MEANING IN MITZVOT by Rabbi Asher Meir
Each week we discuss one familiar halakhic practice and try to show its beauty and meaning. The columns are based on Rabbi Meir's commentary Meaning in Mitzvot on Kitzur Shulchan Arukh.
Halakhic Commemoration of Chanukah
Our parsha begins with the commandment to Aharon to light the menorah in the Mishkan. This comes immediately following the end of last week’s parsha which describes the special donations of the leaders of the tribes, the Nesiim. Rashi cites a Midrash that the order of these two portions hints that Aharon was envious of the important contribution of the Nesiim, and that HaShem consoled by reminding him that the daily service of lighting the menorah, which is reserved for Aharon and his offspring the Kohanim, is far more important.
Noting that the “consolation” to Aharon relates specifically to the menorah and not to any other aspect of the Temple service, the Ramban suggests that this Midrash hints at the Chanukah miracle, in which the Kohanim consecrated the altar and lit the menorah. He cites a version of the Midrash which says explicitly that HaShem’s message to Aharon is that of a future inauguration “in which I will bring to Israel through your sons miracles and salvation and an inauguration which will be called after them”.
Of course the Chashmonaim Kohanim did not only consecrate the altar; they were also the temporal leaders who led the rebellion and the actual military campaign which successfully eliminated Greek sovereignty from our land. Yet the consolation HaShem offers Aharon refers explicitly only to the role of the Kohanim in the Mikdash. Aharon’s feeling of the superiority of the Nesiim seems to be partially related to their secular leadership of the tribes, yet HaShem doesn’t emphasize that the Kohanim will also be princes and in fact kings of Israel at the time of the Chanukah miracle.
The main miracle we celebrate on Chanukah is that of the military victory. There is nothing miraculous per se in the inauguration of the altar, and the miracle of the oil is not inherently more awesome than many other miracles documented in the Scripture, or even than the miracles which occurred continually in the Mikdash, as we learn in the Mishna (Avot 5:7). But the victory of the tiny, poorly equipped and poorly trained Jewish army over the mighty Greek conquerors was truly supernatural.
Even so, our Sages are constantly drawing our attention away from the military and political significance of the victory and emphasizing the spiritual significance. This is true not only of the Midrashim, but also in the halakha.
• The most visible mitzva of the holiday is that of the Chanukah lights, which publicizes both miracles but obviously particularly emphasizes the miracle of the Mikdash and not that of the war.
• While the Rambam in the Mishneh Torah does mention that restoration of Jewish sovereignty as a central attainment of the Chashmonaim rebellion, he does not mention foreign sovereignty as a cause of the rebellion. (Rambam, Megillah and Chanukah 3:1.)
By basing the celebration of the Chanukah miracle on our political attainments but giving precedence in observance to the spiritual attainments, our Sages emphasize that the importance of the political acheivements themselves are in their spiritual consequences.
Rabbi Meir HAS JUST COMPLETED writing a monumental companion to Kitzur Shulchan Aruch which beautifully presents the meanings in our mitzvot and halacha.
Rabbi Meir authors a popular weekly on-line Q&A column, "The Jewish Ethicist", which gives Jewish guidance on everyday ethical dilemmas in the workplace. The column is a joint project of the JCT Center for Business Ethics, Jerusalem College of Technology - Machon Lev; and Aish HaTorah. You can see the Jewish Ethicist, and submit your own questions, at www.jewishethicist.com or at www.aish.com.