
whatever level will awaken a response from Hashem, just as the
self-sacrifice of the Maccabees led to His responding with the miracle of
the military victories over the stronger Greek forces and, ultimately, the
miracle of the oil in the Temple.
When we strive to illuminate our souls through greater dedication to the
Torah and mitzvos, Hashem brings more holiness and spiritual Light into
the world (and our selves). In other words, if we try…we are guaranteed of
success! (That’s how it is with spiritual matters.)
Light from the Darkness.
Chanukah teaches us that we can break through to find the spiritual light
even in the darkness of personal, or national, exile. In fact, as our
Sages teach, the very purpose of the darkness itself is to stimulate us to
search for the illumination; G-d’s "hiding" serves as the precursor to the
ultimate Revelation of His light and blessing.
This lesson is one of the unifying themes throughout all of the Psalms,
including Psalm 30 ("a song of the dedication of the Temple—chanukas
ha’bayis") that is said each morning after services during Chanukah. "I
will exalt You, Hashem, for You have raised me from the depths, and have
not allowed my foes to rejoice over me…You have transformed my mourning
into dancing…so that my soul might sing to You and not be silenced."
The nisyaonos (tests) we face, either personally or nationally, are meant
to awaken in us a greater appreciation of our dependence on G-d and a
greater dedication to seeking His closeness. When G-d "delivers" us,
sending us the assistance we need (with ourselves making the proper
initiative, of course, and not "relying" on miracles), we "see the Light"
[forgive the foreign sound of that construction]. That is to say, we see
that His light was behind the cloud cover all the time, that His guidance
was not withdrawn, that (as King David says) "His anger," i.e., the
withdrawal of His light, "endures but a moment." The result is a greater
awareness of His constant presence, even in the seemingly "natural" events
of daily life…and, ideally, a re-dedication (chanukah) to leading a
Torah-centered life and a renewal (chanukah) of one’s commitment to Jewish
ideals and practice. So that my soul might sing to you…
Whatever else they may accomplish (or whatever other Divine intentions
they express), the dark times we experience are meant to spur us to
cherish the blessings--and acknowledge the constant wonders, miracles and
Illumination--that we enjoy even during the most "normal" times! It is no
coincidence that the Hebrew word for miracle, nes, also means, "banner."
The temporary disruption of a miracle (a miraculous deliverance from some
tribulation, for example) is designed to announce--like a banner-- that
the constant and ongoing reality we experience is also a miracle. The
Lights are always there!
And we can see in this week’s Torah portion (not coincidentally) a
particularly stunning divine deliverance: the sudden and dramatic turn of
events in Yosef’s life that catapults him from the lowest level of
Egyptian society to the de facto rulership of the whole empire! One
minute, he is in a dungeon…and the next minute (after interpreting
Pharaoh’s mysterious dream), he is the viceroy of Egypt, preparing the
land to survive the divinely foretold years of famine ahead. When it is
the right time, redemption happens in the blink of an eye.
In Yosef’s story, we see the paradigm of exile and deliverance. First, the
darkness of his separation from his father, his sale down to Egypt, and
all the subsequent tribulations he endured. Then, finally, the
illumination of his ultimate elevation to power…and the revelation (of
which he himself, in his great faith, was never in doubt) that his ordeal
was all along part of G-d’s larger plan to prepare the way for the Jewish
people to live in Egypt.
May we draw from this Torah portion…and from this last and most brilliant
day of Chanukah (and Shabbos)…all the spiritual illumination we can.GOOD
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