Maimonides describes the Biblical character Job thus: “But when he knew God with a certain knowledge, he admitted that true happiness, which is the knowledge of the deity, is guaranteed to all who know Him and that a human being cannot be troubled in it by any of all the misfortunes in question. While he had known God only through the traditional stories and not by the way of speculation, Job had imagined that the things thought to be happiness, such as health, wealth, and children, are the ultimate goal. For this reason he fell into such perplexity and said such things as he did.” (Guide for the Perplexed 3:23)
In my interactions with Rabbi Dr. Chaim Schertz I was always struck by how he was the living embodiment of this passage and the Maimonidean ideal of one who treasures knowledge of God above all else. I have read many lovely sentences describing this idea, but with Rabbi Schertz I saw it lived. He valued the study of Torah above all else and that learning in turn sustained him and comforted him through many difficulties. It is my hope that the learning in these articles brings his neshama merit and satisfaction; and meets his high standards.
One of the big conundrums regarding Chanukah is the lack of any obligation to have what is a basic staple of every other Jewish holy day: a festive meal. According to the Shulchan Aruch’s rulings, Shabbos, festivals and even Purim, necessitate a festive meal to accompany them; only Chanukah does not (O.C. 670:2). Why should Chanukah be different from all other holidays?
One might further expand the scope of this question. All other special days on the Jewish calendar are hybrid days, some of the commanded rituals are spiritual (shofar, succah, megillah), others are physical (eating, enjoyment, resting). On Chanukah all of the rituals, all the obligatory practices (Menorah, Al Hanisim and Hallel), are spiritual. Why is only Chanukah a totally spiritual day?
Nothing marks the holiday of Chanukkah as much as the flickering flame of the Menorah. Despite the fact that this holiday marks a notable military victory too, it is the miracle of the Menorah that dominates the day. Why? Contrasting this holiday with Purim it seems like they have many similarities while at the same time Chanukkah takes on a much quieter tone. No noise, loud singing, or Megillah reading. Just a candle. Considering the outstanding military victory the Maccabees experienced on Chanukkah one would expect more celebratory rituals boasting the great victories that took place during that holiday.
The great 16thcentury philosopher and Kabbalist Rabbi Yehuda Loew—the Maharal of Prague—argues that the essence of this holiday can be captured in the words of King Solomon: ”Ki ner mitzvah v’Torah ohr, the mitzvah is a lamp and Torah is the light” (Proverbs 6:23). Any mitzvah we do is likened to a candle and the Torah in its entirety is likened to light. Why a candle? A candle represents the non-tangible connecting to the tangible. The flame exists through its connection to the candle and the candle only has meaning if it is sustaining a flame. Similarly in our own human experience, the spiritual connects to the physical.
This is the exact opposite of what Greek cloture championed. Greek culture was the epitome of physicality; the body was to be worshiped, physical strength idolized, Greek gods represented various aspects of the physical world, and anything different was to be shunned. Alexander the Great charmed the world with the beauty of Greek culture and by its compelling logic. Indeed, there was a lot to be impressed by; the compelling logic and philosophy, the architecture, and the military strength were overwhelming.
As we approach the mitzvah of hadlakat nerot, we are confronted with a hard truth. Being that we are in the Galut, due to external and social considerations, we are forced to light inside our homes. We assume, and rightfully so, the ideal Mitzvahof Chanukahis to be done outside. Lighting the menorah is a means of actualizing Pe’ersumaiNisa, publicizing the miracle to the masses. Naturally, lighting in one’s private domain can be seen as an act antithetical to pirsum. However, upon a further analysis of the Halacha, the reshuthayachiddoes seem to play a major role in the mitzvahof Chanukah, informing the attitude we should have when we light today, inside our homes.
The Gemara Shabbos(21b) offers two understands of the requirement to light “Ad She’tichle Regel Min ha’shook.” This refers either to a specific time zone for lighting or a way to gauge how much oil should place in each cup. As for this halacha, is this timeslot unpassable or is it just a recommendation? The Rashbaunderstands this an ideal time, allowing for a greater awareness of the miracle; however, like any other mitzvahwhich is performed during the night hours, it may be done throughout the entire night. The Rambamhowever understands that this is a maximum limitation. After the time passed one may not light anymore. Following the Rashba’sruling, nowadays, the Ba’ali Tosefosexplain, given our situation, we light inside, and thus, the demand to light within the timeframe of the Gemarais null since lighting Nerot Chanukah still produces pe’rsumfor the people in his house. It seems that Tosefotunderstand the nature of publicizing the miracle today has shifted from a public forum to a more private setting.
The story of Chanukah is one of the most famous stories in Jewish history and basically all Jews know how the ending goes; The Jews won and couldn’t find any pure oil because the Greeks had defiled all the oil, except one jar. Miraculously that one jar lasted eight nights which was long enough for the Jews to get more pure oil. In remembrance of this miracle, we light the Menorah for eight nights representing the miracle of the one jar that lasted eight nights.
There are two major questions that arise as a result of this. Firstly, why did the Greeks defile all the oil, wouldn’t it have been a lot quicker and effective to either destroy it or use them for their own benefit? Secondly, it makes sense that we celebrate the miracle for nights 2-8, since that was the miracle of the candle lasting, but the first night seemingly isn’t a miracle at all?
Hanukkah is Judaism’s most universal holiday with deep resonance for all Americans.
Our great country was founded by refugees who escaped religious persecution in Europe and were prepared to cross an ocean in order to found a colony where they could worship as they chose. Indeed, freedom of religion applied as a principle of colonial government goes back to the Maryland Toleration Act of 1649, which provided that “No person or persons … shall from henceforth be any waies troubled, molested or discountenanced for or in respect of his or her religion nor in the free exercise thereof.” By 1777 Thomas Jefferson himself had drafted The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, one of only three achievements Jefferson instructed be put on his tombstone.
For Jews, however, practicing our religion has never been as straightforward. Throughout history we have had to fight and die simply to observe our faith. Hanukkah represents a triumphant moment in the second century B.C.E. when that struggle was victorious.
In order to truly understand the essence of Teshuva, we must distill the process and then rebuild it from the ground up, thereby allowing us an authentic appreciation of the dynamics of Rosh Hashanaand Yom Kippur. The Rambam in Hilchot Teshuva discusses three necessary steps for achieving complete Kapara (atonement) in the Teshuva process. The first step is Viduy, translated as confession. It is accomplished through a verbal confession; the words cannot be in our mind, but must be on our lips. The second step is Charata, loosely translated as regret. It is the emotion that must accompany the verbal confession. Lastly, we must vow to never commit the specific sin again. This is called Kabbalat Al Ha’atid.
There is a lovely story about time, it goes as follows: two elderly Jews who haven’t seen each other in fifty years, meet, slowly recognize one another, and embrace. They go back to the apartment of one of them to talk about the days long ago.
The conversation goes on for hours. Night falls. One asks the other, “Look at your watch. What time is it?” “I don’t have a watch,” says the second.
“Then look at the clock.”
“I don’t have a clock.”
“Then how do you tell the time?”
“You see that trumpet in the corner? That’s how I tell the time.”
“You’re crazy,” says the first, “How can you tell the time with a trumpet?”
“I’ll show you.”
He picks up the trumpet, opens the window and blows a deafening blast. Thirty seconds later, an angry neighbor shouts out, “Two-thirty in the morning, and you’re playing the trumpet?” The man turns to his friend and says, “You see? That’s how you tell the time with a trumpet!” Roughly speaking, that’s how the greatest rabbi of the Middle Ages, Moses Maimonides, explained why we blow a shofar (ram’s horn) on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, which we celebrate in six days’ time.