Fiery Facets and Faces

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03 Dec 2018

Naaleh_logo Shiur provided courtesy of

Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein

           We are all familiar with the story of Chanukah, of how the Syrian Greeks tried to eradicate the Jewish connection to Hashem by desecrating the Beit Hamikdosh and enacting laws to sever that connection, including even prohibiting speaking Hashem’s name. The miracle unfolds when Hashem helped a small army led by the priestly Mattisyahu and his sons defeat the powerful Syrian-Greek army and climaxes with the cleansing of the Beit Hamikdosh and finding a small flask of pure oil stamped with the seal of Mattisyahu the High Priest. This oil miraculously lasted a full eight days until fresh oil could be produced.

           The Tosher Rebbe z”l raises several questions in Avodat Avodah about these events. We know the priests served in the Beit Hamikdosh, not in the military. Why did the priests lead this battle? Further, it was not common practice for the priests to place their seals on the flasks of oil. How did this particular flask come into the hands of the Maccabees? Today, what should be our mindset as we light the menorah commemorating the miracle that Hashem did for our ancestors in those days?  Finally, our halacha states that if a person today lit his menorah properly, taking all necessary precautions, and the flame nevertheless goes out before the requisite thirty minutes, he need not relight the candle (although it is praiseworthy to do so), and he is deemed to have fulfilled the requirement of the mitzvah.  This halacha seems counter intuitive since the whole purpose of lighting the menorah is for the publication of the miracle.

           The battle against the Greeks was a battle for the spiritual soul of the Jew. But no matter how distant a Jew is from his heritage, that spark, that “pintele yid” never gets extinguished and was not even affected by Adam’s original sin in Eden.

           This begins the Tosher Rebbe z”l’s explanation of the priestly involvement in the battle. The Tosher Rebbe z”l leads us now on a mystical journey that connects the dots between the menorah, the priests, Chanukah and ourselves.

           Everything in existence exists on three planes, space, time, and physicality. These three are represented by the word oshon/smoke, (like the smoke that rose from the altar) which is an acronym for Olam/world/space, Shanah/time, and Nefesh/ existence/life/person. Each of these has a corresponding, spiritual partner. The sanctified space is the Beit Hamikdosh, time is Yom Kippur, and the person was the Kohein Gadol/High Priest. When the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur, person, place and time merged, and there was no room for the yetzer horo to preside, or even hide. However, the Kohein Gadol merged these elements not only on Yom Kippur, but also every day when he lit the Menorah in the sanctuary.

           In Kabbalah there are ten sefirot, spheres or characteristics through which we can relate to Hakodosh Boruch Hu. The top three, understanding, wisdom, visceral knowledge (the integration of understanding and wisdom) remain in the upper spheres to which we aspire. The remaining seven traits are more readily part of each of us. Among them are chesed/loving kindness, gevurah/power/strength (both inner and physical), and glory, among others. Our mission is to channel these seven characteristics to the service of Hashem so that we elevate them and uncover the hidden light within each of us. When I can channel the physical, our hunger and appreciation of foods, for example, to an appreciation of Hakodosh Boruch Hu, then I will automatically begin reciting my brachot and my prayers with deeper focus and intent. When Aharon and the later priests lit the seven branches of the menorah, they were joining the seven lower spheres of our character to the three upper spheres of knowledge, represented by the oil (which always rises to the top) so that knowledge of Hashem entered our hearts each day. The energy from the Menorah in the Beit Hamikdosh would leap out to us as across a synapse of space, writes Rabbi Roberts, and the passion invigorated our being in the knowledge of and service to Hashem. The Yevonim wanted to destroy this spiritual connection. By defiling all the oil, they hoped the Menorah could not be lit and our connection to Hashem would be severed. The Sages at the time understood that the battle to be fought was not a battle for physical subjugation, but a battle against spirituality. Spirituality was the realm of the priests, and therefore it was necessary for the priests to lead the battle.

           While generally the oil flasks did not carry the seal of the High Priest, the success of this battle rested on the involvement of the priests who would then relight the Menorah and reignite the souls of Bnei Yisroel. For this, they needed pure, holy oil.

           The Tosher Rebbe z”l continues now to connect the idea of that ancient Menorah to our Chanukah menorahs. When we light our Chanukah menorahs, that same light from the menorah of the Chashmonaim is being transferred to our menorahs. Just as the original light was holy, so too is the light in our menorahs, and therefore we may not use that light in any non – sanctified capacity. Generally, we are so distant from Hashem because we are completely involved in the physical world and in pursuit of the desires of our egos. When we light our menorahs, we feel the kedushah, the sanctity of that time, and the darkness begins to dissipate as the spark within us is being reignited. Lighting the candles is revealing the hidden light of creation, the primal light that was concealed after the sin of Adam and Eve. On Chanukah, we have the clarity to reconnect to our Maker as He originally wanted to be connected to us.

           It is in this light that we can understand another aspect of Chanukah. Although the world was conceived on Rosh Hashanah and each year we are judged on Rosh Hashanah, our fate can still be changed not only by Yom Kippur, or Hoshanah Rabbah. According to our Sages, the verdict is not fully sealed until the eighth day of Chanukah. On the days of Chanukah we celebrate returning to our core as the candles help us overcome the negative aspects of the seven traits and spheres of our character.

           The Greeks believed that the world and our lives were governed by nature. Therefore, writes Rabbi Immanuel Bernstein, they believed man could not override his natural tendencies. Judaism believes that not only are we able to overcome our nature, but elevating our nature is our mission. The optimal placement of the mezuzah is on the right with the menorah on the left. However, from Chidushei Harim, when one leaves the house and enters the world, these positions are reversed. The message is that one remains Jewish and must keep the sanctity of the menorah and mezuzah with him not just in his home, but also outside where one would expect him to go along with the crowd and succumb to his natural drives. The whole purpose of lighting the menorah, writes Rabbi Meislish, is to access the pintele yid within us, to break down the walls of our nature, and reconnect with Hakodosh Boruch Hu. Lighting the Chanuchah candles properly generates the proper chinuch/education to raise holy children from the light of the menorah.

           Trying to overcome our natural inclinations and passions is difficult. After all, all beginnings are difficult.  Rav Biederman understands that, and he uses the service of the Kohein Gadol to show how beloved this early struggle is to Hashem. As part of the Yom Kippur service, the Kohein Gadol sprinkles the blood of the sacrifice onto the altar seven times, counting each time. However, he did not count in simple sequence, but began each count with “one”, “One and one,…” One and two,…” “One and three,…” “One and seven.” Each count was meant to remind Hashem of the difficulty of beginning, and to keep the passion of that beginning alive and as passionate as the fire of the menorah.

           But suppose you’ve done everything correctly, and still you remain cold and dispassionate in lighting the menorah and in general mitzvah observance? Just as if you’ve done everything correctly in lighting the menorah, and yet the flame goes out before the requisite time, you are not required to rekindle the candle, so too, Hashem does not hold you accountable when you observe a mitzvah correctly but cannot raise the proper love and passion for the mitzvah. Perhaps next time will be better.

           Rabbi Biederman takes encouragement from the words of the Shem Mishmuel who explains why Yaakov Avinu was reinvigorated by the message of the wagons Yosef sent him from Egypt. The wagons seemed to be saying that just as the wheels turn, so does life go around in cycles. If today we are down in golus/exile, tomorrow the wheels will turn and we will rise to the top. If today I cannot feel the passion and connection to Hashem, let me keep turning, for tomorrow will be better. Perhaps we get a similar message by playing dreidel. Today we may land on an unfortunate spot, but we pick ourselves up and spin again. Our next spin may be more fortuitous.

           In a related idea, Rabbi Strickoff notes that, unlike other cultures, Judaism values effort and process, irrespective of whether or not one has reached one’s goal. Only Hashem can ensure success. That is why if, in spite of our doing everything right, the menorah’s flame still goes out, we are still credited with having fulfilled the mitzvah of lighting the menorah.

           Let us now turn to the puzzle of the cruise of oil bearing the seal of Yochanan. the High Priest. Where did this small jar come from? The Shvilei Pinchas cites a Gemarrah that says that Yochanan heard a heavenly voice emanating from the Holy of Holies. The voice told him of the future victory against the Greeks. Understanding that the battle would come, and the Greeks would defile all the oil, Yochanan prepared this flask of oil in advance and hid it for the time of victory.

           Kindling and seeing the Chanukah candles is one of the only two mitzvoth of Chanukah and is meant to go hand in hand with the other mitzvah, that of thanking and praising Hashem for this miracle and all the other miracles He does for us. The Shvilei Pinchas, Rabbi Friedman of Belz, then goes on to explain the significance of these two mitzvoth and their relationship to Chanukah.

           The Shvilei Pinchas traces the source for these two aspects of the mitzvah back to the Torah, to the time immediately after the flood. Ham, Noach’s son, saw his father rolling naked in the tent. He went out and told his brothers, Shem and Yaphet, who immediately, without discussion, took a garment, walked backwards into the tent so as not to see Noach’s nakedness, and covered their father. Ham was destined to remain a servant to his brothers, while Shem and Yaphet were rewarded with enhanced powers of visual perception and speech.

           Yavan/Greece descended from Yaphet. The Greeks took their power of visual perception and glorified physical beauty. They forbade anyone from using their voices to glorify a God that interfered with their idealization of the natural and the physical world. Jews, on the other hand, are entrusted with elevating these senses in praise of Hashem.

           Hashem commanded us to build Him a sanctuary so that He can dwell among/within us. What is alluded to in this verse is that each of us is a miniature sanctuary, and the different vessels of the sanctuary have their parallels in the different limbs and organs of the body. The Sages take their cue from Hashem’s instructions through Moshe to Aharon: “When you kindle the lamps/candles, toward the face of the Menorah shall the seven lamps cast light.” They see here an allusion to the human face representing the Menorah within the Sanctuary that is Man. As the Menorah had seven lamps, so does the face have seven orifices (two eyes, two ears, two nostrils, one mouth) that should be used to bring light to the world through the Torah. The face needs the wisdom of Torah to elevate it.

           The Greeks wanted mankind to use his senses only for physical pleasure. They wanted Jews to forget the upper spheres represented by the head, and darken our eyes with the removal of Torah. Their decrees were against our eyes and our mouths. We were prohibited from studying Torah and from uttering the name of God. When Hashem brought about our victory, our Sages instituted mitzvoth that specifically used our eyes and our mouths to serve Hashem. We are to see the flames, and we are to thank and praise Hashem during these eight days.

           It is for these reasons, writes the Orchos Aharon of Karlin, that the days of Chanukah are particularly well suited to working on purifying and elevating our eyes and our mouths, and purging all evil from these organs. Just looking at the candles will help us in this endeavor even if we don’t understand it or feel it. Be more aware of your speech not only in ritual prayer, but also in taking moments during the day to say unscripted thank yous to Hashem. Perhaps, as the Chasm Sofer suggests, we can focus on one particular brachah during the day and say it with true concentration and conviction. Or, as Rav Zvi Meir Silverberg suggests, choose to recite a chapter if Tehillim that you feel will give you an emotional connection to Hakodosh Boruch Hu.

           The Tosher Rebbe z”l reminds us that everything that exists in the lower realm, in our physical world, also exists in some mystical capacity in the Heavenly realm. When we light the 36 candles of Chanukah (excluding the Shamash), 36 candles are also being lit in heaven, for a total of 72, the numerical equivalent of chesed. By lighting our candles here, we are preparing a conduit for Hashem’s chesed to flow down to us. If our lights go out here below, those in heaven still remain lit and we have fulfilled our obligation. The 36 candles we light represent the 36 hours that the primal light of creation remained on earth before Hashem concealed it after Ada’s sin. By lighting the Chanukah candles, we are preparing the way for the concealed light from creation, the light that was revealed in the Beit Hamikdosh through the Menorah, to again descend to earth. May it be in the near future.

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