5761 - #13
The Torah of Chanukah
Syrian-Greek persecution was not a physical persecution
but an attack upon the spirit. It was not the body of the
Jew that was the target but rather the Jew's religious
commitment. Specifically, the Greeks1 challenged Torah. Maharal, Ner
Mitzvah explains that the battle of Chanukah
essentially was a battle of reason and revelation.
Hellenist thought could not accept revelational
knowledge, a revealed Divine knowledge beyond the
knowledge attainable by reason.2 Chanukah was a victory in
establishing the supreme validity of Revelation and
revelational knowledge. Chanukah, ultimately, marks a
victory of Torah.
Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg3 further explained that it is
specifically Torah she'b'al peh, the Oral Torah,
that is marked on Chanukah. He argued that the Greeks
actually had a respect for the written Torah, for the
works of the Bible. This is evidenced by the Septuagent,
the Greek translation of the Torah, which reflected the
Greek desire to read the Jewish holy works. Rabbi
Weinberg further explained that this may in fact be the
reason why Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi4 excluded the laws of Chanukah from
the Mishna.5 Rebbe felt, even
as he recognized the need to write down parts of the Oral
Torah, that the laws of the holiday that mark the Oral
Torah should remain, as long as possible, in its pure
oral state. Thus, he felt, the laws of Chanukah should
continue to be transmitted orally and therefore he
excluded them from the Mishna.
Rabbi Moshe Sternbach, Mo'adim U'Zmanim 2:137, note 3
expresses what can be considered a similar sentiment.
Rabbi Sternbach argues that the essence of Chanukah is
support for Rabbinic legislation. Indeed all the laws of
Chanukah are Rabbinic and their observance, their
observance mihadrin min hamihadrin,6 is an indication
of allegiance and faith in the Rabbis. This connects with
the Oral Torah for it is the Oral Torah which is the
ultimate province of the Rabbis. Essential to the very
concept of the Oral Torah is that it is the person, not
the text, that is the vessel, the conveyor and the
protector of Torah. Chanukah honours the Oral Torah and,
as such, must mark the human connection to Torah which is
the realm of the Rabbis.7
The human connection to Torah, the human involvement in
Torah analysis and decision making, has always been an
area subject to attack by outsiders. The early Christians
initiated their attacks against Judaism by attacking the
Rabbis and the "man-made law." To the
Christian, human involvement in the process of Revelation
can only cloud the Divine Word by mixing the human will
with the Divine Will. Within the realm of Greek logic,
similar sentiments could have also been found; concrete
definitions and demarcations had to be described. The
Oral Torah and the human involvement in Torah challenges
this concrete formulation. Is a halachic decision
the word of man or the Word of God? the answer is that it
is both. The Greeks could not understand this answer. To
the Jew, this answer is the essence of Torah.
It is the flame of the candles which is the symbol of
Chanukah. When a new flame is lit, the old flame is not
diminished. As God revealed His Torah and passed it on to
the Jewish People to be its torch bearers,8 the essence of
Torah as the Word of God was not diminished in the least.
Torah is like a flame that lights new flames but does not
diminish its essence. As Torah enters into the people and
unites with human being, the Divine Presence and Torah's
Divine essence is not lessened. New flames emerge as the
human bonds with Torah, expanding its nature and
connection to the world. The perception that the human
will and the Divine Will cannot co-exist is only a
parameter based upon Greek thought. The perception that
the human being must negate his/her will in order to
accept the Divine Will is ultimately foreign to the one
who accepts the Oral Torah. The preservation of the Oral
Torah, in fact, demands the fullness of the human being.
It is the human being's very will that opens up the Torah
through questioning, analysis and interaction with the
ideas of Revelation. Through the Oral Torah, the human
will is not negated but it shines forth - and we see the
Divine Will in the human will. It is not a choice of
Divine Will or human will. Through the Oral Torah, the
Divine Will is seen in all its Glory because of the
co-existence of the human will.
This is the lesson of Chanukah. When a flame creates a
new flame, there is no diminishment of light but only
increased light. When God created the human will, there
was no diminishment of His Will but only the potential
for an increase in the light of His Will. Through the
Oral Torah, as the Divine Will touches the human will,
the flame increases as the Divine Will and the human will
both expand. To the Greek, this is paradoxical and
impossible. To the Jew, this is the axis around which
Benjamin Hecht e-mail
1 This idea is
reinforced by the fact that in actuality the battle of
Chanukah was originally a civil war between Jews wishing
to adopt Greek culture and Jews loyal to Torah. The
Syrian-Greek forces were brought in at a later time at
the request of and to support the former.
2 Of course, within
Jewish thought, reason still has value and must still be
considered a source of knowledge.
3 heard orally in a shiur.
4 The compiler of
the Mishna, referred to simply as Rebbe.
5 See Ta'amei
HaMinhagim U'Mekorei HaDinim 847 which presents the Chatam
Sofer's more well known reason for Chanukah's
exclusion from the Mishna based upon the usurpation of
the monarchy by the Hasmoneans.
6 i.e. most
distinguished form of performance. This is a reference to
the prevalent custom which is to add a candle each day,
which is considered not only a fulfillment of the
commandment but the finest method of fulfillment. See T.B.
Shabbat 21b and Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 671:2.
7 See interestingly T.B.
Yevamot 90b which refers to the death penalty being
applied for violating a Rabbinic law during the times of
8 Reference is made
to the famous verse of lo beshamayim hi, it is not
in Heaven, (Devarim 30:12) and the discussion in T.B.
Baba Metzia 59b.
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