Chanukah ll תשפא
Tonight, Tuesday, December 16, the 1st day of the month (“Rosh Chodesh”) of Tevet, is the sixth night of Chanukah. Jews the world over will be lighting six candles in their menorahs to celebrate the sixth day that the oil burned. We started with one candle on the first night and added another candle every night to focus our attention on how, with every passing day, the miracle increased in its wonder. The one flask of oil, which should have fueled the candles for only one day, miraculously lasted for a full eight.
Although the connection between the number of candles we light and the nights of the holiday seems intuitive, it is interesting to know that that is not the only way to perform the mitzvah of lighting Chanukah candles. The Talmud (Shabbat 21b) tell us.
תנו רבנן מצות חנוכה נר איש וביתו והמהדרין נר לכל אחד ואחד והמהדרין מן המהדרין בית שמאי אומרים יום ראשון מדליק שמנה מכאן ואילך פוחת והולך ובית הלל אומרים יום ראשון מדליק אחת מכאן ואילך מוסיף והולך
The Rabbis taught: the mitzvah of Chanukah is for each household to have one candle lit every night of Chanukah. Those who wish to beautify the mitzvah should light one candle for each member of the household every night. Those who wish to beautify the mitzvah even more, Bet Shammai says that one should light eight candles the first night and decrease by one each successive night (8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1). Bet Hillel says that one should light one candle the first night and increase by one each night (1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8).
The Talmud is teaching us that there are three different levels of lighting Chanukah candles. (1) One may fulfill his obligation by lighting just a single candle every night; just the one candle for eight consecutive days suffices to remind us of the eight-day miracle of the oil.
(2) If one wishes to beautify the mitzvah, he may light a candle for every person in the household. So, if there are five people in the household, this person would light five candles every night of the holiday. The additional lights add a dimension of beauty to the mitzvah because it indicates how many people are involved in its performance, and the greater number of people involved in doing a mitzvah the more glory to Hashem. ברב עם הדרת מלך – The greater the number of people performing a mitzvah, the greater glory to the King.
(3) If one wishes to beautify the mitzvah even more, he should do so by indicating through the candles which night of the holiday it is, by either adding one candle per night according to Bet Hillel, or starting with eight and subtracting one according to Bet Shammai.
You now know that Jews the world over have chosen to perform the mitzvah of lighting Chanukah candles in the most beautiful way (level three) according to the opinion of Bet Hillel.
In the Talmud, Rabbi Yossi bar Avin and Rabbi Yossi bar Zvieda, two Talmudic Sages, differed in the explanation of the argument between Bet Shammai and Bet Hillel regarding “counting up” or “counting down.”
One Sage explained (it is not known who had which opinion) that Bet Shammai’s opinion focuses on the number of days yet to come. On the first night of Chanukah there are eight more days of Chanukah to celebrate. Bet Hillel takes the opposite approach. We are counting the days that we have already celebrated. On day one, albeit the very beginning of the day, we have celebrated one day, and as we celebrate each day, we add another candle until the eighth day.
The Maharal – R. Yehudah Loeb b. R. Bezalel (1520-1609) – adds insight to their opinions. Bet Shammai are focusing on the potential of the oil and the potential of the holiday. The oil placed in the menorah on the very first day carried in it the full eight days of the miracle. Although it was not realized until the end of the eighth day, the miracle was inherent in the oil on the first day. Similarly, as we stand on the first day of Chanukah, we have the full eight days of the holiday before us to grow from. To emphasize this, Bet Shammai says to start with eight and decrease the number by the day.
Bet Hillel, on the other hand, focused on the actual days that the oil burned. With each new day, the scale of the miracle increased. Hence, we should also increase our appreciation of the miracle with each new day. To focus us on this, Bet Hillel says to increase the number of candles by the day.
The other Sage explained that Bet Shammai compared the Chanukah candles to the number of bulls that were brought on Sukkot. Starting with the first day of Sukkot, a special sacrifice of 13 bulls was brought. The second day of Sukkot, 12 bulls etc. until on the seventh day seven bulls were brought. The sum of bulls brought over the holiday’s seven days is 70. (13+12+11+10+9+8+7=70) The number 70 corresponds to the number of nations in the world. Although we are bringing sacrifices for them, so to speak, they go in decreasing order, symbolizing that the nations of the world should also decline in their influence and dominance over the Jewish people. Similarly, Bet Shammai says that the Chanukah candles, which symbolize the victory over the Greek empire, should go in a downward direction, indicating that their influence should also diminish. When the gentile nations do not dominate the Jewish nation we are free to flourish and reach our potential.
On the other hand, Bet Hillel founded its opinion on the concept of – מעלים בקודש ואין מורידים – we go up in holiness and we don’t go down. This is the charge for every Jew, to add more holiness to his or her life every day and not to decrease from that holiness. This is the way we are to combat the negative influence of the gentile nations, by becoming greater ourselves. When we are strong and secure within ourselves, their influence upon us will disappear automatically. Bet Hillel instructs us to add more light every night to emphasize that we are supposed to increase the holiness in our lives with every day.
According to either opinion, the total number of candles lit over the eight days of Chanukah is 36 (excluding the shamash). Is there a significance to this number?
The – רוקחRokeach, R. Elazar of Worms (1160-1230) – explains that the 36 candles of Chanukah correspond to the 36 hours that Adam used the original spiritual light of Creation. What is the original spiritual light of Creation?
The Talmud (Chagiga 12a) asks an obvious question about the creation narrative.
ואור ביום ראשון איברי? והכתיב ויתן אותם אלהים ברקיע השמים וכתיב ויהי ערב ויהי בקר יום רביעי כדרבי אלעזר, דאמר רבי אלעזר אור שברא הקדוש ברוך הוא ביום ראשון אדם צופה בו מסוף העולם ועד סופו כיון שנסתכל הקדוש ברוך הוא בדור המבול ובדור הפלגה וראה שמעשיהם מקולקלים עמד וגנזו מהן שנאמר וימנע מרשעים אורם ולמי גנזו לצדיקים לעתיד לבא
Was the light indeed created on day one? But it says that Hashem put them (the sun, moon and stars) into the heavens on the fourth day (implying that prior to that there was no light)? The answer is what Rabbi Elazar said, “The light that Hashem created on the first day one could see with it from one end of the world to the other. When Hashem saw the evil people in the generations of the flood and the Tower of Babel, He hid it from them… and for whom did He hide it? The righteous people in the world to come.”
We learn that when Hashem said “Let there be light!” on day one, it was this special spiritual light that He created. Because this spiritual light allowed one to see “from one end of the world to the other,” Hashem feared that if it fell into the hands of the wrong people, they would use it to destroy the world. Hence, He hid it away for the righteous people who would only use it for worthy purposes.
Initially, it would seem that a person using this special light could see from here to China or Australia and know what was going on there. But this is not the case. The meaning is that with this special light, one could see from this world upwards to the end of the worlds in heaven. One could see the true spiritual sources for everything that exists in the world and how it emanates from Hashem. When seeing the world illuminated with this spiritual light, there could be no question that Hashem is the source of everything that exists, because you could actually trace it back to its source.
Adam was created on the 12th hour of the sixth day of Creation. Our Sages teach us that Hashem hid the spiritual light away after the first Shabbat. That being the case, Adam had use of that special light for 36 hours. Twelve on the sixth day and 24 on Shabbat. The Rokeach revealed to us that the Sages instituted lighting 36 candles on Chanukah to illuminate for us in the way that the original spiritual light did. The light of the Chanukah candles aims to reveal to us that everything that exists comes from Hashem in heaven. How is that?
The Midrash on the Torah’s second verse describes the four exiles that the Jewish people will experience:
מדרש רבה בראשית – פרשה ב פסקה ד
(ד) ר”ש בן לקיש פתר קריא בגליות והארץ היתה תהו זה גלות בבל שנאמר (ירמיה ד) ראיתי את הארץ והנה תהו ובהו זה גלות מדי (אסתר ו) ויבהילו להביא את המן וחושך זה גלות יון שהחשיכה עיניהם של ישראל בגזירותיהן שהיתה אומרת להם כתבו על קרן השור שאין לכם חלק באלהי ישראל על פני תהום זה גלות ממלכת הרשעה שאין להם חקר כמו התהום
Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish explained the verse as referring to the upcoming exiles: תהו refers to Bavel (Babylonia), ובהו refers to Persia and the Meads, וחשך – and darkness – refers to the Greeks who darkened the eyes of the Jewish people with their decrees and made us write on the horn of an ox, “We have no part of the G-d of Israel.”
How ironic! The world crowns the Greeks as the beginning of the enlightenment, their having brought us philosophy, math, the scientific method, the arts, and culture. All academia today is based on the foundations of the Greeks and the Roman empire that followed; yet the Sages refer to them as “darkness?”
King Solomon said in Proverbs: (3:19)
(יט) יְדוָד בְּחָכְמָה יָסַד אָרֶץ
19) Hashem has founded the world on wisdom.
A very strong philosophical debate ignited between the Greeks and the Jews. The Greeks claimed we live in a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) world. Spirituality and holiness are the figment of man’s imagination. Wisdom is something that we determine through investigation and research. The Jews on the other hand say that holiness and spirituality are a reality and that wisdom is something that we learned from the Creator, Hashem.
The Greeks had a problem with this idea. “Holiness,” did you say? What is that? Where can you see holiness? How do you measure it? How much does it weigh? If it is not subject to the scientific method, it has no reality. This was the position of the Greeks. The only true reality to them was one that could be experienced with one of the five senses.
Nachmanides writes: (Vayikra 16:8)
ולא אוכל לפרש כי היינו צריכים לחסום פי המתחכמים בטבע הנמשכים אחרי היוני אשר הכחיש כל דבר זולתי המורגש לו, והגיס דעתו לחשוב הוא ותלמידיו הרשעים, כי כל ענין שלא השיג אליו הוא בסברתו איננו אמת:
For I (Nachmanides) needed to squelch those who know much about nature and follow the path of Aristotle who denied the existence of anything that he could not experience with his senses and who was so haughty as to think, he and his evil students, that anything that he could not comprehend with his mind was untrue.
To this end, the Greeks imposed laws designed to uproot the concept of holiness from the Jewish people. This is why their decrees specifically targeted only these four commandments: Shabbat, Torah study, Brit Milah, and Rosh Chodesh.
The Torah declares that Shabbat is a holy day. Shabbat transforms every Jew, no matter what his vocation during the week, into a holy person. He lives his entire week for the day when he can elevate himself above the mundane and spend time with his Creator. Because gentiles cannot experience Shabbat’s holiness, they maintained that it was a day like any other.
The Torah is holy, and the study of the Torah, Hashem’s holy words, makes a person holy. A Torah Sage is a holy person.
The Talmud (Megillah 8a) tells us that King Ptolemy II took 72 Sages, and without telling them why, put them into 72 different rooms. He then entered each room, and told each Sage to translate the Torah into Greek. Hashem put the same ideas into their minds, and they each made 13 changes to their translation, miraculously translating the Torah exactly the same. The Greeks were not interested in learning our holy Torah. Rather, they wanted access to it so they could show it wasn’t holy. Since it is impossible to access the depth and breadth of the Torah from just reading it in its translated form, it made the Torah look like any other book. This is why the Sages said that the day that the Torah was translated into Greek was as bad as the day on which the first Tablets were broken, because in a sense, the translation also broke the Torah.
Brit Milah is a sign in a Jewish man’s body signifying his special covenant with his Creator, instilling holiness into his body, and enabling him to control his earthy desires and live a holy life. The Greeks denied this, too.
Finally, they outlawed Rosh Chodesh. Establishing the first day of the new month, Rosh Chodesh, by the high court, fixed the holiday schedule for that month. Based on the day the high court determined to be Rosh Chodesh Nissan, fifteen days later, Pesach with its inherent holiness, would begin. This takes the concept a step further, for it puts control of the holiness in the hands of the high court.
This is exactly what we say in the blessing on the festivals.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְדֹוָד, מְקַדֵּשׁ יִשְֹרָאֵל וְהַזְמַנִּים:
Blessed are you Hashem, who sanctifies the Jewish people, who (because of that sanctity) sanctify the times (holidays).
This is where the Greeks were in the dark. They denied the existence of anything that could not be observed, sensed with one of the five senses, measured, or experimented with.
The Torah teaches us the exact opposite. Not only is Hashem and holiness a true reality, but the world that we see, nature and all of its laws (what the world calls “reality”), is really not real. It has no existence independent of Hashem. They are only a “reality” because every second of every day, Hashem wishes them to exist. And, if, for even a nano-second, Hashem did not wish them to exist, all reality would immediately collapse.
The following Midrash illustrates this point.
מדרש רבה בראשית – פרשה י פסקה ו
א”ר סימון אין לך כל עשב ועשב שאין לו מזל ברקיע שמכה אותו ואומר לו גדול
Rabbi Simon said: Every blade of grass has a force in heaven that strikes it to make it grow.
Everything in this world, even a blade of grass, must have a spiritual force behind it. Nothing can exist without Hashem wishing it so.
This reality, that reality isn’t really real and can collapse at any time, is supported by atomic theory. All of matter is held together by atoms. The atoms of the different elements on the Periodic table of Elements bond to form the myriad of materials on the earth. The force that holds these atoms together is so strong, that breaking the atomic bond creates an atom bomb. If we were to don a pair of tunneling electron microscopes and look at the table in front of us, all that we would see is vast open space. The atomic tininess is vastly empty. Were we to increase the size of the atomic nucleus to the size of a tennis ball, the electrons in the first orbit surrounding the nucleus would be four miles away! Removing all of an atom’s “empty” space would allow all of the earth’s protons, neutrons, and electrons, to fit into something the size of a basketball. We are really not seeing a complete reality.
The questions that have no scientific answer are: What put the electrons in their obits around the atomic nucleus in the first place? What force propels them forward to orbit at millions of times per second?
The atom’s center contains the positively charged protons and the neutrally charged neutrons. Negatively charged electrons orbit the nucleus, but we know that opposite charges attract. So why don’t the protons draw the electrons into the center of the atom? The answer is that the electrons are flying around in circles, and that creates an opposing force making the electrons tend to fly out. Why doesn’t the electron just fly out of its orbit then? The pull of the positive proton is pulling at it keeping it from flying out. The electron has to orbit the nucleus at the exact right speed to neutralize the pull of the protons, but not any faster, or it will fly out of its orbit. What regulates the perfect speed of the orbiting electrons?
One last question. We know that like forces repel each other and opposite forces attract. Think of two magnets. The negatively charged electrons are attracted to the positively charged protons in the nucleus. Problem. All the protons in the nucleus are positively charged. Why don’t they repel each other and fly out of the nucleus?
הַמְחַדֵּשׁ בְּטוּבוֹ בְּכָל יוֹם תָּמִיד מַעֲשֵֹה בְרֵאשִׁית.
In His goodness, Hashem daily renews creation.
There is only one answer to all these questions and many, many more. Hashem is keeping the world together every second. If Hashem weren’t continually keeping it together, the entire world would fall apart, literally, in a fraction of a second. Even though these are commonly known facts, the general public thinks the world is a very secure and enduring thing.
We experience this phenomenon in our lives with all of our electric devices. We know that for the pixels on our screen to light up, electricity must flow to it from an electrical source, either the outlet or the battery. When the plug is pulled, or the battery dies, and there is no electricity to power the pixels, they go dead. This is true for the millions of electronic devices worldwide.
Similarly, Hashem is the universe’s “juice.” Without Him powering the atoms, all would go dead.
Before electricity, a burning candle was the metaphor for something that needed constant fuel. When we see a candle burning, the flame looks so solid, as if it will last forever; and given enough fuel, it actually will. In spite of this, we know, that the moment that the fuel runs out, the flame dies. The flame that we observe now is from the oil drawn up the wick a second ago. When there is no more oil, the flame must go out.
The Greek world does not brook the possibility of a miracle. A wick of a certain thickness, placed in oil, will burn one half ounce per hour. This is science, confirmed by experimental evidence, which cannot change.
Yet the Torah teaches us that nature is in Hashem’s hands. Yes, for the most part, it functions smoothly and you can count on it to work as usual. But should Hashem want to change it, He could. All of nature is just Hashem’s most constant miracle.
Many of the Jews in the time of the Second Temple were attracted to the Greek philosophy and approach to science. It looked so solid. Its truth could be proven by experiments. Man can fly to the moon. You can cure illnesses. How could anybody argue with science? The reasoning is powerful, and it caused most Jews to abandon the Torah perspective on life and follow the Greek enlightenment. The Jewish religion was in severe danger. Only a handful of Jews remained loyal to the Torah and its teachings. Among them were Matityahu and his 12 sons, who were prepared to sacrifice everything to save Judaism.
The miracle of the oil of the menorah was proof positive to the Torah’s view of reality. Hashem showed clearly that oil burns because He is making it burn and it can burn as long as He wants it to.
This is how the light of the Chanukah candles radiate the “hidden spiritual light” of Creation. Although it does not allow us to see the heavenly realms and how this world emanates from Hashem, through the light of the Chanukah candles we were once again able to see that Hashem is the source of all that exists.