The Light From Within – Chanukah

Chanukah is a celebration of the Jewish individual as part of the collective whole. It is fascinating to note that the word ילד, child, is comprised of the same letters as the word דלי, bucket. What does this mean and what does it have to do with Chanukah!?

Chazal tell us that Yaakov Aveinu fought with Eisav’s administering angel and was punched on his thigh (sciatic nerve). The verse states: “When the angel saw that he could not win, he punched Yaakov in his כף ירחו, thigh (Berieshis 22:26).” Yaakov had been left alone that night as he had forgotten “פחים קטנים, small vessels (Ibid. 22:25).” What was the nature of these small vessels that Yaakov felt they were so vital to risk his safety to retrieve them?

It is fascinating to note that the words “כף ירחו, his thigh” directly tie into Chanukah. The word כף can be inverted to spell פך, jug (of oil) which is the exact word used in the Gemara (Shabbos 21b) when describing the Chanukah miracle. “The Jew defeated the Greeks and found one pach shemen, pure jug of oil, that was still intact and sealed by the Kohen Gadol. They cleaned up the Beis HaMikdash and lit the Menorah. Also, the word yerech, thigh is used in the context of the Menorah as the verse states (Shemos 25:31) “the thigh of the Menorah.”

The Midrash explains that the evil angel hit Yaakov below the belt as a sign that he would weaken and attempt to infiltrate his future descendants. This is exactly what happened when the Greeks took over the Beis HaMikdash and put up a statue of Zeus in the holy site and brought pigs up on the altar. One third of the Jewish people were not able to withstand the pressures of Greek attacks and became Hellinized Jews. It was only when Matisyahu and his great sons stood up and fought off the Greeks that the Jews finally got back their independence.

The purpose of education is to teach the child to be an independent and autonomous person who is connected to truth and to the service of Hashem. The word yeled (child) is comprised of the same letters as de’li (bucket) to show the importance of training a child to seek to find truth and answers from within. As the verse in Mishlei (20:5) states, “Counsel if like deep water in the heart of man; the man of understanding will draw it out (ידלנה).” Chanukah emanates from the word חינוך, education. The verse in Mishlei (22:6) states, “ חנוך לנער על פי דרכו גם כי יזקין לא יסור ממנה, educate the child according to his skills in a way that the teachings will remain with him when he ages.” The word Chanoch (educate) relates to Chanukah and stresses the importance of education. The word נער, child, is comprised of three letters. The first letter נ, is numerically equal to 50 and hints to the fifty gates of wisdom. We strive to teach this wisdom of the Torah and life to the child. The last two letters of naar spell ער, which translates as “to awaken.” The goal of education is to awaken the person from within to seek out truth and enlightenment. This is the deeper meaning behind the mitzva of “parsumey nisah, publicizing the miracle,” we strive to bring the fire from within to the outside. We light at dark in order to bring out our light and until the time that “the feet (of people) are cleared from the street (Shabbos 21b).” The reference to “feet” hints to Yaakov who was punched in the thigh (mid-leg area).

When we light the Menorah we are told in Jewish law to hold the candle to the wick until the wick catches fire and is able to burn on its own. This is the exact way that the Kohen Gadol was commanded to light the Menorah in the Beis HaMikdash (see Bamidbar 8:1 and Rashi ad loc.). This is the purpose of chinuch to light and inspire our youth to carry the flame of the Torah based on internal recognition and conviction.

When Yaakov went back for the small pach, the Shach al HaTorah brings down from a Midrash that he was returning back to get the jug of oil that would later be found during the time of Chanukah. Additionally, Rabbeinu Bechaya states that the jugs were called “pachim ketanim” because they were jugs belonging to the children. Another hint to children. Chanukah is so deeply hinted to by the entire episode of Yaakov and the angel of death (Chazal say that he is the same as Saro Shel Esav) and the lesson of teaching our children about the beauty of life and Hashem. This is the entire theme of Al HaNissim, to give thanks to Hashem.

The Greeks made the Jews write, “God has forsaken you” on all of their ox horns (Berieshis Rabbah 2:4). What was this decree all about? It has been noted that in ancient times baby bottles were made out of ox horns as their funnel shape was optimal for their task. Thus, the Greeks tried to force the Jews to raise their children under the influence of denying Hashem. This is why the word “darkness” refers to Greece (Midrash ibid.) for they wished to darken the world for religious Jews. The Jews fought back and instead educated their youth to love and be committed to Torah. Some say that the draidel was played by children who were learning Torah and needed to fool the Greeks into thinking that they were simply gathered for game tournaments.

Chanukah is a time where we show children that “a small light can shine forth and push away much darkness” (Chovos HaLevavos). This may be the reason that there is a custom to give gift and money to children, in order to draw them into the simcha of Chanukah. We each have a child within. This Chanukah may we find the inspiration and strength to see the beauty of Torah and life and may the lesson remain with us as we continue our spiritual journey through life.