Final Flames

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11 Dec 2017

Naaleh_logo Shiur provided courtesy of

Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein

            We tend to think of our holidays as commemorating events in our history, but our Sages tell us that the Torah with all its precepts existed before the world was created, and all the holidays and mitzvoth were in place before the Jews were commanded at Sinai. Hashem then created historical events so that man could perhaps form a closer connection to the holidays and to the mitzvoth. As such, Chanukah and all that it represents predated the era of the Greeks and the battle the Chashmonaim fought against them. If that is the case, we must find allusions to Chanukah in the Torah.

            Our most obvious allusion to Chanukah can be found in Parshat Naso, at the dedication of the Mishkan/Tabernacle in the desert. Our Torah reading for each day of Chanukah is drawn from the dedication ritual of each day, culminating in the eighth day which encapsulated the rituals and sanctity of all the preceding seven days. That eighth day’s reading begins with zos chanukas hamizbeach/this was the dedication of the Altar, and includes a tally of the offerings of each of the previous days, notes Eliyahu KiTov in Book of our Heritage. Therefore, the eighth day of Chanukah is referred to as Zos Chanukah. It too incorporates all the sanctity and light of the previous seven days, writes Rabbi Aryeh Strickoff as he expands on this theme.

            What is the significance of eight? Rabbi Strickoff continues his discussion in Inside Chanukah by first citing Rav Yosef Ber Soloveitchik z’l who focuses on the narrative of creation. The Torah states that on Shabbat Hashem “rested from all His work that Hashem created to make.” If creation was complete, why did the Torah add “to make”? Indeed, Hashem had competed all of the natural world, but He wanted Man to elevate the world to a spiritual realm. Man was tasked to complete the “work” of the Creator by endowing nature itself and all things physical with sanctity. While seven signified the completion of the natural world, eight signified going beyond creation and imbuing nature with sanctity. The seven days of the dedication of the Tabernacle as well as the first seven days of Chanukah represent the natural world and serve as preparation, while the eighth day incorporates all that preceded it and takes it to the next level.

            Now we can get a deeper understanding of the clash between The Greeks and the Jewish way of life. The Greeks worshiped the seven, the beauty of the physical, natural world. They denied any spiritual significance, and outlawed those rituals which were meant to create sanctity in the physical world and alluded to the eight. These included brit mila/circumcision, Shabbat, and Rosh Chodesh/sanctification of the New Moon.  Therefore, the Greeks tried to make us forget the Torah, for the Torah represented the ultimate transcendence; it was given at the conclusion of seven times seven, on the fiftieth day.

            We see that our Patriarchs ate matzoh on Passover before there was a redemption from Egypt. Our Sages understood that for every holiday there must be some cosmic sanctity of the day which preceded the historical event. Therefore, note the commentators  the Sages waited a full year before establishing Chanukah as a perpetual holiday, for they wanted to see if that same sense of sanctity would exist for this time.

            Now we are hopefully ready to discuss more homiletic and esoteric allusions to Chanukah from the Torah.

            The Shvilei Pinchas, Rabbi Friedman, provides a very in depth discussion of Yosef Hatzadik and how his challenges are mirrored in the challenges facing the Chashmonaim. We know that throughout the world Jews pray facing Jerusalem. Yosef also prayed facing Jerusalem, facing the window of his room, and he prayed constantly while in the home of Potiphar. It was at this window that he lit the menorah, and it was in this window that he saw the image of his father that fortified his resolve against sinning with Potiphar’s wife. This challenge, asserts the Imrei Noam  quoted by the Shvilei Pinchas, occurred on the eighth day of Chanukah. The Shvilei Pinchas sees a symbiotic relationship between Yosef Hatzadik and the Chashmonaim. each being fortified by the strength of the other to withstand the challenges of their respective times and cultures.

            The Imrei Noam derives his interpretations from several numerological equivalents, gematriot. The verse states that Yosef “entered his bayit/housela’asot melachto/to do his work.” According to the Imrei Noam, Yosef entered his house to light the Chanukah candles. How do we arrive at this conclusion?Melachto and zos Chanukah are both equivalent to 497, while la’asot melachto is equivalent to shemen zayit/olive oil, 807. It is known that the evil spirit ofYavan/Greece was in illicit sexual conduct, while Yosef is referred to as Hatzadik precisely because he was able to restrain himself from forbidden sexual conduct. Here too gematriah supports the Shvilei Pinchas‘ theme. Melech Yavan/King of Greece, Antiochus, and Yosef each equal 156, and Yosef is in fact the protagonist against the King of Greece, Antiochus.

            Now we can explore some of the special relationship between Yaakov and Yosef. Yaakov loved Yosef ki ben zekunim hu lo/because he was the son of his old age. Ki ben zekunim hu, continues the Shvilei Pinchas, is equal to 301, the same as menorah, and lo matches the 36 candles that are lit in the menorah.

            By establishing Chanukah for eight days beginning on the 25th of Kislev instead of for seven days, Chazal have included in Chanukah the potential for observing all three seminal mitzvoth the Greeks tried to abolish; Shabbos is certainly included, the time frame includes a Rosh Chodesh, and a baby born on the first day of Chanukah would celebrate his bris on the eighth day of Chanukah. By referring to this eighth day as zos, we are also alluding to Hashem’s commanding Avraham Avinu to perform the bris for all generations, “zos habris asher tishmiru…

            We wrote earlier that the eighth day of dedication of the Mishkan encapsulated and thus was the culmination of all the preceding days. Similarly, the eighth day of Chanukah is the culmination and high point of the yearly cycle of reciting Hallel for the holidays, writes Rabbi Zvi Meir Silberberg in Sichot Hitchazkut. The first month of the year for the holidays, rosh chodoshim lechol chodshei hashanah, is Nissan. That means that Pesach is the first holiday on which we recite the Hallel. We recite the Hallel on each following yom tov, always gaining momentum and sanctity, just as each day of dedicating the Mishkanbuilt upon the previous days. The final day of the cycle of Hallel, then, is zos Chanukah, the eighth day of Chanukah. That day incorporates within it all the sanctity of all the previous holidays, and is a day of special closeness between Hashem and each individual.

            According to Chassidic views, the eight days of Chanukah parallel the seven plus one day of Sukkot, and the eighth day of Chanukah therefore parallelsShemini Atzeret. The absolute final seal on the coming year’s judgment takes place on the eighth day of Chanukah, writes the Orchot Aharon. On this day, God’s presence comes down lower than ten hands breadth so that Hashem is accessible even to the simplest of Jews. Therefore, just as one would take on a newtakanah/improvement on Rosh Hashanah, one is urged to resolve to make a small improvement on this last day of Chanukah as well. It is this resolution that solidifies all the feelings and hopes for improvement for the coming year.  Indeed, the final day of judgement, which began on Rosh Hashana is Zos Chanukah. Our lives are like a dreidel, explains Rav Biederman. We spin round and round, but whether we win or lose depends on where we land.

            Rav Gamliel Rabinowitz makes an interesting observation in Tiv Hamoadim. he suggests that the kedushah of Chanukah surpasses the sanctity of the Beit Hamikdosh, for the menorah in the Beit Hamikdosh had seven lights, while the Chanukah menorah has eight lights. Therefore, the eighth day of Chanukah has greater power to lead us into a world of transcendence and connection to the Almighty. One who is accustomed to light those candles and to incorporate that energy into his life will merit blessings of children, and of raising children to be talmidei chachamim

            There is yet another interesting connection between zos Chanukah, Yosef and Shemini Atzeret. Rabbi Zilber in B’Yam Derech presents an interesting discussion. What caused Eve’s downfall at the beginning of creation? It began with seeing the beauty of the tree and its fruit. Several commentators believe this fruit was the etrog. On Sukkot we rebuild our connection to Hashem partly by taking the fruit of a beautiful tree/pri etz hadar/etrog and sanctifying it. But onShemini Atzeret the relationship is so close that we no longer need to use the fruit of this tree. Similarly, on Chanukah when we rejected the Greeks and their philosophy of physical beauty as the ultimate good, we recreated that relationship with Hakodosh Boruch Hu that can see beauty and elevate it to achieve sanctity in service to Hashem.

            Yosef, too, is connected to these ideas. Yosef is described as “handsome of form and handsome of appearance.” That beauty was almost his downfall, but Yosef did not succumb to the powers of his physical beauty, and therefore he became the symbolic perfect foil to the Greeks who worshiped physical beauty. Yosef retained his inner sanctity and purity in spite of the depraved culture in which he lived, just as the small flask of oil the Maccabees found had remained pure in spite of the Greeks who tried to contaminate it all.

            Two different approaches to achieving sanctity are represented by the opinions of Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai in the candle lighting procedure for the menorah, continues Rabbi Zilber. Beit Shammai says we start with eight candles and each night we light one fewer candle until we are left with only one candle on the eighth night, similar to the diminishing number of bulls sacrificed on each day of Sukkot until on Shemini Atzeret when we sacrifice only one bull. This approach emphasizes achieving sanctity through distancing oneself from evil/sur meira. Beit Hillel, in contrast, says that on each night we add a candle, until by the eighth night we have maximized the light of sanctity, emphasizing the assei tov/do good. While we light our menorahs according to Beit Hillel, how we approach purifying ourselves must be decided individually. Do I begin by removing the improper influences in my home and in my life, or do I begin by creating a stronger attachment to all things Jewish?

            Bnei Yisroel started collecting materials and building the Mishkan on the eleventh of Tishrei, right after Yom Kippur. Due to their alacrity and zeal, the work was completed on the 25th of Kislev. The Mishkan should have been inaugurated on that day, but it was not to be inaugurated until Rosh Chodesh Nissan. Had it been inaugurated on the 25th of Kislev, writes Rabbi Schorr in Halekach Vehalebuv, the world would have achieved perfection on the eighth day of its dedication due to the self  -sacrifice of Bnei Yisroel in creating this sanctity. The power of this day is immense. The possibility of creating this repair continues each year on this date if we begin by making small improvements in ourselves and in our personal world.

            Hashem reinforced this power through the miracles of Chanukah. Halekach Vehalebuv cites the Chasam Sofer in stating that the original light of the rededicated menorah came from Heaven, just as did the fire of the menorah in the Mishkan, a fire that was never extinguished. But on the eighth day, Hashem removed His miraculous fire, desiring instead the fire we brought to Him. It is this light that Hashem continues to desire, the light of our mitzvoth that bring light to the world.

            What is the greatest darkness that envelops the human being? Rabbi Pincus z”l provides the deepest psychological insight. The greatest darkness is the lack of belief in oneself, the feeling that I am unimportant. Hashem wants to dispel that darkness. He wants our light. Each of us has within us some of that Divine light, one of the 36 candles of the hidden primal light. It is up to us to uncover it and fan its flame., adds Rabbi Silverberg. Observe the dreidel, urges Rabbi Biederman. You give it one spin and it keeps going. Find that point within yourself and step out, and Hashem will provide continued impetus for improvement.

            Rabbi Silverberg continues by offering another explanation for the special significance of the eighth day of Chanukah in his Sichot. The pure, primal light existed for 36 hours before it was hidden, twelve hours from the creation of Adam until Shabbat, and the 24 hours of Shabbat. Since the 36 candles represent those 36 hours, the most sanctified times are the hours of shalosh seudot, when God’s presence is felt most poignantly. Those hours are represented by the eighth day of Chanukah. These are the hours of Divine favor when the prayers of a simple Jew are as forceful as the prayers of a tzadik during the Neilahprayer of Yom Kippur. This is the time to pray for ourselves and for others. This is the moment and day of niflaot/wonders, writes Be’er Hachaim. The Satan is trying to prevent us, but we daven with our final Hallel of the year. It is on this basis, writes Halekach Vehalebuv, citing the Belzer Rebbe, that some have the custom of reciting Mizmor Letodah/A Song of Thanks after lighting the menorah on the last night of Chanukah, thanking Hashem for past salvation and anticipating future ones.

            As Chanukah approaches in the darkest season of the year, let us remember that Hashem shines His light upon each of us as He shined His light upon Yosef and upon the Maccabees, and He waits for us to respond by lighting the fire within ourselves. The eighth day of Chanukah is a most propitious time to light the fire and keep the flame burning.

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