Hanukkah: Turning the Blazing Fire into an Illuminating Flame, by Rabbi Riccardo Shmuel Di Segni

 

It is well known that, despite the importance of Hanukkah, there are only few pages in all the Bavli devoted to this holiday, mainly in Massekhet Shabbat (21-24). The most common explanation is that at its origin Hanukkah celebrates the victory of the Hasmonean family, priests who illegally became kings and persecuted the Pharisees.

However, other explanations are possible, and one of them is actually hidden in another page of Talmud where the name of Hanukkah is not even mentioned. In Massekhet Avoda Zara (8a) the names of some pagan holidays are quoted, among them Saturnalia and Kalenda. The Talmud explains that the former occurs eight days before the winter solstice, the latter eight days after. The Talmud then tells the story of the first man, Adam, who saw that the length of the day light was progressively shortening, and was afraid that the sun light will disappear as a punishment for his sin, until he discovered that at a certain point the length of the day was again widening; he therefore established those days as holidays for thanking God, but the generations after him turned this celebration into a pagan cult. The Talmud quotes Saturnalia, but already in those times a similar celebration connected with the sun was widespread, the Dies natalis soli invicti, the birthday of the undefeated sun, next to become one of the sources of the future Christmas. In that Talmudic page, the never said link to Hanukkah, feast of the light(s), is that this is exactly the same period of the year with the same length (eight days). And there could be there also other allusions, as to the known controversy between Bet Shammai and Bet Hillel on the way of kindling the lights in decreasing order (8 to 1) or increasing.

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Hannukah: Why a Local Military Victory, and a Small Jar of Oil Continue to Inspire Millions Around the World to This Day, By Rabbi Elchanan Poupko

Hannukah: Why a Local Military Victory, and a Small Jar of Oil Continue to Inspire Millions Around the World to This Day

Why celebrate Chanukah? It is easy to understand why we celebrate Passover, Shavuot, Sukkot, and even Purim; all of these holidays mark an even that has a direct impact on who we are. And yet, Chanukah marks two separate miracles, neither of which have any impact on us. The Maccabee revolt in 163 BCE lasted hardly until the year 63 BCE when the Romans occupied Judea, and cannot be considered something that we still benefit from. The oil lasting eight days? Indeed a miraculous event, but in what way does it impact us today? So why celebrate more than 2150 years later when the events it marks have little to no impact on us?

Commentaries wonder furthered: why it is that Jews around the world light the appropriate amount of candles every day of Chanukah despite the fact that Jewish law mandates only the lighting of one candle per day, per household? The stipulation to light more than one candle a day is only for the Mehadrin, those who choose to go the extra mile who light one candle for every member of the household. And so, the common Jewish custom[1] is that we light candles corresponding to the number of days of Chanukah, AND corresponding to the number of family member, something that is far from required but is rather a way of over-observing the laws of Chanukah, why?

To understand this we need to look at the historical background of Chanukah. The Jewish people have returned from their exile in Babylon and have lost the blessing of prophecy not long before. The Jewish people find themselves in a situation similar to those described by the Prophet Amos (8:10) not long before:” Behold, days are coming, says the Lord God, and I will send famine into the land, not a famine for bread nor a thirst for water, but to hear the word of the Lord.” The Jewish people felt spiritually abandoned by the disappearance of prophecy and clear leadership.

It is in that time that Hellenistic culture, with all of it’s power, sweeps through their country. For the first time the Jews meet an occupier, that admires their culture. The Greeks admired the Jews as a “nation of philosophers”. The Greeks do not aspire to destroy the Jewish Temple, just to modernize it. They do not reject the rights of Jews as citizens, quite to contrary, they seek to “empower” the Jews, educate them, and help them understand the beauty of Hellenistic culture. The Greeks are supersessionists, not seeking to uproot all that is Jewish.

And indeed, many Jews follow this trend. They became Hellenized, they began worshiping Greek gods, they adopted Greek culture. You did not need to reject your nationality or history to become Hellenized, you just needed to adapt.  It was the first time someone invaded, not the Jewish heartland, but the Jewish heart. It was the first time another culture has made it’s inroads with the language Jews understood better than any language: books and ideas.

Violating the Temple was just another example of what the Greek invasion looked like. It was not about destroying the Temple, it was about “modernizing”[2] it to worship Zeus. It was not about taking away the Menorah and its oil, it was about taking away its meaning and purity.

And so, the first Maccabee revolt and its success, did not only symbolize a military victory, but it signified an ability to maintain the Jewish spirit, in the face of cultural supersessions. It was the first time the Jewish people had experienced and invasion of the spirit, and were triumphant.

This also answers the question discussed by so many commentaries, why it is that Maccabees insisted on searching of a pure jar of oil, despite the law that permits using an impure one in the absence of pure oil? This is because the Maccabees were not looking for a compromise of the spirit; they were seeking its victory.

This is also why it is common custom for Jews around the world to follow the Mehadrin min HaMehadrin custom of lighting one candle per person per night and not just follow the strict letter of the law. On a holiday symbolizing the victory of the spirit and our ability to maintain our uniqueness in the face of the most intimate threats, we rejoice in going the extra mile, in our ability to serve Hashem in the most dedicated way, despite having ways out and the ability to compromise.

This may also be the reason that of all Jewish holidays, Chanukah is also the only one in which there is no instituted food related celebration. Yes, of course there are the latkes, sufganiyot, and more, but there is no obligation to celebrate with a celebratory meal. In a holiday that signifies the victory of the spirit we find nourishment in the most metaphysical element we can see: pure light. Happy Chanukah!

 

https://mspace.lib.umanitoba.ca/bitstream/handle/1993/31671/Arksey_Keaton.pdf?sequence=3&isAllowed=y

http://lib.cet.ac.il/pages/item.asp?item=14316

http://www.pnimi.org.il/holidays/chanukah/198-rectifying-greek-philosophy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Shulchan Aruch OC 671:2

[2] Special thanks to rabbi Uri Sharki for his eye opening explanation of this matter.

Candles for the Whole Family, by Rabbi Mark Dratch

 

Details of the obligation to light Hanukkah candles are outlined in the Talmud, Masekhet Shabbat.  On 21b we are taught:

Our Rabbis taught: The mitzvah of Hanukkah requires one light for a person and his entire household; the mehadrin, the zealous, a light for each member of the household; and the mehadrin min ha-mehadrin, the extremely zealous:  Bet Shammai maintain: On the first day eight lights are lit and thereafter they are gradually reduced; Bet Hillel say: On the first day one is lit and thereafter they are progressively increased.

Now, why is it that the enhancement of the mitzvah is a function of the number of family members?   Wouldn’t a greater number of candles and a greater amount of light be more mehudar?  A small family will always have a dimmer commemoration.  And what does the number of family members have to do with this mitzvah altogether?

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We Must Light the Fire, by Rabbi Yona Reiss

‏The festival of Chanuka is a time of illumination and inspiration.  When we reflect upon the Mesirus Nefesh of the Chasmonaim, it reminds us of our responsibility to keep the fire of Torah burning brightly despite all of the challenges presented by the world around us.

The Gemara (Shabbos 21b) teaches us that “Kavsah Ein Zakuk Lah” – if the Chanuka lights are extinguished, they need not be rekindled.  Nonetheless, the Halakha is that if the candles were lit in a windy place where they could not possibly have retained their illumination for the requisite time period of the obligation, then one has not fulfilled their obligation (see Mishna Berura 673:25).

The Ramban notes in his commentary to the Torah (Bamidbar 8:2), based on the Megillas Setarim of Rabeinu Nissim and other Midrashic sources, that the candles of Chanuka constitute a continuation of the illumination of the Menorah in the Beis Hamikdash.  “El Mul Pnei HaMenorah Yairu”– the lights shall shine brightly into perpetuity, when directed towards our eternal Menorah.

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Hannukah’s Insight into Abuse, by Rabbi Andrew Rosenblatt

Various Midrashim offer descriptions of the spark that ignited the Hasmonean rebellion.  Some speak of the violation to the sanctity of the Temple. There is one Midrashic account that that has particular resonance this year. The Midrash is quoted in compendiums of minor Midrashim such as Otzar haMidrashim by R. Judah David Eisenstein (N. Y., 1915) and the Yotzer (additional prayer recited before Shema) for the first Shabbat of Chanukah written by Yosef ben Shlomo (1033):

The [Kingdom of Yavan (Seleucid)] further decreed that when one is to be married, the overlord should enjoy the marital bed first and then the bride would be returned to her husband. This carried on for three years and eight months until the daughter of Rabbi Yochanan Kohen Gadol was to be married. When they were about to take her to the overlord, she uncovered her hair and ripped her clothing in a revealing fashion in front of all. Immediately, Yehudah and his brothers were filled with rage and said to her take her out and burn her, “so that such a scandal not be revealed to our governors for fear of our lives for she was unclothed before all.” She then said to them, “How am I to be disgraced before kith and kin and not so before the eyes of the uncircumcised and impure that you would have trespass against me and violate me?” When Judah and his brothers heard her words they concluded together that they would assassinate the overlord.  They dressed her in royal clothing, made a Chuppah for her and took her from the house of the Hasmoneans to the house of the overlord accompanied by lyre and flutes and musicians and they danced until they reached the house of the overlord  . . . Yehudah and his brothers entered the house and severed the head of the overlord . . .the Heavenly Voice spoke saying, ״a young girl succeeded in waging war on the mighty Antiochus.”

The Midrash tells a story all too familiar to us in 2017.  The story is of how power directly leads to abuse of the worst nature.  Furthermore, the Midrash emphasizes the failure of bystanders, particularly the future warriors, to properly provide safety against such abuse. The Midrash clearly draws from the story of Judah and Tamar with the words, “take her out to be burnt.” The Midrash thus invokes both the biblical Judah’s inaction and leaves the reader to fill in the words, she is more righteous than I. The story trumpets the bravery of the abused woman beyond that of the military heroes, it even credits her with the victory. Furthermore, the Midrash shows how the culture of Yavan (Seleucid) had infected the home itself. The heroic fulcrum of the story is accomplished when the young woman turns perceived indiscretion into collective outrage against the oppressor. Her willingness to standup against abuse, to call it out in so dramatic a fashion is in fact an act championing the sanctity of the home. One could see the march of the Chuppah to the door of the oppressor as literally the use of the home as the phalanx of attack. The great purifying groundswell of the Hasmonean movement can be understood as a uprising to protect the sanctity of the home and of the women at the same time. Lastly, there is a straight line between this event and the lighting of the candles. The Talmud instructs that the mitzvah of Channukah is Ner Ish u’Veto—a candle for a person and his home. Men and women alike are commanded specifically in their home, for both were party to the miracle and both are charged to protect the sanctity of the home and project that very kedusha from their home into the public space.

 

Rabbi Andrew Rosenblatt graduated from Columbia University with a Bachelors degree in Chemistry and English Literature and a Masters in Science in Bio-Organic Chemistry. Having finished secular studies, Rabbi Rosenblatt spent two years in Yeshivat Har Etzion in Israel which ultimately led him to receiving semicha from Yeshiva University in New York.  Rabbi Rosenblatt was the assistant rabbi in Congregation Ahavath Torah in Englewood, New Jersey and has been the Senior Rabbi of Scharei Tzedeck for the past 14 years. Rabbi Rosenblatt and his wife Dr. Cirelle Rosenblatt keep busy with their 5 children.

Strategies to Facilitate the Ability to Forgive, By Rabbi Elchanan Adler

[1] The notion of mechila speaks to our very humanity. The imperative to forgive, even when absolutely required, does not come easy. All the more so, when we wish to aspire for a higher standard. And yet, aspire we must. While there may be clear-cut instances where we need not forgive, as we have seen in the case of slander, and in the behavior of Sara Imeinu, too often we hide behind excuses to avoid letting go of our grievances. Not only do we ignore the model of Avraham Avinu, we easily fall into the trap of flagrant violations of biblical prohibitions of nekima and netira – vengeance and grudge-bearing. Rather than giving others the benefit of the doubt, we ascribe malicious intent without bothering to check out the facts. And then we come to Yom Kippur and expect Hashem to see the best in us. When we stand before Yom Kippur we cannot afford to fool the Ribono Shel Olam  – or ourselves.

If we genuinely want to be worthy of Hashem’s forgiveness, then it behooves us to see how we can bring ourselves to forgive. As the gemara (Rosh Hashanah 17a) says, “hama’avir al midosav ma’avirin lo al kal pesha’av – one who is less exacting and demanding toward others, will merit that Hashem will also be less exacting.”

What often stands as barrier to granting that stands in the way of granting mechila is seeing the offense for more than it really is. In explaining how one can avoid taking revenge, the Rambam (Middos 7:7) explains that for people of understanding, most slights are really trivial and need not call for retaliation. Yom Kippur is a day that reframes the priorities of life, and helps us to see things for what they are. Having a broader vision about the fragility of life and purpose of creation can inject us with a healthy dose of humility and enable us to overlook many wrongs that may seem very important in the moment but really don’t matter from the broader perspective.

Another reason why we often have a hard time forgiving others, is because we see ourselves as being masters of our own realities – in control of the events of our lives. To some extent, this attitude stems from a lack of emuna that our life’s experiences are a reflection of hashgacha pratis and are Hashem’s way of communicate messages to us. This idea is suggested by Sefer Ha’Chinuch as the basis for overcoming the urge to take revenge and bear grudges. Yom Kippur is a time that allows us to feel a natural connection with the Ribono Shel Olam and see all that happens to us – including life’s setbacks which seem to flow from other people’s conduct as merely messages from Hashem. The more we deepen our sense of emuna in hashagacha pratis, the easier it becomes to bring ourselves to genuinely forgive.

There is an additional strategy that can motivate us to move past our grudges, and extend mechila toward those who have wronged us – the ability to connect with the humanity of the one who offended us, and to recognize that, in a very real sense, we are all part of one family. The Yerushalami in Nedarim (9:4) offers a parable to illustrate how one can avoid the impulse to take revenge: Imagine someone who is cutting meat. As he cuts the meat with the knife in his right hand, he gets carried away and wounds his left hand. It is inconceivable for the left hand to take revenge against the right hand. After all, they are part of the same organism. That should be our perspective on our fellow Jews – we are part of one family.

The sense of the unity of lal Yisrael being part of one family is best symbolized by the notion of shevatim – each with a distinct path, but all as part of a larger collective, embodied by Knesses Yisrael. Indeed, in the Yom Kippur liturgy we refer repeatedly to Hashem as “machalan leshivtei Yeshurun – a forgiver of the tribes of Yeshurun”. Why is Hashem referred to by this designation? And what is this juxtaposed with the appellation “salchan le’Yisrael”?

The Meshech Chochma explains that “salchan le’yisrael” alludes to aveiros between Man and G-d – all of which are rooted in the chet ha’eigel. The second expression – “machalan le’shivtei Yeshurun” – refers to sins being Adam Lachaveiro. Why? Because every sin “bein adam lachavero” has its roots in the sin of Mechiras Yosef, carried out by the Shivtei Kah – the sons of Yaakov Avinu, who sold Yosef into slavery. The very symbol of unity – the notion of shevatim – was put to the test early in our history, and led to inter-personal strife, and almost bloodshed.

When reading the story of Mechiras Yosef, one gets the impression that all worked out in the end and lived happily ever after. However, Rabbeinu Bachyei, at the end of Parshas Vayechi, says something terrifying. He points out that while we find the brothers expressing remorse to Yosef for having wronged him, and while we find Yosef comforting them and reassuring them that all is well and that he will provide for them, we never find Yosef actually extending mechila. Somehow, there was no full closure. Therefore, says Rabbeinu Bechayei, the sin remained unresolved – and came back to haunt us centuries later in the form of the asara harugei malchus – the ten martyrs, which is also alluded to in the Yom Kippur liturgy.

Yom Kippur is also a day meant to healing that rift. There is a passage in the Machzor, just after reciting Seder Avoda that enumerates a list of halachos which characterize the day of Yom Kippur:

Yom assur achilah, yom assur bi’shesiyah, yom assur bi’rechitzah, yom assur bi’sichah, yom assur bi’tashmish ha’mittah, yom assur bi’ne’ilas ha’sandal

These are specific restrictions which are unique to Yom Kippur. Then, we continue:”Yom simas ahavah ve’rei’us, yom azivas kinah ve’sacharus- A day of establishing love and friendship; a day of forsaking jealousy and competition.

Apparently, Jewish unity is as defining an aspect of Yom Kippur as are the basic restrictions. On Yom Kippur, we parallel the angels not only in our ability to refrain from earthly pleasures, but also in our ability to epitomize shalom – as it says “oseh shalom binromav”. In explaining the basis for asking mechila before Yom Kippur, the Tur (OC 606) cites a Midrash Pirkei de’Rebbi Eliezer, which states “Mah mal’achei ha’hares beineihem kach Yisrael B’Yom HaKippurim.” The Rav also explained that reconciling with one another before Yom Kippur is necessary because the nature of the kapara extended on Yom Kippur is not an individual kapara but a collective kapara – as we say at the outset of the day, “ve’nislach le’chal adas bnei Yisrael”. In order to be worthy of that special gift of Divine forgiveness, we have to join together as one people in a spirit of genuine unity and reconciliation.

As we beseech the Ribbono Shel Olam for His forgiveness, may we all mirror that spirit of behavior in our own lives – not just looking at the technical halachic requirements, but connecting to the essence of the midos of the Ribono shel olam, the melech mochel ve’solei’ach. May we use these precious days to shed old grudges, trivialize old slights, see all that happens around us as messages from Hashem to guide us to be better people, reach out to others, love our neighbor as ourselves. In this zechus, may we all achieve reconciliation with Hakadosh Baruch Hu, and may we all be worthy of all of His blessings in the coming year – nachas and good health, prosperity and productivity in all of our endeavors.

[1]Adapted from a Shiur given by Rabbi Adler on Sep. 14, 2010 entitled “Kinus Teshuva Drasha 5771- Mechila in Human and Halachic Terms: How Can I Ever Forgive You? Can I Not?”.  The Shiur is accessible with Mekorot at http://www.yutorah.com/lectures/lecture.cfm/748933/rabbi-elchanan-adler/kinus-teshuva-drasha-5771-mechila-in-human-and-halachic-terms-how-can-i-ever-forgive-you-can-i-not-/.

Rabbi Elchanan Adler has served since 1998 as a Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, where he occupies the Eva, Morris and Jack Rubin Chair in Rabbinics.

 

Teshuvah and Kapparah in Tefillah Zakkah, By Rabbi Jeremy Wieder

Tefillah Zakkah, the prayer recited by many before Kol Nidrei, is comprised of three parts.  The first section consists of a confession of a myriad of sins committed through the agency of the various body parts a person possesses.  The final, and overwhelmingly largest, section consists of a plea for mercy and forgiveness, while acknowledging that by right we should have to suffer much to atone for our sins; we cast ourselves at God’s mercy because that suffering would be overwhelming.  In between is a short paragraph in which we state that we have likely have harmed others and repentance for those sins cannot lead to atonement until we have appeased the victims of our actions.  Thus, we hereby forgive all others for (virtually) all that they have done to us and ask God to cause us to be viewed favorably in the eyes of others so that they will grant us the same forgiveness for any harm that we have done them.

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