Chanukah: Sfas Emes Part III

20 12 2011
Based on a shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

Our sages tell us that the physical war against the Greeks gave expression to our spiritual struggle against them. Hashem could have destroyed the Greeks, but He wanted us to fight against them for our own development. This was the same reason that Avraham fought with Terach and Rabbi Akiva battled the Romans. When we won against the Greeks, it wasn’t a physical victory, but a victory of kavod shamayim (honoring Hashem’s name).

Although the vial of oil burned for eight calendar days, the miracle translated into something beyond time. This is intimated by the number eight. The root of the word shemona (eight) is shemen, oil. Just as oil floats above other liquids, the Chanukah miracle was something above our sense of reality. It transformed our way of thinking and experiencing this world to one of sheleimut, rising above ourselves. Similarly, a brit milah takes place on the eighth day and is performed on a baby who is not given a choice. Eight represents submitting to a higher will above our own.

The potential to see the light was there before the war but it was concealed by darkness. The Greeks had squashed all our potential and latent power. When the Macabbees succeeded in defeating them, they were finally able to achieve deveikut (connection to G-d). This is an inspiration for all of us. When we fall spiritually, we may easily come to despair. The miracle of Chanukah strengthens our belief in the power of our higher self, in the love Hashem has for us, and in the eventual redemption.

The Gemara writes that the Chanukah lights are holy and may not be used for our own benefit. Sanctity means dedicating something to Hashem. All mitzvot have holiness, but their holiness is hidden. Yavan with its philosophy of self-contained humanism creates concealment. Faith and following the Torah help us breaks through these barriers to access this sanctity. This is the miracle of Chanukah which can still be found in the Chanukah lights.

After the candles are lit, we sing, “U’menotar kankanim naaseh nes la’shoshanim, with what was left in the little vessel, Hashem made a miracle for the Jews who are called shoshanim (roses). In Shir Hashirim the verse states, “Ani chavatzelet hasharon shoshanat ha’amakim.” The roses that grow in the hot and dry Sharon region are yellow and hardy while those that grow in the shade are red and delicate. There are tzaddikim who are tough, who discover who they are not and affirm who they are. There are those who are more refined, who never faced the impurity of the outside world. People sometimes mistakenly think that the second type of tzaddik is inherently superior to the first. However, the Chashmonaim who battled impurity are called shoshanim.

Both categories of tzaddikim can reach the same level of greatness because the oil, their core emunah, remains. Our sages tell us, “Al tistakel b’kanakn eleh b’mah she’yesh bo.” The outside is really a garment for the inner self. Many times we may look at people and wonder where Hashem is with them. This is true of secular Jews, and about those among us who have failed. We must learn to focus on every Jew’s inner essence. The word for world in Hebrew is olam, which is related to the word he’elem, meaning hidden. Hashem is there within every form of concealment. Someone who may appear so far from Judaism really has faith buried deep within him whether he is aware of it or not. Hashem’s malchut (kingdom) is hidden in this world. Every so often He lifts the curtain and we see miracles. We realize that He was there all along.

The kankanim (containers) that conceal light are the different forms of exile. Some of us are victims of the Greek exile, which perceived everything in terms of human perceptions. Others are victims of the Persian exile, which espouses that only material exists. And still some of us are victims of the Babylonian exile where control and force dominate. We are all victims, but inside of us is a pure light which we will rediscover at the time of redemption. All of us go through stages of terrible concealment, failure, and despair. We have all sorts of things that enslave our hearts and emotions. It’s up to us to liberate ourselves. On Chanukah we renew our sense of Hashem’s kingship. We can take on many enemies and defeat them. We can discover our own capacity for light and attain purity. Then we can come to a higher point of perceiving malchut shamayim, not only in this world and in other people, but in ourselves.

On Chanukah, we read the parsha of the nesi’im and their contribution to the sanctuary, which was completed on the 25th of Kislev. The twelve tribes parallel the twelve different angles of a cube that meet at the same center. They each reflect a different soul power, treading a different path to reach the same goal. The Zohar says that Yaakov blessed each of his twelve sons individually because he recognized that they were unique. They were each born in a different month under a different astral sign which reflects the different channels through which Hashem‘s energy flows down. Likewise, Hashem‘s name, yud keh vav keh, has twelve different ways of arranging the letters. Each tribe sees Hashem echad through its own prism. His binding force is aroused even when there is a partial redemption. This awakening of the Chanukah miracle rekindled our own light.

The Torah says there was a river that flowed out of Eden. When this river left Eden it divided into four different tributaries. Eden represents unity and the four streams correspond to the forces of estrangement represented by the exile. In Kohelet it is written, “All of the rivers go into the sea.” We can take any exile back to its source. We can face the evil and uplift it. Our defeat of Yavan brought us to a new level of redemption that we had never experienced before. The river Chidekel represents Yavan – chad v’kal – sharp and brilliant. The Greeks used their incisiveness to describe reality in their own terms. We can take that power and use it for holiness.

In the blessing on the Chanukah lights, we say, “Bayamim haheym ba’zman hazeh.” At all moments of liberation, we have an opportunity for redemption as individuals too. Chanukah is liberation from the Greek mind-set, whose root is the sin of the golden calf, whose underlying was the desire to see everything on our own terms. On a personal and collective level, this is a time of elevation.

We are like someone standing on a giant’s shoulder reaching upward. All of the merits of the previous generations give us the strength to chart our own course. As we tread the path mapped out by our forefathers, we create our own unique way.

May we merit to experience the miracles, to see our unity as purposeful, and to find the light within ourselves.



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