Shiur provided courtesy of Naaleh.com
Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein
Chanukah celebrated the purification and rededication of the Beit Hamikdosh by the Hashmonaim during the Greek occupation of Eretz Yisroel. Yet the date hearkens back to an earlier age, when the Mishkan/Tabernacle was completed in the dessert. However, Hashem declared that the inauguration of the Mishkan would take place not on that date, but on Rosh Chodesh Nisan. Why did Hashem decide to delay the inauguration of the Mishkan to Nisan while reserving the 25th of Kislev for Chanukah? What is the significance of Nisan itself, and what is the connection between the Mishkan and Chanukah? These are the questions we will be exploring here.
Hashem chose to inaugurate the Mishkan in Nisan, the month of Yitzchak Avinu’s birth. Yitzchak, with his willingness to die and be offered as a sacrifice to Hashem was the actualization of mesirat nefesh/self sacrifice and nullification before Hashem, a trait that Bnei Yisroel, his descendants have inherited and try to emulate. However, according to tradition, the binding of Yitzchak took place on Yom Kippur; why do we commemorate it on his birthday? Rabbi Friedlander, the Sifsei Chaim, explains that these tendencies and traits are embedded in each person at birth, when the neshamah/soul, the candle of light from God, enters the person. This is the energy that Hashem has imbued him with so that he will be able to develop and fulfill his unique mission. While that energy may dim during the year, it flames anew each birthday, and we each have that renewed energy to strengthen our own connection to Hashem on our own birthdays. That energy bursts forth even after his death. On the birthday of a tzadik, everyone can tap into that energy. Hashem wanted us to tap into the energy of Yitzchak Avinu and draw upon his ability to self sacrifice as we would bring our sacrifices to the Mishkan.
But then why not tell Bnei Yisroel to wait, to donate the materials for the Mishkan later, to begin the work later so the completion of the structure would align with Nisan instead of five months later? However, the main feature in the construction was the zerizus/alacrity that Bnei Yisroel exhibited in doing everything necessary to begin and finish its construction. Man is generally by nature indolent and lazy. However, if one is to be a true servant of Hashem, one must constantly fight this tendency. Changing one’s nature is truly miraculous in its own way. If the Mishkan was to serve as a symbol of serving Hashem, its very construction had to be accomplished not with procrastination, but with alacrity, writes the Ramchal in Mesilat Yeshorim.
Rabbi Wolbe, citing the Bach, notes that the decrees of the Greeks forbidding the sacrifices and defiling the oil so the menorah could not be properly lit were Hashem’s response measure for measure to the laxity of the kohanim/priests in performing the service. It was only after the Hashmonaim exhibited their self sacrifice with their fighting to perform the service with true dedication that Hashem helped them succeed. The entire holiday of Chanukah is commemorates this self sacrifice.
We all have this inertia within ourselves all the time, writes the Sifsei Chaim. With the completion of the Mishkan on the 25th of Kislev, the force to counter this indolence was manifest. When the Hashmonaim fought the Greeks in the month of Kislev, their determination tapped into that energy and helped them reach incredible heights. The same energy that resided in the Mishkan and was the source of the miracles bayamim hoheim/in those days, was also the source of the miracles for the Hashmonaim, and remains a source, both national and individual, to be tapped bazman hazeh/in these days, in our time. The true flame of Chanukah is not lit by eating fried foods and relaxing, but by internalizing the fire of Chanukah and intensifying our Torah learning and mitzvah observance, writes Rabbi Wolbe. The kohanim and the Jews at that time lacked that fire and intensity. Therefore, they were easily lured into the beauty Hellenistic culture offered. [Today, as in previous generations, those who have never been taught or have forgotten the beauty of Judaism, who are empty and searching, find meaning in other movements, many in absolute contradiction to the values of Yiddishkeit, R”L. CKS]
If you have a spiritual resolution you have contemplated, perhaps studying a Jewish or Torah text, or making one blessing a day with deep concentration, Chanukah is the time to follow up and start, for the energy of Chanukah will help you retain that alacrity and focus.
Our commentators dispute whether Hashem originally planned for Bnei Yisroel to build a Mishkan or whether the Mishkan was commanded as an atonement for the sin of the golden calf. Rabbi Dovid Cohen cites the GR”A who believes that Hashem always wanted a place for His presence to reside among Bnei Yisroel.With the sin of the golden calf, Bnei Yisroel lost this privilege. Only through Moshe’s prayers ande pleading did Hasshem grant Bnei Yisroel that privilege again. When the Shechi9nah finally came down to reswt on the Mishkan on the seventh day of its inauguration, Bnei Yisroel and the world could call the Mishkan the Mishkan Ha’eidut/The Tabernacle that bears witness [to Hashem’s forgiving Bnei Yisroel].
Each of our Patriarchs had the capacity to be a foil to one of the three cardinal sins. Yitzchak, having himself been offered as a sacrifice to the One true God, was our strength against avodah zarah/idol worship. Because it was his merit that helped us receive atonement for our sin and repair our relationship with Hakodosh Boruch Hu, Hashem set the inauguration of the Mishkan for the month of Yitzchak’s birth, Nisan. The Greeks pounced upon the sin of the golden calf, says the medrash, to decree that Bnei Yisroel should write on the horns of a bull [the adult calf] that they have no part in the God of Israel. This declaration would be before their eyes constantly, and bring Bnei Yisroel back to the condition of that sin.
The allusion to the darkness that Greece was to bring to the world is already referenced in creation itself, “And there was darkness on the face of the deep,” the darkness brought about by the Greeks diminishing the light of Godliness in the world was already predicted. It would take the merit of Yitzchak to help bring that light back to the Mishkan and the courage of the Hashmonaim to rekindle that light in the Beit Hamikdosh.
For the desert generation, forgiveness came on Yom Kippur. As long as Bnei Yisroel as a general unit remained loyal to Hakodosh Boruch Hu, Hashem continued to rest His presence among us. However, under the Greek Empire, there was mass defection from Yiddishkeit to follow the allure of Hellenism, creating a major schism in our Nation. As Bnei Yisroel reactivated the sin of the golden calf, referring to Greek gods as their own gods, Hashem responded in kind, removing the atonement that the Mishkan had activated, writes Rabbi Rothberg in Moda Labinah. Even for those still committed to their Judaism, their observance was shallow, dark, external and rote, adds Rabbi Leff, without internal intensity, leaving them open to the allure of Yavan.
The era of the Hashmonaim in many ways parallels the time of the golden calf, suggests Rabbi Weintraub in Nefesh Eliyahu. In the desert situation, Bnei Yisroel committed two sins, they killed Chur who had tried to stop them, and they erected the golden calf. When Bnei Yisroel repented, recommitting themselves to accepting both the Torah and the Yoke of Heaven, Hashem gave them the Mishkan as a permanent sign of forgiveness. However, during the Hellenistic period, the inner essence the Mishkan represented was shattered, represented by the defilement of the Kodesh and the oils. It could only be rebuilt through a new dedication, the dedication and self sacrifice of the Hashmonaim who would recommit themselves and the Nation to the Torah and to the yoke of Heaven. The extraordinary effort to rekindle the Menorah with pure oil was the symbol of this dedication, for the menorah represented the wisdom and light of the Torah, and the eternal love Hashem has for Bnei Yisroel. This love always exists within every Jew. We just need to fan its flames.
Since Chanukah is a time of rededication, by extension, it is also a time for teshuvah, continues Rabbi Weintraub, a time of rededication of the soul. Take the concealed light and embed it again in our hearts. Just as our menorah must be no higher than ten handbreadths high, so does Hashem come down to us, so close below ten handbreadths, on Chanukah. While on Yom Kippur, our prayers and teshuvah must rise up to pierce the heavens, on Chanukah, Hashem is so close, even the lowliest imprisoned with the shackles of the yetzer horo, can find their way back to Him. On Chanukah, Hashem views us with chen, with a soft eye that wants to show favor. Therefore, He makes it easier for us to return to Him on Chanukah, to rebuild the reciprocal love between us. Teshuvah, by definition , means more than atoning for sins. It means returning to Hashem, yearning for the close relationship we had with Him.
The sefer Mosif Veholeich brings an interesting homiletic perspective to our discussion of the power of Chanukah to restore our relationship with Hakodosh Boruch Hu. The eight days of Chanukah, says Mosif Veholeich, correspond to the thirteen attributes of chesed/loving kindness of Hakodosh Boruch Hu. The first seven days correspond to the first seven attributes with the eighth day including all the remaining attributes, thus making the eighth day the most powerful, magnetic force, drawing us back to Hakodosh Boruch Hu in love and mercy. Interestingly, the fifth characteristic is the strongest, chanun/merciful, pardoning, for the fifth night of Chanukah can never fall on Friday night. Since that night can never be fulled with the light of Shabbat, it needs more light than the other nights.
Mosif Veholeich supports this premise by noting that the two blessings for lighting the Chanukah candles each contain thirteen words,…Lehadlik ner Chanukah [omit shel] and She’asah nissim…
The Maccabbees were able to bring teshuvah at that time, and we have that same opportunity now. Just as Yom Kippur comes every year to spur us to do teshuvah, so does Chanukah come every year offering us the same opportunity. We can rededicate our personal Mishkan every year.
When the Mishkan was inaugurated and the princes of every tribe offers sacrifices on the new altar, Aharon was distraught that he did not have that opportunity. But immediately following this section, Aharon is commanded to light the menorah. His lighting of the menorah was greater than the offerings of the princes, for the lighting of the menorah would continue even after the Beit Hamikdosh would be destroyed through the dedication of the Hashmonaim, Aharon’s descendants, in rededicating the Beit Hamikdosh, accomplishing the same purpose as that of the Mishkan. The menorahs in every Jewish home continues throughout the generations, reflecting the light of the original Menorah. [Ramban]
When we light the menorah, we are not lighting mere candles, we are bringing down some of the primal, pure hidden light of creation. Because of that sanctity, we may not use the flames in any way; we may merely gaze on them and try to absorb some of their sanctity, teaches us Rabbi Rothberg. This, together with the Priestly Blessings are the only remnants of the Temple service we can still observe even in the Diaspora. [Interestingly, both are symbolic of Hashem’s enduring love for us. CKS]
The differences between the Mishkan and the Beit Hamikdosh help us understand and appreciate why we celebrate the rededication of the Beit Hamikdosh on the day construction of the Mishkan was completed. While the Beit Hamikdosh was a permanent structure, the Mishkan was itinerant, traveling with us wherever we went. Even though the Hashmonaim dedicated the Beit Hamukdosh, Hashem wanted to emphasize that we can take sanctity with us wherever we are.Just as Bnei Yisroel redeemed themselves with the Mishkan for the sin of the golden calf, so do we have the opportunity tp do teshuvah every year on Chanukah.
We light the Chanukah menorah in our homes, transforming them into mini Sanctuaries. Not only are our homes Sanctuaries, but each of us is also a Sanctuary, writes Rabbi Bernstein, for Hashem wants to dwell within us. Each of us is a priest, lighting our own candles, adds Rabbi Rothberg in Sichat Eliyahu. Let us dedicate our lives to living within the sanctity that the priesthood demands; let us be the walking testimony of our connection to Hashem. Let us each be a candle for God.