A Point to Ponder – Chanukah 5774
1) Mai Chanukah – The Talmud doesn’t begin this section by asking “why we MAKE Chanukah” – rather it asks “What IS Chanukah? “ The Chida explains that the Gemara was asking why we call the Holiday by the name Chanukah. Rav Yaakov Adas ztl. explains that Chanukah comes from the idea of Chinuch HaMizbeiach (See Maharsha to Shabbos 21b) and quickly adds that it is part of a general mitzvah of Chinuch. Rav Adas explans that one of the miracles of Chanukah was the desire to make the Jews forget the Torah by taking it away from the youngest and most impressionable among us – the children. The antidote is helping children appreciate the freshness and sweetness of Torah which is pure (Zach), unadulterated (Naki) and Tahor – the principles required of the Chanukah oil.
2) The name Chanukah – The Shelah HaKadosh adds that the name Chanukah reminds us of the need to be prepared to sacrifice for Torah principles – even if that sacrifice is the ultimate sacrifice – one’s very life. Hence, the connection to the story of Chana and her seven sons often related over Chanukah. Why the connection? Rav Shabsi HaKohein Yudolovitch speaks about a Jewish Gaava – most likely associated with Jewish pride – that one must always have, to be proud to be a Jew and to do and act in a Jewish manner. Because behind the polished uniform of Jewish pride, there needs to be Jewish practice to back it up.
3) The next year they made it into a Yom Tov – Why did they wait a year? Rav Eliezer Waldenberg ztl. offers 2 explanations: first of all, the people were still mourning their dead and establishing a Yom Tov on their graves would have been too soon. Secondly, we know that the Chashmonaim took the Melucha for themselves. The Rabbis struggled as to whether to honor a miracle whose end was not ideal. That debate took a year.
4) Gibborim b’Yad Chalashim – Rav Michel Feinstein ztl. asked why we include the Temayim B’Yad Tehorim as part of the miracle? Sometimes the good guys win – it is not a symbol of unexpected victory is it? He answers that the Tehorim stayed Tahor even in the war. The Chashmonaim refused to lower their Torah standards even when in battle. This too, is a statement worthy of Chanukah Hodaah.
5) V’kavu Shmonas Yimei Chanukah – Why do we highlight the fact that they established theYom Tov as part of the Tefillah? Rav Chaim Yaakov Goldvicht ztl. used to point out that the Greeks wanted to eliminate the concept of man’s involvement (via Rabbinic leadership) in the Torah process. Hence they ruled out Rosh Chodesh observance. However, the ultimate statement of victory over the Greek oppression is the fact that we ALL observe Chanukah.
6) Shir Shel Yom of Chanukah – The late, great Mr. Sam Halpern z”l and his brother Arie z”l escaped from the lager in World War II, they ran into a field, and with the gunfire of the SS guards ringing in their ears, took refuge in haystacks, each to their own hiding place to enhance the possibility of at least one of the family surviving. These stacks of hay were not the safe haven that we might assume. The Nazis either seized or murdered quite a number of escapees by ramming their bayonets into the loosely piled hay. Both Arie and Sam independently related that throughout the time that they remained in that dark place, and long after the gunfire subsided, they recited Mizmor Shir Chanukat haBayit l’David. Over and over. Again and again.
My friend, Dr. Harris Saltzburg who reminded me of Sam’s story, also added that one cannot help but think of Arie and Sam in those haystacks in a field in Poland. Homeless, running for their lives. Cold, shivering with fright, in their lager stripes, endlessly pleading with HaShem, “...What gain would there be if I died and went down to the grave? Can dust thank you? Can it declare your truth? Hear Lord, and be gracious to me; Lord, be my help. You have turned my sorrow into dancing. You have removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul may sing to You and not be silent. Lord my God, forever will I thank You. The Chanukah message so strong – never give in and remember to be thankful each and every day.
7) SheAsa Nissim – At Pesach we include ourselves (Asher Gealanu v’Ga’al Es Avoseinu) yet in the Chanukah Beracha we aren’t even mentioned. Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach ztl. explains that without the miracle of Yetzias Mitzrayim, we would still be enslaved to Pharaoh but we would exist. Had the Chanukah miracle not happened, we would have been annihilated and assimilated.
8) Dreidel – Rav Volch points out that there is a beautiful reminder in the spinning of a Dreidel. If we raise our hands up to Shomayim for assistance, we shall not falter, even when it looks like we are on the last leg.