Chanukah: Construction Jobs Always Take Longer Than Planned

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by R. Moshe Schapiro

What’s the Plan?

Chanukah is so yesterday. Chanukah is a holiday rooted in memory and history, which begs the question – why do we care? Of course, there are important religious messages that emanate from Chanukah, but they don’t necessarily mandate a formal holiday. There are many events recounted in the Torah from which we derive inspiration and principles of faith and conduct, but we don’t establish a holiday for each one. Indeed, there were many holidays celebrated during the Second Temple period to commemorate various miracles and salvations, but after the Temple’s destruction, Chanukah is the only post-biblical holiday that remains (Rosh HaShanah 18b). What is it about Chanukah that traverses the centuries? The answer is that Chanukah is not just about the past, but about the future. There is a plan, and Chanukah is a crucial part of it. Contained in the miracles of millennia ago are the first sparks of the ultimate redemption.

 

Plan A

To properly appreciate Chanukah’s eschatological implications, we first have to understand the purpose of the Return to Zion (Shivat Tziyon) and the rebuilding of the Second Temple after the Babylonian exile. The Talmud (Yoma 38a) states that there was a tradition during the Second Temple period that the Second Temple was destined to be destroyed. The source for this tradition is found in Yirmiyahu’s prophecy about Shivat Tziyon:

For thus said Hashem, “After seventy years for Babylonia, I will remember you, and establish upon you My good word, to return to this place. For I know the thoughts that I am thinking about you, the word of Hashem, thoughts of peace, not to [your] detriment, to give you a future and a hope. And you shall call out to Me, and you shall go and pray to me, and I will listen to you. And You shall seek Me, and you shall find when you will search for Me with all your heart. And I will be available to you, the word of Hashem, and I will return your captivity and gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you, the word of Hashem, and I will return you to the place from where I exiled you” (Yirmiyahu 29:10-14).

Abarbanel asks a series of probing questions about this passage:  what are the “thoughts of peace”; what are we supposed to be praying for; if the Jews were returned “to this place” at the beginning of the prophecy, why does God again promise to “return your captivity” at the end; and how are we to understand the promise to gather them from all the nations, a promise never fulfilled during the Second Temple period? Furthermore, after seventy years away from the Land of Israel, the Jews might have received atonement for violating the laws of the Sabbatical Year, as predicted in Vayikra 26:34-35, but they still needed to achieve atonement for the plethora of other sins they had committed, such as idolatry, immorality and murder. Returning the exiles to Israel after only seventy years seems premature. Finally, the Talmud (Yoma 21b) tells us that, in addition to other major deficiencies, God never rested His full Presence upon the Second Temple, which inspires the question: what was the point of Shivat Tziyon at all?

Abarbanel explains that the Babylonian exile had shocked the Jewish people into recognizing that they had sinned, and they were poised to repent for their heinous behavior. However, it was not necessary for them to remain in Babylonia to repent for their sins, and, in fact, the holy land of Israel would be more conducive to the process of repentance than the spiritually barren Babylonia. Therefore, God decided to bring the Jews back, but only for a specific purpose: to seek out God in repentance, to pray to Him for forgiveness and to daven for the return of all their brethren from the places of their captivity. If the Jews had done so, God would have placed His Presence in their midst and the Second Temple would have reached the full glory of the First. Shivat Tziyon would then have inspired those Jews, such as the Ten Tribes, remaining in their far-flung places of exile, to repent and return to Israel as well, and this would have been the final redemption. These were God’s “thoughts of peace” to give the Jewish people “a future and a hope.” They would return to “this place,” and through their prayers they would prevail upon God to return the captivity of their brethren throughout the world. However, few Jews took advantage of the opportunity to return, and fewer still made an effort to repent and seek out God. The Jews did not fulfill Yirmiyahu’s conditions and, as such, they knew that the Second Temple would ultimately be destroyed and the people sent back into exile.

The Talmud (Berakhot 4a)[1]See also Tanchuma, Pekudei 2. highlights the precarious character of the Second Temple era in Jewish history:

“Until Your nation passes through, Hashem, until this nation You have acquired passes through” (Shemot 15:16). “Until Your nation passes through, Hashem”- this is the first arrival (in the days of Yehoshua); “Until this nation you have acquired passes through”- this is the second arrival (in the days of Ezra). From here our rabbis said: The Jews were worthy that a miracle should have been performed for them in the days of Ezra in the manner that it was performed for them in the days of Yehoshua, but sin caused it not to be.

The Maharsha identifies the sin of the nation as their failure to answer the call to return to Israel. This is evident from another Talmudic passage (Yoma 9b):

“If she be a wall we will build upon her a turret of silver; and if she be a door we will enclose her with boards of cedar” (Shir HaShirim 8:9). If you had made yourselves like a wall and all of you had ascended to Israel in the days of Ezra, you would have been compared to silver which does not rot. Now that you only ascended like doors,[2]Rashi explains: “Like doors: a gate that has in it two doors, one opens and the other closes; so too only a fraction of you went up.” you are compared to cedar wood which does rot.

The Sefat Emet (ad loc., s.v. sham be-gem’ ka-kesef) explains that the rot here refers to the eventual destruction of the Second Temple. Had the entire nation returned to Israel as one, God’s presence would have rested upon them and Bayit Sheni would never have been destroyed. However, since only a small number of people returned, they did not merit God’s Presence and the Temple was doomed from the start.

R. Yehudah HaLevi (Kuzari 2:24) develops the same theme in an earlier passage in Shir HaShirim (5:2-6): “I am sleeping, but my heart is awake. It is the voice of my beloved that knocks.” He explains that “I am sleeping” alludes to the Jews in exile and “the voice of my beloved” is God’s call to return to Israel. The Jewish people respond to God’s entreaty: “I have put off my coat; how shall I put it on? I have washed my feet; how shall I defile them?” The people were reluctant to heed the call to return and because of the nation’s failure, “My beloved had turned away and was gone…I called him, but he gave me no answer.” God’s full Presence did not rest upon the Second Temple and eventually, at the time of the Churban, it departed completely.

 

Plan B

Even though the Jews failed to utilize the Second Temple to bring about the final redemption, Yirmiyahu’s words “to return to this place” in order “to give you a future and a hope” resonated with the people in another way. Shivat Tziyon might not bring about the final redemption, but it could still prepare the nation for the next exile, whose length was undetermined and whose troubles were undefined. Indeed, had there been no Shivat Tziyon, the very idea of “returning” would have been considered impossible. The nation would have long ago abandoned hope of redemption and dismissed the idea of ever returning to Israel as a mere will-o’-the-wisp. Shivat Tziyon, no matter how short-lived, has for the last two thousand years allowed the Jewish people, to utter the daily prayers, “And to Jerusalem, Your city, may You return in compassion,” and, “May our eyes behold Your return to Zion,” with conviction and realistic expectation.

Establishing a new Jewish commonwealth and rebuilding the Temple gave the Jews a center to rally around and a period of time in which to strengthen themselves as a nation before the coming exile. The Sages of that period, known collectively as the Anshei Keneset ha-Gedolah, formalized Jewish ritual and enacted a series of rabbinic decrees designed to preserve and fortify Torah observance. R. Tzvi Hirsch Chajes (Mavo ha-Talmud 8) notes that during the seventy years of the Babylonian exile there was an acute decline in religious knowledge and observance.[3]See Ezra chapters 9-10 and Nehemiah chapters 8-13. However, the decrees and strictures introduced by the Second Temple sages have sustained the Jewish people successfully for over two thousand years in our current exile. Additionally, the Anshei Keneset ha-Gedolah promoted rigorous Torah study[4]See Abarbanel and he-Chasid Ya’avetz, Avot 1:1. and advocated a popular, inclusive educational system.[5]Abarbanel and he-Chasid Ya’avetz loc.cit. The three components of the Sages’ program are encapsulated in their motto: “Be deliberate in judgment; raise up many students; and make a fence for the Torah” (Avot 1:1).[6]See R. Yaakov Kamenetsky (Emet le-Yaakov, Shemot 12:2) who explains several curious aspects of Second Temple religious life based on the notion that the Sages recognized that the purpose of Bayit … Continue reading

 

Plan A – Redux

Shivat Tziyon served two functions: to possibly be the means to bring about the final redemption, but also, in the likelihood of the people’s failure to do so, to serve as a way-station to prepare them for future hardships and give them hope for the future redemption. Perhaps, though, the Jewish people did not really fail in their first mission. The prophet Chaggai makes a mysterious prediction:

Thus said Hashem Tzevakot: ‘There will be one more; it is a small one. I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land. I will shake all the nations, and the precious things of all the nations will come here and I will fill this Temple with glory, said Hashem Tzevakot. Mine is the silver and Mine is the gold- the word of Hashem Tzevakot. The glory of this last Temple will be greater than the first, said Hashem Tzevakot. And I will grant peace to this place – the word of Hashem Tzevakot. (Chaggai 2:6-10).

Rashi explains that “a small one” refers to the Hellenistic dominance over Israel, which will be short-lived because Hashem will “shake the heavens and the earth” with the miraculous victory of the Chashmonaim and reestablish Jewish sovereignty over the land of Israel. But then the prophet makes an unbelievable statement: “The glory of this last Temple will be greater than the first.” How can the navi claim that the glory of Bayit Sheni will be greater than that of Bayit Rishon? Even after the Chanukah miracle this did not come to pass. Chaggai himself, in an earlier prophecy (1:8), exhorted the people to “build the Temple and I will be pleased with it and I will be honored [ve-ekavdah].” According to the Talmud (Yoma 21b), he intentionally spelled the word ve-ekavdah as ve-ekaved, without the final letter hei, which has a numerical value of five, in order to indicate that the Second Temple’s glory was diminished through the lack of five crucial aspects. Moreover, how can Chaggai refer to the Second Temple as the “last Temple?” [7]See Tosafot Yom Tov, Demai 7:3 for a different answer to this question. As we have seen, the destruction of the Second Temple was already foretold and Jewish tradition[8]The belief in the rebuilding of the Third Temple is ubiquitous and pervasive. Prophetic visions lend themselves to differing interpretations, however, the visions of Yeshayahu 2:2-3 and Michah 4:1 … Continue reading teaches that there will be a third and final Temple.

Chaggai’s assertion that the Second Temple will be greater than the first is justified by another prophecy recorded by his colleague Zechariah. In the 4th chapter of Zechariah, the prophet sees a vision of a “menorah of gold with its bowl on its top; its seven lamps are upon it, and there are seven ducts for the lamps on its top” (verse 2). Two olive trees stand on either side of the menorah and two olive branches are plucked off the trees, falling into two vessels from which pour forth oil into the menorah (verse 12). Zechariah is confused by the vision:

I spoke up and said to the angel who was speaking to me, saying, “What are these, my lord?” The angel who was speaking to me answered, and said to me, “Do you not know what these are?” And I said, “No, my lord!” He spoke up and said to me, saying, “This is the word of Hashem to Zerubavel, saying, ‘Not through an army and not through strength, but through My spirit,’ said Hashem Tzevakot. Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubavel – a plain. He will bring out the cornerstone, with cheers of ‘Grace! Grace!’ for it” (verses 4-7).

R. Chaim Soloveitchik[9]Cited in Chidushei ha-Griz al ha-Torah §179. See also R. Yosef Dov Soloveitchik’s presentation, cited by R. Hershel Schachter (Be-Ikvei ha-Tzon pp. 115-116). explains that Zechariah was confused in the above passage because later, in verse 14, the angel states that the olive branches represent the “two sons of oil,” the High Priest and the Messianic king, both anointed with oil, who would rise to prominence.[10]See Ibn Ezra ad loc. See also Avot de-Rabi Natan 34 and Sifra, Parashat Tzav §11. R. Soloveitchik argues that Zechariah already knew prophetically that this vision of priestly and royal greatness would not accord with the reality of the Second Temple. The Davidic dynasty would not be restored, and the religious character of most of the kings and High Priests of that era would be repugnant.[11]See Yoma 8b-9a. Moreover, the special anointing oil used for the king and High Priest, was hidden away after the destruction of Bayit Rishon. The angel’s response to Zechariah’s disbelief was that in the Second Temple era, the Land of Israel would be endowed with sanctity, “Not through an army and not through strength, but through My spirit.” In the case of the First Temple, Rambam (Hilkhot Beit ha-Bechirah 6:16) writes, the Land of Israel was sanctified through military conquest and therefore lost that sanctity when the Babylonians conquered the Jews. Even though the core sanctity of the Temple itself lingered, the expiration of the general sanctity of the land meant that the era of the First Temple had come to an end. However, with regard to the Second Temple period, the land’s sanctity was created, not through conquest, but through the very settlement of the Jewish people, which was orchestrated by God’s spirit. That sanctity will never expire. The angel’s message to Zechariah was that the era of the Second Temple never came to an end. Even after Bayit Sheni was destroyed, and even two millennia later, we still live in the same historical epoch. It is for this reason that Zechariah’s angelic interlocutor can speak about “the two sons of oil,” the High Priest and the Davidic king. Even though they will only actually be anointed during the Third Temple period, it is as though they functioned during the Second, because it is really one unit of time.

R. Yosef Dov Soloveitchik (loc. cit.) explains Zechariah’s concluding imagery. “He will bring out the cornerstone” means that the entire Second Temple is likened to the laying of a foundation stone for the construction of the Third Temple. Zechariah’s following prophecy emphasizes this point: “The hands of Zerubavel have founded this house and his hands shall finish” (Zechariah 4:9). Abarbanel notes that if the verse were only speaking of the construction of the Second Temple, then it should have either said that his hands, “have founded this house and his hands shall finish it” or that his hands “have founded and shall finish this house.” The prophet breaks up the two actions (founded and finish) because “have founded” refers to the laying of the foundation of the Second Temple by Zerubavel, whereas “shall finish” refers to the completion of the Third Temple in the hands of Zerubavel’s descendant, the Messiah.

If the Second Temple is merely the foundation of the Third and final Temple, then Chaggai’s declaration that “the glory of this last Temple will be greater than the first” makes perfect sense. R. Hershel Schachter (loc. cit.) explains that, while on one level, the “last Temple” does refer to the Second Temple that was under construction at that time, ultimately, it really refers to the Third Temple. Bayit Sheni was just the laying of a foundation. After thousands of years, when the construction will culminate in the edifice of Bayit Shelishi, that last Temple truly will be more glorious than the First. The Jewish people during Bayit Sheni seemed to have failed to build the final Temple and to bring about the final redemption in their own lifetimes, but in a more esoteric sense, they had succeeded.

 

Confirmation of the Plan

Both Chaggai and Zechariah prophesied in the generation of Shivat Tzion that the Second Temple, built by Zerubavel and his contemporaries, was actually the beginning of the construction of the Third Temple. It is odd, then, that both prophets also connect this prophecy with the events of Chanukah which occurred many years after Zerubavel’s generation. Chaggai’s prediction that Hashem will “shake the heavens and the earth,” referring to the Hasmonean victory, introduces the observation that, “the glory of this last Temple will be greater than the first.” Similarly, Zechariah’s description of the Second Temple as “the cornerstone” of the Third follows his vision of the menorah, which is suggestive of the Chanukah miracle as well.[12]See Ramban (Bemidbar 8:1) that the menorah’s significance as a symbol of the final redemption was already hinted at by the Torah itself and our annual kindling of the Chanukah menorah serves as a … Continue reading Indeed, it is likely that this is the reason this passage was chosen as the Haftarah for Shabbat Chanukah.[13]The Talmud (Megilah 31a) states that in a year when there are two Shabbatot Chanukah, we read the passage from Zechariah for the first and the description of Shlomo ha-Melekh’s menorah for the … Continue reading If Bayit Sheni, with all its implications for the future, had already been built generations before the Hasmonean revolt, what significance does Chanukah play in the continuum between the Second and Third Temples?

R. Hershel Schachter (ibid., p. 116) explains that the miracle of Chanukah, particularly the miracle of the oil as part of the rededication of the Temple, served as confirmation of the truth of the prophets’ words that the Second Temple, though deficient, was really the basis of the glorious Third Temple. This sign was sorely needed. In the days of Zerubavel one might have wondered how the Third Temple could be considered a continuation of the Second, if the Second was to be destroyed and followed by a lengthy exile. But by the time we reached the events of Chanukah, it would certainly have been difficult to maintain belief in a Third Temple. Hundreds of years had passed since the Anshei Keneset ha-Gedolah had set forth their three-pronged program to sustain the Jewish people throughout the future exile, but Hellenism threatened to derail all their efforts. As we recite in the Al ha-Nissim prayer: “The wicked Greek kingdom rose up against Your people Israel to make them forget Your Torah and compel them to stray from the statutes of Your will.” The defilement of the Temple by the Greeks was a corporeal symbol of the spiritual defilement of the Jewish people, and one might have been tempted to conclude that the prophecies of Chaggai and Zechariah were no longer applicable. The miracle of Chanukah sent a message that even though there was an apparent break in the relationship between God and the Jewish people, He continued to watch over them and guide them. The continuum between their time and the time of the final redemption remained, and remains, real and enduring.

Chanukah’s role as a sign of the link between the Second and Third Temples helps explain two curious aspects of the Chanukah story. The Mishkan (Bemidbar 7) and both the First and Second Temples (Melakhim I 8:62-63 and Ezra 6:16-17) were dedicated by offering sacrifices on the altar. Why did the Chashmonaim rededicate the Temple by kindling the menorah instead?[14]Sefer HaMakavim I 4:36-60 recounts that Chashmonaim did offer dedicatory sacrifices on the altar. However, Megillat Ta’anit 9 reports that the Chashmonaim lit the Menorah for eight days while they … Continue reading Recognizing Chanukah as a sign, the Chashmonaim reacted to the events around them with one eye to the aforementioned prophecies. With the military victory, they began to suspect that they had witnessed the shaking of “the heavens and the earth” predicted by Chaggai. Therefore, when they rededicated the Temple, they chose to do so using the menorah, which had featured in Zechariah’s prophecy.[15]The Chashmonaim also found support for their actions from the Book of Psalms: “I will clothe her priests with salvation; her devout ones will always sing joyously. There I shall cause pride to … Continue reading

The second curiosity pertains to the oil with which the Chashmonaim lit the menorah. The Talmud (Shabbat 21b) recounts that the Chashmonaim faced a difficult dilemma when they entered the defiled Temple. The sacrificial rite requires ritual purity, and it would take eight days to manufacture pure oil for the menorah.[16]See Ran Shabbat 9b in dapei ha-Rif. Having no other choice, they lit the little bit of pure oil they found in a sealed flask and hoped for the best. The Pnei Yehoshua (ad loc., s.v. mai) questions the necessity for this miracle, since there is a well-established rule: “tumah huterah be-tzibbur” – “communal impurity is permitted” (Yoma 6b). When it is not possible to perform the sacrificial rite in purity, all communal Temple functions may continue as usual. The Chashmonaim did have a choice. Why did they insist on using only pure oil? It seems that here, too, their insistence was based on their interpretation of Zechariah’s prophecy. The image of oil draining directly from the olives into the seven stems of the menorah suggested to them that the oil used to inaugurate the Temple must be pure and uncontaminated.

R. Yosef Engel (Gilyonei ha-Shas, Shabbat 21b), addressing the question of why the Chashmonaim did not avail themselves of the hutrah be-tzibbur dispensation, argues that while in the day-to-day operation of the Temple, the dispensation certainly applies, it does not hold true in the context of an inauguration. The name Chanukah derives from the Chashmonaim’s dedication (chinuch) of the Temple. Chinuch is the first precious moment of a new enterprise[17]See Rashi, Bereshit 14:14. and as such it tolerates no leniencies or exceptions. Any effort that is compromised at its inception will necessarily be weakened and corrupted as it progresses, therefore the Chashmonaim had to use only pure oil to dedicate the menorah. R. Engel’s analysis takes on even greater significance if we realize that the Chashmonaim were not just dedicating Bayit Sheni, but were actually preparing the way for the final Temple. Their uncompromising attitude was absolutely critical at this juncture.

It may be that the Chashmonaim themselves were not completely convinced that their interpretation of the prophecies was correct, and even after witnessing the miracle of the oil, they may still have not fully appreciated the full import of events. Indeed, the Talmud (Shabbat 21b) tells us that they delayed a year in establishing the holiday of Chanukah. However, after a year of careful re-examination of the words of the prophets and contemplation of all they had experienced, they finally came to understand that they had not merely rededicated the Second Temple but had consecrated the Third as well.

 

Plan B Was Really Plan A

The menorah was more than just a confirmation of the continuity of Jewish history, but a lesson to us in how to preserve that continuity. The reason that the menorah symbolizes the continuity of Jewish history culminating in the rebuilding of Bayit Shelishi is that the menorah is the symbol of the light of Torah wisdom. The Talmud (Bava Batra 25b) advises that one who wishes to attain wisdom should face south in prayer because in the Temple the menorah was situated in the South. Rabbenu Gershom explains that the menorah represents wisdom because it gives light, “For a mitzvah is a candle and the Torah is light” (Mishlei 6:23). Light is often associated in the bible with intellectual attainment[18]See, for instance, Tehillim 119:130 and Kohelet 2:13. and light as wisdom is a common motif in rabbinic sources as well.[19]See, for instance, Eruvin 13b and Megillah 16b. Chazal also associate olive oil with wisdom. The Talmud (Berakhot 57a) states, “One who sees olive oil in a dream should hope for the light of Torah, as it says, ‘And they shall take for you pure olive oil” (Shemot 27:20).[20]See also Menachot 85b. Additionally, the Netziv (Ha’amek Davar, Shemot 27:20) suggests that the intricate filigree of buttons (kaftorim) and flowers (perachim) that decorate the menorah’s base and stems represent the complex argumentation and innovative creativity of Torah learning. That is why, the Netziv explains, R. Tarfon (see Bereshit Rabbah 91:9), upon hearing a well-conceived Torah thought, would proclaim “Kaftor va-ferach!” alluding to the buttons and flowers of the menorah. When the olive oil in the menorah burns brightly, it signifies the power of Torah.[21]The Chashmonaim had to assemble a plain, unadorned menorah to use in their dedication (See Megilat Taanit 9 and Rosh HaShanah 24b), however, the symbolism of the menorah is still evoked by … Continue reading

The power of Torah is the message of the miracle of the menorah. R. Avraham Saba (Tzror HaMor, Devarim 6:4) writes:

The Greeks assailed the Jews to cause them to violate their religion, as is said in Al ha-Nissim, “To make them forget Your Torah,” until, because of the sins of the Jews, they almost perished in the land. Until Hashem aroused the spirit of the Chashmonaim, the priests anointed with the anointing oil, who are preoccupied with God’s Torah which is called pure olive oil…until, due to [the merit of] the Torah and its commandments, the Greeks were given over into their hands, as is said, ‘And the wicked into the hands of those preoccupied with Your Torah.’”

In the Al ha-Nissim prayer our victory is described, not only as Hashem giving over the many and strong into the hands of the few and weak, but “the wicked into the hands of those preoccupied with Your Torah.” It is for this reason that the Midrash (Bereshit Rabbah 2:4) compares Greece to darkness, and it follows that the burning light of the menorah dispelled that darkness by asserting the preeminence of Torah.

The Netziv (Herchev Davar, Shemot 39:37) suggests that the power of Torah is Zechariah’s message: “Not through an army and not through strength, but through My spirit.” God’s spirit is the Torah itself, and the menorah is just a vivid symbol of that spirit.[22]Above, we noted R. Chaim Soloveitchik’s explanation of Zechariah’s prophecy in light of Rambam’s view that the sanctity of the Bayit Rishon era, created through conquest, was also terminated … Continue reading The generation of Shivat Tziyon thought they had failed to bring the redemption and redirected their efforts toward survival in exile, but they had actually succeeded. It was the efforts of the Anshei Knesset HaGedolah to strengthen Torah learning and observance for the exile that paved the way to geulah. Their dedication to Torah was the real foundation stone of the Third Temple. However, when Hellenism threatened to destroy all they had accomplished, it looked as though the continuity had been broken. It was the Chashmonaim’s bold stand for Torah and the subsequent religious revival that strengthened the foundation of the final Temple. The miracle of the oil demonstrated, not only that the Second Temple was the beginning of the Third, but that it is the light of Torah that will pierce through the darkness of the coming exile and show the way to the final redemption.

Chaggai (2:10-13) already tried to convey this message to the nation. The prophet challenged the kohanim to answer two questions regarding the obscure laws of purity and impurity. The point of this challenge was to illustrate to the kohanim, who were the nation’s teachers,[23]See Devarim 17:9. the importance of applying themselves to their studies.[24]The laws of purity and impurity, because of their difficulty and obscurity, are the symbol of comprehensive Torah knowledge. See Sanhedrin 94b regarding the generation of Chizkiyahu, that there was … Continue reading The kohanim ruled the first case pure, but the second impure. Chaggai chided them, “So is this people, and so is this nation before Me, the word of Hashem, and so is their handiwork, and that which they will sacrifice is impure” (verse 14). He follows this with an exhortation, “And now please settle your hearts, from this day on, before a stone is laid upon a stone in the Temple of Hashem” (verse 15). The phrase “settle your hearts” is reminiscent of the Torah’s commandment “And these words that I command you today shall be upon your hearts” (Devarim 6:6), which is a reference to Torah study (Rashi ad loc.). Chaggai is effectively saying that the Second Temple will not truly be the foundation of the Third unless its construction is accompanied by a serious commitment to talmud Torah.

Chaggai’s message may also contain a hint of the danger of Hellenism. The Talmud (Pesachim 17a) records a dispute as to whether the kohanim answered the first question correctly or not. If we assume that they were wrong, Chaggai’s message about the importance of study is self-evident. However, if they were right, his criticisms seem misplaced. Malbim (ad loc.), however,[25]See also Ibn Ezra ad loc. interprets Chaggai’s questions differently than we described above. The first question pertained to sacrificial meat that was wrapped in a cloth. The kohanim ruled correctly that since it did not touch the foodstuff directly, it cannot convey its sanctity. The second question regarded an impure substance wrapped in a cloth, and they once again ruled correctly that it would be impure because, in the case he described, the impurity could be transferred to the cloth and then from the cloth to the food. Chaggai’s message to the kohanim was that impurity can spread easily and quickly, sometimes even through indirect contact, but sanctity can only be absorbed directly. Chaggai’s words can be understood as a warning about the dangers of the spiritual impurity of Hellenism that would someday defile the nation. He charged the kohanim to fulfill their role as teachers and mentors because spreading the sanctity of the Torah would require consistent, sustained effort.

Before introducing the imagery of the menorah, Zechariah stressed the importance of talmud Torah in another vision in which an angel issues a warning to Zerubavel’s contemporary, Yehoshua ben Yehotzadak, the Kohen Gadol: “Thus said Hashem Tzevakot, if you will walk in My ways, and if you will keep my charge [mishmarti tishmor], and you will also judge my house and you will also keep My courts, then I will give you paths amongst those who stand” (3:7). The Netziv (Herchev Davar, Bereshit 26:5) writes that the term li-shmor mishmeret Hashem, to keep God’s charge, connotes the careful, diligent study of Torah. The sense of this passage is that Yehoshua is being charged, as Kohen Gadol, with guiding the other kohanim in teaching Torah and judging according to Torah law. Malbim (ad loc.)[26]See also Abarbanel ad loc. underscores the relevance of this passage to the vision of the menorah. He argues that this prophecy was actually directed at the descendants of Yehoshua, the Chashmonaim, whose success would rest on their championing the centrality of Torah to Jewish destiny. It is noteworthy that this warning is followed by a Messianic prophecy: “For behold I will bring forth My servant, Tzemach” (Zechariah 3:8) and then by the vision of the menorah. It is the Torah taught by the kohanim, symbolized by the menorah, that creates the continuity between Zechariah’s time and end of days when mashiach, one of the “two sons of oil,” will rise to preeminence.

 

Putting the Plan into Words

The Chashmonaim established the holiday of Chanukah to reinforce our faith in the geulah and to accentuate the centrality of Torah to Jewish destiny. Both themes are expressed in the liturgy of the holiday. There is a widespread custom, based on Masechet Soferim (18:3), to recite Psalm 30 “A Psalm, a song at the dedication of the House” at the end of morning prayers during Chanukah. R. Ovadiah Seforno (Tehillim ad loc.) explains that the theme of Psalm 30 is the salvation of the Jewish people from their exile. The psalm’s references to my enemies”, the netherworld”, the pit” and weeping” are all allusions to the persecutions of exile. “The House” being dedicated is the Third Temple, and phrases such as “You have healed me,” “You have raised up my soul, and “You have preserved me” are allusions to redemption.

Hope for redemption is expressed explicitly in the liturgical poem Ma’oz Tzur, sung after lighting the Chanukah candles. Ma’oz Tzur describes many historical salvations of the Jewish people, culminating in the Hasmonean victory. The poem begins with a prayer for the building of the Third Temple “Restore the House of my prayer and there we will bring a thanksgiving offering” and ends with a prayer for the future redemption, beseeching God to “hasten the time of salvation.” However, the most significant line appears at the end of the first stanza: “Then I shall complete with a song, a hymn, the dedication of the altar.” The process of dedication began in the days of Zerubavel, but when the Third Temple is rebuilt, the dedication will finally be completed

Ma’oz Tzur also affirms the centrality of Torah to Chanukah. After describing the miracle of the oil, the song declares: “Men of understanding, established eight days for song and joyful hymns.” The implication is that the number of days is somehow connected to the fact that the Chashmonaim were “men of understanding.” Indeed, R. Yosef Karo (Beit Yosef 670) asks how the Sages came to understand that Chanukah should have eight days when the miracle only lasted seven days, since there was already enough oil to kindle the Menorah for one day. R. Yaakov Weiss (Mishkenot Yaakov, Ma’amarim le-Chanukah 14) suggests a novel answer to R. Karo’s question and thereby explains the intent of the author of Ma’oz Tzur. In the blessing Ahavah Rabbah, recited before Keri’at Shema, we beseech God to help us “to understand and to comprehend, to listen, to learn and to teach, to keep and to do and to uphold all the words of the teaching of Your Torah with love.” These eight verbs represent eight different modes or channels of Torah learning. The Sages, who were “men of understanding,” who desired Torah knowledge and perceived the centrality of Torah to the miracle of Chanukah, sought not only to commemorate the seven days of the miracle of the oil, but to establish eight days to parallel the eight approaches to Torah study. Each day of Chanukah affords an opportunity to tap into one of the eight modes of study.

 

Putting the Plan into Action

Hope for redemption and reverence for Torah also directs the manner of our celebration. The Talmud (Shabbat 21b) records a dispute between Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel regarding the correct protocol in lighting the candles. According to Beit Shammai we begin with eight candles on the first night and decrease the number of candles by one each day. However, our practice follows the opinion of Beit Hillel that we light one candle on the first night and then add a candle each night, culminating with all eight candles on the last evening. One explanation of this dispute suggested by the Talmud is that whereas Beit Shammai follows the pattern of the bull-sacrifices offered on Sukkot (Bemidbar 29:12-34), which diminish by one each day, Beit Hillel applied a different principle: ma’alin ba-kodesh ve-lo moridin (we increase in sanctity, and we do not decrease). Beit Shammai’s reasoning resonates with our yearning for redemption. The bull sacrifices on Sukkot begin with thirteen bulls on the first day of the festival decreasing by one each day until on the seventh day only seven bulls are offered. All together seventy bulls are offered over the course of the holiday, corresponding to the seventy nations (see Sukkah 55b). Rashi (Bemidbar 29:18) explains that while the Temple stood, these sacrifices atoned for the seventy nations, but once they destroyed the Temple, the bulls serve as a symbol of the final redemption when the other nations will dwindle in power and the Jewish people will rise to greatness.

Beit Hillel’s approach to the candle lighting also speaks to the hope for redemption. Ma’alin ba-kodesh is a future-oriented principle both in its form and content. It dictates the form of the candle lighting in that we must start with one candle on the first night so that we can increase each day until we reach eight candles on the last night. More significantly, the underlying meaning of ma’alin ba-kodesh is that we must always be forward-looking and yearn to grow. In national terms, this means yearning for and working toward a greater future for the Jewish people, namely, the final redemption. Beit Hillel also teaches us something very important about waiting for that redemption. We do not light eight candles each night; rather we increase slowly until reaching the full count on the final night. The process of redemption began with Zerubavel laying the foundation stone of the Second Temple and it has stretched over many long years. Each step in the process of redemption may be slow and incremental, but we are rising inexorably toward that final goal.

Viewing the celebration of the Chashmonaim’s victory as the beginning of the process of redemption gives insight into why, unlike Purim, the Shulchan Arukh (Orach Chaim 670:2) rules that there is no obligation to eat a festive meal on Chanukah.[27]See Levush ad loc. and Taz ad loc., 3. R. Shmuel Bornstein (Shem mi-Shemuel, Miketz 5674)[28]See R. Baruch Simon, Imrei Barukh, Devarim, p. 440-443. explains that the obligation to make a seudah stems from the completion of a meaningful activity such as the completion of a Talmudic tractate (see Shabbat 118b and Shir HaShirim Rabbah 1:9). It is for this reason, R. Bornstein writes, that a wedding feast is halakhically mandated. The joining of a man and woman in marriage is the completion of a new, complete entity. However, there are other festive occasions that do not celebrate completion but commencement. According to Shulchan Arukh (Yoreh Deah 265:12) the seudah for a berit milah is only a custom, not a requirement. R. Bornstein explains that this is because the physical circumcision merely initiates a process of spiritual growth which ends only with the circumcision of the heart.[29]See Devarim 10:16. Chanukah is also the beginning of a process, not the end. Whereas, on Purim, our salvation from Haman’s proposed genocide was complete, on Chanukah, R. Bornstein writes, the victory of the Chashmonaim only paved the way for the Jewish people to return to the Torah and free themselves from the spiritual bonds of Hellenism. The work of learning Torah and cleansing foreign influences from our midst, in other words, the work of the circumcision of the heart, was and is still left to be done. There is no obligation of a festive meal on Chanukah because Chanukah is the beginning, not the end. We can add that Chanukah does not only celebrate the historical salvation of the Jews of that era or the dedication of the Second Temple, but the laying of a foundation stone for the Third Temple. When the Third Temple is rebuilt, then we will have reached the completion of the events of Chanukah and a seudat mitzvah will be required.

R. Aryeh Tzvi Fromer (Eretz Tzvi, Chanukah 5685) notes a further expression of the connection between Chanukah and the final redemption. Magen Avraham (Orach Chaim 670) records that there is a custom to disburse charity on Chanukah. R. Fromer explains that this is because the Talmud (Shabbat 139a) says that, “Jerusalem will only be redeemed through charity.” If Chanukah leads to the final redemption, then charity must be a component of its celebration. This custom also accentuates the connection between Chanukah and Torah study. The Magen Avraham’s source, the 16th century work Chanukat HaBayit (s.v le-shimekha ha-gadol), emphasizes that the custom is specifically to give charity to young Torah scholars. Supporting Torah education, which is the basis of Jewish continuity, is one of the central themes of the holiday.

The hope for redemption also explains the custom to gaze at the Chanukah candles.[30]See Mekor Chaim (Bachrach), Kitzur Halakhot 672 and She’elot u-Teshuvot Shev Yaakov 1:22. Rashi (Bereshit 1:4) comments that the light created on the first day of creation was not sunlight (which was not fashioned until the fourth day), but a spiritual light and, according to the Midrash (Pesikta Rabbati 23), it continued to shine only through the seven days of creation until the end of the first Shabbat, when God hid it away, until the end of days, for the righteous. Where did God hide this primeval light? R. Elazar of Worms (Rokeach, Hilkhot Chanukah 225) writes that over the course of Chanukah, we light 36 candles, corresponding to the 36 hours (Friday day, Friday night and Shabbat day) during which Adam and Chava benefited from the primordial light. R. Pinchas of Koretz (Midrash Pinchas he-Chadash §89)[31]See also Sefat Emet (Chanukah 5661). deduces from this that God hid the light in the depths of the flame of every menorah that Jews have lit throughout the centuries. Therefore, he writes, one must sit by the menorah and gaze at the flames. When we gaze at the candles, we are yearning for the final redemption, when the light hidden in the flames will shine forth from the Third Temple and illuminate the world.

There is another place to look for this hidden, spiritual light. King David was greatly moved by his vision of the reward for the righteous: “How abundant is Your goodness that You have stored away for those who fear You” (Tehillim 31:20). Sefat Emet (Terumah 5635) writes that the goodness that is stored away is the primordial light that was hidden away for the righteous. He further connects this to the good in God’s proclamation: “For I have given you a good teaching, do not forsake My Torah” (Mishlei 4:2). On this verse the Talmud (Avodah Zarah 19b) declares, “Good can only refer to Torah.” The Sefat Emet concludes that the light of creation, which will shine forth at the end of days, is presently hidden in the Torah. The illuminating quality of Torah study emanates from the spiritual illumination of the ancient light contained within.[32]See Zohar, Shemot 149a. The greatest acknowledgment of the efforts of the Chashmonaim and the greatest celebration of the miracle of Chanukah is to not only yearn for the revelation of the light of the final redemption, but to seek it out now in God’s Torah.

 

That’s the Plan

There was no plan B. When Yirmiyahu prophesied to the exile that God designed “thoughts of peace” to give them “a future and a hope,” he was not necessarily speaking about an immediate salvation. Nor was he merely bracing his nation for a protracted exile. Yirmiyahu was informing them that they would return from Babylonia to reconstruct themselves as a Torah nation and to begin the process leading up to the final redemption. The construction of the Second Temple was the first, concrete step toward that goal. Though the Second Temple would be destroyed, the Jewish people would continue to immerse themselves in talmud Torah and carefully observe it laws, not only to survive the exile, but to continue the task of bringing the geulah. If they ever became disconsolate or began to lose hope, God provided them with a sign and assurance that the plan was still in effect. The miracle of the menorah demonstrated, as Zechariah preached, that they were still on the continuum leading up to Bayit Shelishi and that it is the light of their Torah that creates that continuity and will eventually lead to the realization of the plan.

Chanukah is not just a history lesson. That is why, from among all the holidays of the Second Temple period, only Chanukah remains today. Chanukah does not just celebrate a miracle at the time of the Second Temple, but it presages the celebration of the Third Temple in the hopefully near future. Our celebration is not just a commemoration of the past, but a commitment to continue strengthening the Torah and thereby to continue building the Temple. The words of R. Samson Raphael Hirsch (Collected Writings, vol. 2, p. 267), albeit written in a different context, are very apropos: “Israel is the one nation that knows not only the historic Chanukah but a constantly renewed Chanukah, a reconsecration celebrated over and over again, each time with greater inspiration and more intense devotion to the goal that was set for Israel from the beginning…Why, then, should we lose our courage now and celebrate our Chanukah only as frigid remembrances of olden days instead of as… preparation and consecration for our own future?”

 

Endnotes

Endnotes
1See also Tanchuma, Pekudei 2.
2Rashi explains: “Like doors: a gate that has in it two doors, one opens and the other closes; so too only a fraction of you went up.”
3See Ezra chapters 9-10 and Nehemiah chapters 8-13.
4See Abarbanel and he-Chasid Ya’avetz, Avot 1:1.
5Abarbanel and he-Chasid Ya’avetz loc.cit.
6See R. Yaakov Kamenetsky (Emet le-Yaakov, Shemot 12:2) who explains several curious aspects of Second Temple religious life based on the notion that the Sages recognized that the purpose of Bayit Shenit was to strengthen themselves for the coming exile.
7See Tosafot Yom Tov, Demai 7:3 for a different answer to this question.
8The belief in the rebuilding of the Third Temple is ubiquitous and pervasive. Prophetic visions lend themselves to differing interpretations, however, the visions of Yeshayahu 2:2-3 and Michah 4:1 are clearly referring to some future peaceful time. The lengthy and detailed depiction of the Temple in Yechezkel (chapter 40ff.) is also clearly referring to the Third Temple, as his description does not correspond to the Second Temple (see Rashi, Yechezkel 43:22; cf. Rashi, Menachot 45a s.v. Rav Ashi, but see Chiddushei ha-Griz ad loc; see also Rabbenu Gershom, ad loc s.v. Rav Ashi and comments of Lechem Mishneh to Rambam, Hilkhot Ma’aseh Korbanot 2:14-15). The Oral tradition takes this belief for granted. Indeed, through the prayer service, hope for the Third Temple has been part of the daily Jewish religious experience since the time of the Anshei Kneset ha-Gedolah (see Megilah 18a). See also, for example, Shabbat 12b and Rosh HaShanah 30a.
9Cited in Chidushei ha-Griz al ha-Torah §179. See also R. Yosef Dov Soloveitchik’s presentation, cited by R. Hershel Schachter (Be-Ikvei ha-Tzon pp. 115-116).
10See Ibn Ezra ad loc. See also Avot de-Rabi Natan 34 and Sifra, Parashat Tzav §11.
11See Yoma 8b-9a.
12See Ramban (Bemidbar 8:1) that the menorah’s significance as a symbol of the final redemption was already hinted at by the Torah itself and our annual kindling of the Chanukah menorah serves as a connecting link between the Chashmonaim’s dedication and the Third Temple.
13The Talmud (Megilah 31a) states that in a year when there are two Shabbatot Chanukah, we read the passage from Zechariah for the first and the description of Shlomo ha-Melekh’s menorah for the second. Ran (ad loc., p. 11a in dapei ha-Rif) explains that even though Shlomo’s menorah preceded Zechariah’s chronologically, “The ‘Candles of Zechariah’ are preferable to us because they are prophecies of the future.” R. David Kohen (Yemei Chanukah, p. 173) points out that both the “Candles of Shlomo” from the First Temple and the “Candles of Zechariah” from the Second Temple are far in the past. Clearly, Ran must have understood that Zechariah’s candles were not referring to the menorah in the Second Temple, but to a future vision of the Third Temple.
14Sefer HaMakavim I 4:36-60 recounts that Chashmonaim did offer dedicatory sacrifices on the altar. However, Megillat Ta’anit 9 reports that the Chashmonaim lit the Menorah for eight days while they were busy reconstructing the altar, which had been desecrated. The Talmud (Shabbat 21b) cites Megillat Ta’anit as the authoritative version of events. See also Rambam (Hilkhot Chanukah 3:1-3).
15The Chashmonaim also found support for their actions from the Book of Psalms: “I will clothe her priests with salvation; her devout ones will always sing joyously. There I shall cause pride to sprout for David; I have prepared a lamp for My anointed” (Tehillim 132:16-17). R. Tzvi Elimelech of Dynow (Bnei Yissaschar, Kislev 2:16) spells out how the Chashmonaim would have read these verses. The priests are the Chashmonaim, who will be clothed in royal garments as they become the political rulers over a sovereign Jewish nation in the land of Israel. They will sing joyously by reciting Hallel as part of the celebration of Chanukah. But the victory of the Chashmonaim is really the sprouting of the future redemption, when the scion of the Davidic dynasty will assume kingship. In this sense, Hashem ‘prepared a lamp,’ namely, the menorah, to light the way to the coming of mashiach and the final redemption.
16See Ran Shabbat 9b in dapei ha-Rif.
17See Rashi, Bereshit 14:14.
18See, for instance, Tehillim 119:130 and Kohelet 2:13.
19See, for instance, Eruvin 13b and Megillah 16b.
20See also Menachot 85b.
21The Chashmonaim had to assemble a plain, unadorned menorah to use in their dedication (See Megilat Taanit 9 and Rosh HaShanah 24b), however, the symbolism of the menorah is still evoked by association.
22Above, we noted R. Chaim Soloveitchik’s explanation of Zechariah’s prophecy in light of Rambam’s view that the sanctity of the Bayit Rishon era, created through conquest, was also terminated through conquest, but the sanctity of the Bayit Sheni era, which was created through settlement (chazakah), continues eternally. R. Yosef Dov Soloveitchik (Shiurim le-Zecher Abba Mari z”l, vol. 1, pp. 193-195) writes that the sanctity was also a function of Torah. Yehoshua, as depicted throughout Sefer Yehoshua, endowed the land with sanctity through the mechanism of conquest by the Jewish army that was led by the Aron Kodesh – the Holy Ark, containing the holy Torah and Tablets of the Law. Therefore, when the land was conquered and the Aron Kodesh was hidden away, that sanctity vanished. However, Ezra endowed the land with sanctity via chazakah. There was no conquest with a Holy Ark, rather, the fact of Jews living on their land is what granted sanctity. From where did this sanctity emanate? R. Soloveitchik explains that the Oral Torah is a living Torah that resides in the heart and mind of every Jew. The holiness of this living Torah, shared by the entirety of the Jewish people, is what imparted sanctity to the land. The Oral Torah is not an object that disappears. Even when the Temple was destroyed, there continued to be a community of Jews in the land of Israel, and the Jewish nation continued to learn Torah. Therefore, the sanctity will never dissipate.
23See Devarim 17:9.
24The laws of purity and impurity, because of their difficulty and obscurity, are the symbol of comprehensive Torah knowledge. See Sanhedrin 94b regarding the generation of Chizkiyahu, that there was not “a boy or girl, man or woman who was not expert in the laws of purity and impurity.” See also R. Yosef Engel (Gilyonei ha-Shas, Shabbat 138b).
25See also Ibn Ezra ad loc.
26See also Abarbanel ad loc.
27See Levush ad loc. and Taz ad loc., 3.
28See R. Baruch Simon, Imrei Barukh, Devarim, p. 440-443.
29See Devarim 10:16.
30See Mekor Chaim (Bachrach), Kitzur Halakhot 672 and She’elot u-Teshuvot Shev Yaakov 1:22.
31See also Sefat Emet (Chanukah 5661).
32See Zohar, Shemot 149a.

About Moshe Schapiro

Rabbi Moshe Schapiro is a reference librarian at the Mendel Gottesman Library of Yeshiva University. He has served as rabbi of the Synagogue on the Palisades in Fort Lee, NJ and as an adjunct professor for Jewish Studies in the Isaac Breuer College at Yeshiva University.

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