Parsha Pearls: Chanukah

The Dangers of Blind Faith
No Compromise
Light the Menorah, Don’t Fight a War
Don’t Be a Closet Anti-Zionist

A man may not go out on Shabbos wearing a nailed sandal (Shabbos 60a).

The Gemora explains that the Sages enacted this law in memory of a tragic incident that occurred during the Greek era. A large group of Jews were hiding in a cave, and they all agreed that no one should leave the cave, lest the Greeks see him come out and thus discover the entire group. But they allowed other Jews to enter the cave and join them, because they would of course make sure that no Greeks were watching before entering the cave. The Jews were wearing sandals that consisted of a piece of leather nailed onto a wooden sole, such that the foot could go into the sandal from either side. However, the sandals did have a recognizable front and back. Once a Jew entered the cave wearing his sandals backwards. Someone saw his footprints and noticed that they faced outwards, making it appear as though someone had left the cave. Immediately they all panicked, fearing the Greeks were coming, and tried to escape. In the process they trampled over each other and many were killed.

The Gemora asks: if the Sages wanted to memorialize this incident by forbidding this reversible type of sandals, why then did they forbid them only on Shabbos? They should have forbidden them all the time! The Gemora replies: because the incident occurred on Shabbos.

This answer seems strange: this law has nothing to do with the laws of Shabbos, so why did they make the law only on Shabbos? Why is it so important to remember that the incident occurred on Shabbos?

Rabbi Ahron Katzenellenbogen explained that Shabbos observance was one of the major targets of the Greek decrees. These Jews were hiding in the cave in order to keep Shabbos. Superficially, this would seem to be a heroic deed. However, G-d wanted the Jews to keep Shabbos in order to declare before the entire world that G-d created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. He specifically wanted their Shabbos observance to be public, so that it should be a statement of acceptance of His kingship. These Jews should not have hidden, but rather they should have openly resisted the decree and kept Shabbos in public. Although this would seem to be more dangerous, the fact is that when Jews risk their lives to demonstrate loyalty to G-d's Torah, G-d intervenes and makes miracles for them, as he did for the Hasmoneans when they fought off the Greeks.

This mistake has been made by Jews at other times in history. During the Spanish Inquisition, when the Jews were expelled from Spain and those who remained were forced to convert to Christianity, many Jews succumbed to this ordeal and converted openly, but continued to keep all of the Torah in secret. Some of them were able to escape from Spain later, but those Jewish families who chose to stay in Spain gradually forgot about all of Judaism. Similarly, in Soviet Russia there were at first many Jews who continued to keep Shabbos and study Torah secretly, but their children and grandchildren grew up with almost no knowledge of Torah.

There are many Jews who are privately opposed to Zionism, but do not wish to speak out publicly. Sometimes they do not want to offend friends and relatives; other times they want to maintain their job or position. The story of the reversible sandal teaches us that this approach is wrong. G-d wants the Jewish people to publicly accept the yoke of exile and hope for His redemption alone, not for any substitute. Jews must speak out on this subject and accept whatever risk is involved, and then G-d will intervene and come to their aid.

I recall the distress that befell me; with three blows He struck me in this month… He surrounded me on its eighth day with darkness left and right, for these three events I instituted a fast: the king of Greece forced me to translate the Torah into Greek, on my back the plowers plowed and lengthened their furrow.” (Selichos for the Tenth of Teves)

Why is the translation of the Torah into Greek considered a tragedy, one of the reasons for our fast on the Tenth of Teves? The answer is that the translation marked the beginning of the Hellenistic era in Jewish history, an era characterized by heresy and defection from the Torah on a scale the Jewish people had never seen before. Increasingly, Jews began speaking Greek and studying the Greek culture. They wanted to remain Jews as well, preserving the Torah, but they wanted to transform the Torah from a living book, a text which Jews spent their days and nights discussing and explaining on multiple levels, into a dry text with one simple meaning. The Greek translation, called the Septuagint, suited their purpose well.

This was the era when the Sadducee movement arose. The Sadducees and the Hellenizers were closely related, because the Sadducees also sought to deny the Oral Law and base their Judaism solely on the Written Torah. To them, the Torah was a fixed text with no room for questions or discussions. They did not spend time pouring over the Torah and its interpretation, as the Talmudic sages did; instead, they studied Greek philosophy and culture. Their view of Torah study was typified by the statement of Elazar ben Poirah, who advised King Yannai to kill all the sages. “What will become of the Torah?” asked Yannai. Elazar replied, “The Torah is sitting in a corner; whoever wants can study it” (Kiddushin 66a).

By contrast, the Gemara, the Oral Law, is full of questions and challenges: “How do we derive this? Is this not a contradiction? Why does the Torah repeat this or that word?”

Chanukah is the time when we commemorate the victory of the Hasmoneans over the Hellenizers, and thus the victory of the living Torah, the Oral Torah, over the fixed, dry, translated Torah. This victory is alluded to in the story of Yaakov Avinu defeating the angel. The angel gave Yaakov the name Yisroel, “for you have contended with angels and men and won.” When Yaakov asked what the angel’s name was, the angel said, “Why do you ask my name?” (Bereishis 32:29-30) Why was Yaakov so interested in the angel’s name? And why didn’t the angel answer the question?

Yaakov reasoned as follows: “My new name, Yisroel, must reflect my essence. If my essence is the fact that I triumphed over this angel, then I want to know the angel’s name. I want to know what was so important about this victory.” The angel replied, “My name is ‘why do you ask’.” You have been victorious over the philosophy that advocates blind faith and opposes asking questions. Similarly, the Jewish people eventually defeated the Sadducees, who left the Torah as a fixed text and denied the Oral Torah.

The Sadducees are long gone, but today we face a different, more sinister heretical movement: Zionism. Among those Orthodox Jews officially opposed to Zionism, there are two types. There are those pay lip service to anti-Zionism because they know that all the gedolim of the past were anti-Zionist. However, they do not spend any time studying the subject in order to understand exactly what is wrong with Zionism. Thus many of them are woefully ignorant, and they use the word Zionism for anything they happen to oppose: irreligious political parties, irreligious kibbutzim, desecration of Shabbos and so on. When asked to explain their opposition to the essence of Zionism, they avoid the question and say piously, “Why do you ask these questions? We have to accept the ‘shitah’ of our famous rabbis of the past even if we don’t understand it.”

Then there are those who are really interested in the truth. They approach Zionism as they approach any other Torah subject: with questions, deep thinking, and analysis of the sources. It was this approach that set the Satmar Rav apart from many other great rabbis of his time. All of them were against Zionism, but the Satmar Rav was the only one who wrote a full-length work analyzing all the sources, quoting the arguments of the Zionists and refuting them.

Studying Vayoel Moshe and all the relevant sources, asking questions and searching for answers is the only way to ensure that we stay on the proper path. Otherwise we could, G-d forbid, become like those who say they are against Zionism yet advocate Zionism of the most extreme kind.

Speak to Aharon and say to him: “When you kindle the lights, the seven lights must shine toward the face of the menorah.” (Bamidbar 8:2)

Rashi quotes the Midrash: Why was the command to light the menorah juxtaposed to the story of the offerings brought by the princes of each tribe? Because when Aharon saw the dedication of the Mishkan by the princes, he felt bad that neither he nor his tribe were included in this dedication. Therefore the Holy One, blessed is He, said to him: By your life, yours is greater than theirs, for you will light and clean the menorah.

The Ramban asks: Why did Hashem comfort Aharon with the menorah, and not with the incense or any of the other offerings brought by the kohanim, not to mention the service of Yom Kippur, which only he could do? He answers that the reference is not to the lighting of the menorah in the Temple, but to the lights of Chanukah, which continue to be lit even after the destruction of the Temple. Hashem promised Aharon that He would make miracles through his descendents, the Hasmoneans, and that the Jewish people’s salvation at that time would be credited to them.

Rabbi Yaakov Teitelbaum (1897-1969, rav in Kew Gardens) points out an apparent contradiction in Aharon’s feelings. On the one hand, we find that on Aharon’s first day officiating as kohen gadol, Moshe said to him, “Approach the altar and make your sin offering and your burnt offering…” (Vayikra 9:7). Rashi explains: “Aharon was embarrassed and afraid to approach. Moshe said to him, ‘Why are you embarrassed? For this you were chosen.’” At the same time, we find here that Aharon was upset that he was not bringing offerings like the princes of the other tribes.

He resolves this by saying that Aharon was indeed afraid to officiate, due to his role in the sin of the golden calf. The Ramban on Vayikra 9:7 says that Aharon fulfilled the verse in Tehillim 51:5, “And my sin is always before me.” He constantly thought about the golden calf, and when he looked at the altar with its jutting corners, it reminded him of an ox or a calf. But Moshe told him, “Hashem has forgiven you and chosen you as kohen gadol.” Still, when Aharon say that he was not given a role in the dedication of the Mishkan, he was worried that perhaps his descendents would one day repeat his mistake. After all, as Chazal say, “The deeds of the fathers are a model for their children.”

The Torah (Shemos 32:1-5) tells the story of Aharon’s sin in great detail. Ordinarily, the Torah conceals the identity of people who stumbled in sin. The Torah tells us that a man was caught gathering sticks on Shabbos (Bamidbar 15:32). When Rabbi Akiva stated that this man was Tzelafchad, his colleague rebuked him for revealing what the Torah wished to conceal (Shabbos 96b). So why does the Torah describe Aharon’s sin so openly? Clearly the Torah wants us to learn that even a great person such as Aharon could make such a mistake.

What exactly was Aharon’s mistake in making the golden calf? When the people came to Aharon and demanded that he make an idol, Aharon reasoned, “If I refuse, they will kill me and then commit idolatry anyway. I will only be adding the sin of bloodshed to their sin, and for that bloodshed they may never get atonement. Furthermore, if I don’t do it, someone else will do it in a worse way. Let me do it and use my wisdom to save the people from sin. I will get them to put off their worship of the calf till tomorrow, by which time Moshe will return.”

This was what is called “aveirah lishmah” (a sin for a noble purpose), a compromise made on behalf of the Torah. Regarding such compromises, Scripture states, “He who praises a compromiser blasphemes Hashem” (Tehillim 10:3). The Gemara (Sanhedrin 7a) says, “This verse refers to the making of the golden calf.” Rashi says: “Aharon made a compromise in his mind and rationalized the making of the calf.”

Hashem did not accept Aharon’s rationalization: “Hashem was very angry at Aharon, and would have destroyed him” (Devarim 9:20). Despite his good intentions to save the Jewish people from sin, Hashem sentenced him and his children to death, and if not for Moshe’s prayer this sentence would have been carried out fully. The Torah writes the entire story, using Aharon’s name explicitly, in order to teach us that even great people can fall on the stumble block of compromise.

When the princes dedicated the altar and Aharon was excluded, he feared that although Hashem had forgiven him personally, his descendents would one day repeat his mistake of making compromises with sinners. Therefore Hashem told him about the Hasmoneans, who would put their lives on the line to wage war against the Greeks and overcome their anti-Torah decrees. The Hasmoneans were a small minority – most Jews felt that there was no choice but to compromise the Torah and live peacefully under the Greeks. The Hasmoneans swam against the current and refused to give up an inch of the Torah. Therefore, when they lit the menorah, they refused to use defiled oil, although technically there would have been grounds to permit it. They used the only clean oil in existence, and Hashem made a miracle to show that He approved of their approach. When Aharon saw that his descendents would fight for Torah in an uncompromising way, he was comforted.

When lighting the menorah, we bless Hashem “Who made miracles for our fathers, in those days, at this time.” This is because the uncompromising attitude displayed by the Hasmoneans applies in our time just as much as it did then. (Kol Yaakov, pp. 46-47)

You delivered the mighty into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the unclean into the hands of the clean, the wicked into the hands of the righteous, and the deliberate sinners into the hands of those who studied Your Torah. (Al Hanisim)

Why do we repeat the same thing in so many different words? Doesn't everyone know that the Greeks were unclean, wicked and sinners, and the Chashmonaim were clean, righteous and studied the Torah? The answer is that the power of the miracle of Chanukah extends to all future generations – that whenever there is a battle between the clean and the unclean, or any of the particular descriptions mentioned in Al Hanisim, the spiritual power of Chanukah is aroused in heaven and the good side wins. The battle between the Chashmonaim and the Greeks had all of the above characteristics, but even in a future battle of one kind alone, the good side prevails.

The word "zeidim" – deliberate sinners – means those Jews who joined the Greek side and fought in favor of assimilation. Since many of them were Torah scholars who should have known better, they are called "zeidim," as Chazal say that the sins of a scholar, even when due to a mistake in understanding the Torah, are considered like purposeful sins – he should have studied the Torah more carefully. They were delivered into the hands of the "oskei sorasecha" – those who studied the Torah properly and reached the truth. And the miracle extends even to our times, that those Jews who know the Torah well and yet use their knowledge to pervert its true meaning and "declare the reptile clean" will evenutally be defeated by those who seek the truth in Torah. (Satmar Rav, Chiddushei Torah p. 24)

What is Chanukah? …When the Greeks entered the Sanctuary, they rendered all the oil unclean… (Shabbos 21b)

The laws of Chanukah are not written in the Mishnah, and even here, where the Gemora tells the story behind Chanukah, it only mentions the miracle of the one jar of oil that burned eight days. It completely leaves out the story of the miraculous battles of Matisyahu and his sons, in which a few Jews drove off the entire Syrian Greek army. The books of the Chashmonaim, which tell these stories in detail, were excluded from Jewish literature by our Sages. The central mitzvah of Chanukah, the lighting of the menorah, is a memorial to the miracle of the oil, not the wars. Why did Chazal gloss over the great miracle of "the many into the hands of the few"?

Chazal foresaw that the Temple would eventually be destroyed and the Jews would go into exile. During the exile, Jews are forbidden to wage wars; they are adjured to wait peacefully until G-d brings the exile to a miraculous end. The Sages feared that if too much stress were put on the wars, Jews in exile might be led to consider the idea of war as a means to redeem themselves.

In a similar vein, we can explain a comment of Rashi earlier, in Parshas Vayishlach (32:8). The Torah says, "And Yaakov was very afraid, and he was in distress," and Rashi explains that he was afraid lest he be killed, and in distress lest he kill others. Yaakov Avinu knew that if Esav tried to kill him, it would be perfectly permitted to kill Esav first. But he was in distress because he knew that his descendants would one day be in exile, and then it would be forbidden for them to fight the gentile nations. If he were to kill Esav now, perhaps his descendants would learn from him that fighting is a valid option. (Divrei Yoel Chanukah, p. 444)

We may add that it is possible that the Sages intended the menorah itself as a reminder that the Jews' redemption from exile will come in a miraculous way, not through human effort. The source for this symbolism is in the book of Zechariah (4:6), read as the haftarah for Shabbos Chanukah. Zechariah was shown a prophetic vision of a menorah. He asked an angel what the vision meant, and the angel replied, "This is the word of the Hashem to Zerubavel, saying: Not by might, and not by power, but by My spirit, said Hashem Tzevakos."

* * *

On Chanukah we thank Hashem for the "wars He made for our forefathers in those days." Matisyahu with his tiny army of faithful Jews were miraculously able to drive away the entire Syrian Greek army. But what motivated them to go to war? Many Jews today, even religious, have mistaken notions about the role of war in Jewish history and in our time. One frequently hears the claim that it is important for Eretz Yisroel to be under Jewish rule, and that this is a legitimate reason to fight and risk Jewish lives. Those making this claim point to the story of Chanukah, when the Hasmoneans defeated the Greeks and established an independent Jewish kingdom. But let us read the words of Rabbi Avigdor Miller, of blessed memory, on this subject:

They did not arise to do battle for national independence, as the gentile-thinking Jewish writers of today would have us believe. The Nationalist Jews who forsook the Torah make a great to-do about the Hasmoneans, and depict them as patriots for political independence. These Zionists of today would have been among the Hellenisers, had they then existed; and the Hasmoneans would have been forced to fight against them for the right to practice the Torah. As long as they were able, the Jews sought peace and abhorred war, especially since war entailed disturbance of the Torah-regimen, which requires a peaceful and established community system. There was but one matter which could stir them to rebellion and cause them to take up arms: the interference with their observance of the Torah. Now the men of peace, and even the Cohanim, became warriors; and those who detested war became the fiercest of fighters. (Torah-Nation, p. 118)

Even during the latter part of the Second Temple Era, shortly after the miracle of Chanukah, that oath seems to have been in effect, to a certain degree. The Gemora (Avodah Zarah 8b) says that the Romans fought 32 battles against the Greeks but could not defeat them until they joined forces with the Jews. After the Greeks were defeated, the Romans made an agreement with the Jews under which they would split the leadership positions equally. For 26 years they honored the agreement; afterwards, for the next 180 years until the destruction of the Second Temple, they ruled over the Jews completely; the Jewish king was given very limited authority. The Gemora says that this was foretold in the conversation between Esav and Yaakov in Parshas Vayishlach (Bereishis 33:12-14). Esav suggested that he and Yaakov travel together – this foreshadowed the 26 years of shared leadership. Yaakov said, "Let my master go ahead of his servant" – this foreshadowed the subsequent years, when the Romans ruled supreme.

The Satmar Rav asked: If the Jews were so strong that they could defeat the Greeks when the Romans could not, then when the Romans broke their agreement, why didn't the Jews fight the Romans? The answer is, they too realized that the time had come for "let my master go ahead of his servant" – Hashem had decreed that it was Esav's time to rule, and they were forbidden to challenge this decree.

The Maharsha (Gittin 56a) explains that this was the reason why Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai told the militants who wanted to fight Rome, "It will not succeed." He also understood that these words of Yaakov to Esav were a prophecy referring to the time of Roman dominion, and that the time had come for Esav to rule.

* * *

In the Haftorah for Shabbos Chanukah, Zechariah (4:2) was shown a vision of the menorah, with two olives trees on either side of it. The angel said, "Don't you know what these are?" Zechariah replied that he did not. The angel said, "This is the word of Hashem to Zerubavel: Not by might and not by power, but by My spirit, said Hashem."

Reb Chaim Brisker (printed in Chiddushei Hagriz Stencil on Nach) asked: Why did the angel say that Zechariah knew what the vision meant, when Zechariah said he didn't know? What did he know and what didn't he know? The answer is that Zechariah knew that the vision meant that the Second Temple would soon be built. The two olive trees referred to the king and the kohein gadol, who are anointed with olive oil. But Zechariah did not understand how that could be – in the Second Temple era there was no shemen hamishcha (anointing oil)! The angel explained to him: During the First Commonwealth, the Jews possessed Eretz Yisroel by virtue of Yehoshua's conquest. So as soon as Nevuchadnetzar conquered it from them, the Land lost its holiness. But this Second Commonwealth that is about to begin will not be founded by might and power, but by Hashem's spirit which will inspire King Daryavesh to grant the Jews the right to build it. Therefore, even when Jerusalem will fall to the Romans, the Land will retain its holiness. The Third Temple, built in the time of Moshiach, will thus be a continuation of the second, and then there will be a king and a kohein gadol anointed with oil. Therefore it is possible to say that this holiness that is about to come to Eretz Yisroel now will bring with it the anointing of a king and a kohein gadol, although this will not happen until the time of Moshiach.

Thus the menorah symbolizes the fact that the Jewish people's future possession of Eretz Yisroel will be established not by might, not by power, but as a continuation of the old kedushah from the Second Commonwealth. How ironic is it, then, that the Zionist movement, which advocates the conquest of Eretz Yisroel by force of arms, has adopted the menorah as one of its national symbols!