Comprehending the Miracle of Chanukah

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Halakhic Positions of Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik

by R. Aharon Ziegler

Rambam writes in Hilchot Chanukah (3:3)- “The Chachamim of that generation enacted that these days…should be days Simcha and Hallel, of rejoicing and praising, during which candles are lit in the evening …Le’harot U’le’galot, to demonstrate and to reveal the miracle.”

The Rambam is always very careful with the words he chooses. So what does he mean by “demonstrating” and “revealing”, and , what is the difference between the two? Furthermore, in the next perek (4:12) he writes, “The Mitzvah of the Chanukah candle is Chaviva hee M’ohd- an exceedingly cherished Mitzvah. One must take care Le’hodi’a to publicize the miracle and give more praise to Gd and thanksgiving to Him for the miracle that He has done for us.

This is a bit problematic. Surely there are other Mitzvot that require of us to publicize a miracle performed for the Jewish people, such as reading the Megilah on Purim and drinking four cups of wine on Pesach. Yet, the Rambam does NOT refer to them as chaviva hee M’ohd. Moreover, what does the Rambam mean to add when he writes of Le’hodi’a, to publicize the miracle? He had already stated earlier the requirement of “demonstrating” and “revealing” the miracle

Rav Soloveitchik explained, that one may have thought that the essence of pirsumei nissa, [publicizing the miracle] of Chanukah consists of thanking Gd for the miracle. But then how does this mitzvah differ from our daily prayers, in which we thank the Ribbono Shel Olam for all that He has done for us? It seems however, that there is a unique dimension to the mitzvah of pirsumei nissa of Chanukah which in NOT found in the megilla reading or the four cups of wine. How is this unique dimension defined and what precisely is the singularity of the miracle of Chanukah?

The Rav noted that the Mitzvah of lighting Chanukah candles is Not included among the Mitzvot that serve as a Zecher LeMikdash, a reminder of the Holy Temple, and whose objective is to remind us how the Mitzvot were observed in those days. Nevertheless, the Chanukah candle is endowed with Kedusha, sanctity, as stated in the Piyyut, “Haneiron Halalu Kodesh Heim” ,these candles are holy. What is the source of their Kedusha? The Gemara Shabbat (22b) states that the Ner Tamid of the Menorah served as “EIDUT LE’VA’EI OLAM” testimony to humanity that the Shechina , The Divine Presence rests upon Israel. The Rav Suggested that the same way that the Ner Tamid symbolized the Divine Presence in the Mikdash, so too, that Chanukah candle symbolizes the Shechina resting upon the Jewish people throughout the world. By lighting the Chanukah candle we are proclaiming that the Shechinah rests upon the people of Israel in all generations, including our own.

The fundamental conflict between the Jewish Hellenists and the Jews who remained faithful to their religion was the idea of the uniqueness of the Jewish people. The Hellenists wanted to the Jews to shake themselves free of the perception of being a “Chosen People”. Hence, the Pirsumei Nissa of the Chanukah candle in not merely a reminder of the miracle of the cruse of oil, but it is also a testimony to the Divine Presence in this world, and exclusively upon the Jewish people. That is why the Rambam emphasizes that the objective of the Chanukah candles is to “demonstrate” and to “reveal” the miracle. To “demonstrate” means “to show”, but to “reveal “ means to proclaim that which is unknown. When a person points to a certain building, he causes other people to pay attention to something that exists, that’s “demonstration”. But when he points to an open lot, describing the history of that piece of land and how the building that once stood there was destroyed, he is involved in “revealing”, namely, exposing the facts that are unknown and cannot be seen.

Thus, there are two aspects to the Pirsumei Nissa of the Chanukah candle, A- to show and demonstrate , in order to cause others to focus their attention upon the miracle to the cruse of oil that lasted for eight days. This is achieved by lighting candles in a place that is open to the public eye. B- to reveal- one must explain and to analyze why we had to fight the Hellenists even at the risk of our lives. Furthermore, “these candles are holy” means we must approach the candles as Moshe approached the burning bush. Moshe said, “Asura Na Ve’ereh et Ha’mareh HaGadol Hazeh” , I will now turn aside and see this great sight, that is , with the intention of investigating and analyzing . The Rambam emphasizes that the Mitzvah of Ner Chanukah is not just another rabbinic Mitzvah, but rather a fundamental Mitzvah that symbolizes the special relationship between Gd and Israel.

Before the Chashmonaim victory over the Hellenists, the relationship between Gd and the Jewish people was extremely weak and unstable. Thousands of Jews were Hellenized and they defiled the Beit HaMikdash. Intermarriage was so prevalent that even the son of Yehoshua, the Kohen Gadol married the daughter of the leader of the Kushim. As the Navi Zecharia said (3:3) “And Yehoshua was clothed in Begadim Tzo’im, fithy clothes. According to Gemara Sanhedrin (93a), these filthy garments symbolized his son’s marriage to a non-Jewish girl. Gd urged Yehoshua to remove these garments and terminate his son’s marriage.

The miracle of Chanukah changed the entire mood of the people. The Jews abandoned their Hellenizing and cleaved to the Torah. Thus, the Pirsumei Nissa of Chanukah does not focus only on the miracle of the cruse of oil. Rather, it comes to attest that the Jewish people who had been on the verge of total assimilation, repented, accepted upon themselves the Mitzvot of the Torah, and reestablished their special relationship with HaKadosh Baruch Hu.

About Aharon Ziegler

Rabbi Aharon Ziegler is the Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Agudath Achim of Boro Park and the Dean and Rosh Kollel of Kollel Agudath Achim. He is the author of six volumes of Halakhic Positions of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik.

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