Chanukah Archive

Chanukah: Together

“So his (Yosef’s) brothers were jealous of him” (37:11). (בראשית לז:יא). “ויקנאו בו אחיו…”

It is fascinating to note the connections between Chanukah and the story of the sale of Yosef by his brothers. The three parshiyos (וישב מקץ ויגש) which contain the entire narrative of the episode always fall out to be read around the time of Chanukah. Not only that, but their titles tie in as well. The word Vayaishev means “he rested” and the word “Chanukah” also connotes “they rested (Chanu) on the 25th (of Kislev, from their enemies).” The word Mekaitz means “end” and the Midrash connects it to the verse “an end to the darkness,” which in other sources refers to Chanukah, the illumination of the dark exile. Vayigash describes how Yehuda, the king, waged war against their oppressor, just as the Chasmonaim, the acting leaders of the nation, launched their war against the Greeks. Additionally, the Gemara in Shabbos (22a) places its discussion of the story and laws of Chanukah right next to the story of the throwing of Yosef into the pit before his sale by his brothers! Let us find a beautiful lesson which can be learned from this deep and intriguing correlation.

Our goal is to emulate Hashem. Just as Hashem does kindness and has compassion, so too we strive to follow in His ways. Just like Hashem is One, so too Klal Yisrael must strive to achieve achdus, unity and togetherness. The Jewish people should be like a single body. Just as in the body every limbs has its individual purpose, so too in our nation, many people have different roles, however, only all of us together renders us a complete entity.
The Shlah HaKadosh explains that when Yosef reported to his father that his brothers were eating aver min hachai, limbs from an animal which was not slaughtered, he was complaining of a much deeper spiritual malady than meets the eye. He was saying, “we, Klal Yisrael are one body, however, my brothers are tearing me away!” This was what he meant when he said that they were transgressing the sin of aver min hachai! Yosef’s other report was of the same nature. “They are mistreating the sons of the maidservants and causing a rift in our unity.” In essence, Yosef was describing a breach in their solidarity which he felt needed to be fixed.

Yaakov versus Eisav
The two verbs used to describe the brothers dislike of Yosef are קנאה, jealousy, and שנאה, hatred. Yaakov, on the other hand, is described as having ,אהבהlove, for Yosef and desired that there be ,שלוםpeace. The verse in Ovadyah says, “Vehaya bais Yaakov aish…ubais Eisav l’kash…, the house of Yaakov will be fire and it will burn…the house of Eisav which is (highly flammable) straw.” The two letters which comprise the word kash (קש, straw), are the first letters of the words קנאה and שנאה, the character traits of Eisav. The first letters of אהבה and שלום, the character traits of Yaakov, spell the word אש, fire. When there is unity, then Yaakov’s fire has power, but when there is disharmony, then the straw of Eisav rules (Shlah). This was Yosef’s complaint against his brothers, namely that they were causing a division that make them vulnerable to their enemies. Yosef strived to and ultimately succeeded in unifying the family.

Chanukah Goal
Indeed, this is one of the lessons of Chanukah as well. When the Jews unified themselves and got together to fight for a common cause they overcame their enemies and the one day’s supply of oil miraculously lasted for eight days. The mitzva of Chanukah is described as “ner ish u’bayso,” bringing the household together. This is the secret of Jewish success throughout the generations. We now see the powerful common thread behind Chanukah and the selling of Yosef, that only unity can grant us success!
Rabbi Paysach Krohn quotes his father as saying that the only difference between ‘united’ and ‘untied’, is where you put the ‘I’! If we want redemption, then it is up to us to strengthen our love and appreciation of one another. May this Chanukah inspire us to act to achieve this!

Peace and Prosperity

“בימי מתתיהו בן יוחנן כהן גדול…” (על הניסים)
“In the days of Matisyahu the son of Yochanan the High Priest…” (Al Hanisim).

Why is it so important to mention the Priesthood in recounting the story of Chanukah? We find this in the “Haneiros Hallalu” text as well, “Al Yidey Kohanechah HaKedoshim, through the holy Priests”. What is it all about?
There is a dispute discussed in the early commentators as to who should light the Chanukah candles. Tosfos (Shabbos 21a) states that only one person per house should light the Menorah for everyone. Rambam states that each person in the house should light as well. What is so strange here is that…
Normally, when a dispute arises, the Ashkenazim follow the opinion of the Ashkenzi Tosfos and the Sefardim follow the opinion of the Sefardic Rambam. However, here, we find the exact opposite. Shulchan Aruch (Sefard) follows Tosfos (Ashkenaz) and states that in a Sefardi home only one person should light for everyone! Rama (Ashkenaz) follows Rambam (Sefard) in stating that each occupant should light their own Menorah. This advent is so strange that it warrants the Taz’s comment and is left as an unanswered quandary.
I believe that this exact fact epitomizes the essence of Chanukah. The Jewish people are meant to be united and one. When there is division, then our enemies have the power to destroy us and eradicate all that we stand for.
In the time of Chanukah, the Jews came together as one nation and together they were able to overcome the great enemy. That is the celebration of Chanukah, “Ner Ish U’Bayso”, unite the household!
Thus, as an expression of unity, the Poskim saw fit that they would validate each other’s opinions and show that we have mutual respect and love for each other!
This explains the recurring theme of the Kohanim throughout the story. How so? The trait of Aharon HaKohen was, “Ohev Shalom V’Rodef Shalom, love peace and passionately pursue it!” This wasn’t just a coincidence, this was because the Kohen was the central figure whose job entailed bringing the people together and propagating true unity and peace.
The Midrash states that Aharon spent his day bringing husbands and wives back together. Many couples whom he successfully helped would name their next child “Aharon” in his honor. After forty years in the desert, there were 80,000 boys named Aharon! If you do the math, it is astounding! Aharon spent his entire day counseling!
Hence, we stress that the Jewish victory came when the tribe of kindness and unifiers brought everyone together for the cause. This is what Chanukah is all about! This is the ultimate “Chinuch (same root letters as Chanukah), education” that we can provide.
When we come together for the Jewish cause, Hashem will grant us success and prosperity through our unity!

Yosef HaTzaddik and Chanukah

After Yosef interpreted the dreams for Pharaoh, he was appointed to be second-in-command to lead Egypt in preparing for the famine. Yosef was named “Tzafnas (hidden things) Paneiach (he revealed)” by Pharaoh on account of his exposing the secret message of Pharaoh’s enigmatic dreams. The commentators ask that linguistically Yosef’s name should have been “Paneiach Tzafun, the revealer of what was hidden,” why was it reversed?
The Shlah HaKadosh writes that each Parsha connects to the time of the year in which it falls out. What then does Chanukah have to do with Parshas Mikeitz? I believe that one answer sheds light on all of this!
Yosef HaTzaddik was up for the biggest challenge of his life in Egypt. He was a healthy 17 year old when he was thrust into the house of Potifar and his master’s wife tried to get him to sin. Yosef had to conjure up all of his moral strength and resolve in order to fight off the temptation for one entire year. Even after that, Chazal tell us that Mrs. Potifar would come by the jail and offer to get Yosef out if he agreed to sin with her. Twelve years went by and Yosef stayed strong to his convictions. The Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 90:3) says that in the merit of his princely achievement of self-control, he was rewarded accordingly by Hashem with rulership. Every part of him that did not sin got a royal reward. His body which he did not give to sin, was dressed in royal clothes. His mind that pushed away sin, was rewarded with wisdom and insight.
Yosef’s internal strength and efforts were what brought him to greatness. This is why his name stressed the idea of the hidden arena (Tzafnas, hidden). As the Chovos HaLevavos defines the study of personal growth, “Chachmas HaMatzpun, the personal development of internal recognition.” Yosef’s name stressed his focus on the internal conviction to follow truth in a most deep and intimate way. Chazal (Moed Katan 16b) say that one who practices Torah in private, will be rewarded before all in public. It was because of Yosef’s internal conviction (Tzafnas, hidden) that he was granted public greatness (Paneiach, revealed).
The Jews at the time of Chanukah were wavering in their commitment to Hashem. Sources state that one third of the Jews were Hellenized and joined the Greek way of life to avoid persecution and to pursue hedonistic “pleasure.” It was only when the Jews came together and dedicated their hearts and lives to the service of Hashem, then they were granted a most impossible victory against their enemy. When they repossessed the Holy Temple, their first desire was to light up pure oil in the Menorah. This signifies the pure and untouchable internal passion of the Jews. The hidden lights of the truly committed Jewish Nation shined forth and the Jews expressed their conviction to the world. Once again, the hidden (love and dedication to Hashem) became revealed. May we too shine forth this Chanukah with our internal commitment to Hashem and to each other!

Chanukah: The Light From Within

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.” (Based on Shlah’s observations)
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.

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