Ra’anana Community Kollel
Rabbi Ben Goodman
Chanukah has an uncanny way of making the coldest winter nights feel warm. Whenever I recall Chanukah as a child, more than the presents or the chocolate money, I remember that feeling of warmth, a strange sense of security and of feeling totally protected from the cold and darkness outside. I have been wondering, what generates these feelings? Is it simply the circumstances, that the house is warm and the family is together, or is it something more, something that is connected to the very essence of Chanukah?
The Gemara (Yoma 29a) makes a comparison between Esther and the daybreak. Just as dawn marks the end of the night, so to Esther marked the end of the period of open miracles. The Gemara then asks, what about the events of Chanukah which occurred after Purim? Why isn’t Chanukah considered to be the last open miracle? The Gemara answers that while all the other miracles were “given to be written down”, the miracles of Chanukah were not. This Gemara is rather perplexing for a number of reasons. First of all, by comparing the last of the miracles to daybreak the Gemara implies that the generations when miracles were prevalent were a period of darkness. Surely the day would have been a more appropriate parable to depict the period of miracles? The Hebrew word for a miracle is neis, which also means a banner. A miracle is a signpost declaring Hashem’s presence to all that witness it. Through a miracle one can clearly see Hashem’s presence in the world as easily as one can see by the light of day. Why then does the Gemara compare the era of miracles to the night, a time when it is difficult to see? Secondly, we see from this Gemara that the events of Chanukah marked the beginning of a new era, alluded to by the fact that Chanukah was not “given to be written down”. As a result, Chanukah did not become part of the written Torah. Rather, it remained part of our oral tradition. What is this meant to teach us?
The Vilna Gaon explains that the revelation of Hashem’s presence in the world can manifest itself in two diverse ways. The first and most commonly understood way is through open miracles. This is what the Jewish people experienced when they were taken out of Egypt. The ten plagues and the splitting of the sea left no doubt in people’s minds that Hashem was intimately involved in all world events. In the mystical sources this type of revelation is referred to as Leah. The second type of revelation is known as Rachael. Unlike the first, Rachael describes the revelation of Hashem that is brought about through our actions. By learning and fulfilling the mitzvot, we make Hashem’s presence more manifest in the world. Interestingly, we also find these two types of revelation alluded to in the differences between the first and second temples. The period of the first temple was one of prophecy and miracles. The Gemara tells us that five open miracles constantly took place in the first temple, and all who witnessed them saw a clear revelation of Hashem’s presence, a spiritual gift from above. In contrast, in the second temple there were no open miracles, there was only the service of Klal Yisroel. Unlike in the first temple, the revelation of Hashem was in their hands.
With these principles in mind let us analyze our questions. What were different about the miracles Chanukah than the miracles that had preceded them? In the earlier generations, miracles were directed from above, independent of the involvement of Klal Yisroel. However, the events of Chanukah took place during a time when it was the Jewish people who brought Hashem’s presence into the world. The Chashmonaim dedicated themselves completely to defeating the Greeks and bringing Torah and mitzvot back to the Jewish people. The revelations of Hashem that took place at that time, the burning of the oil for eight days and the restoration of the temple, were solely due to their efforts. It was for this reason that Chanukah did not become part of the written Torah. The written Torah characterizes the period of time when spirituality was a gift. In the same way that an abundance of spirituality was given to the Jewish people in the early generations, the written Torah was set and set before them as a gift from heaven. It was not something that they were involved in producing. Chanukah however, did not fall into this category. As miracles that the Chashmonaim experienced were products of their own hands, it was therefore appropriate that they remain unwritten.
The new era that Chanukah marked was a time when Hashem’s presence was to be revealed by the Jewish people themselves. Now we can understand the Gemara’s comparison of the period of miracles to the night. Relative to the miracles of Chanukah, the miracles experienced by earlier generations were only of secondary importance. When we reveal Hashem’s presence in the world through our actions it is worth much more than had it come to us as a gift. It is for this reason that the mystical sources chose to call this type of revelation Rachael. Just as Rachael was the most beloved wife of Yaakov, this type of revelation is the most beloved to before Hashem.
We can now begin to appreciate and understand that unique feeling of warmth and security that Chanukah offers. Chanukah turned the darkness into light. At this time of year we are reminded that when times are tough, when our lives are difficult, we are being given the opportunity for real growth and achievement. By nature we tend to yearn for the times when everybody is healthy and financially stable, when we feel sure and comfortable about where our lives are heading. We try as much as possible to block out the hard times and avoid the struggles. Chanukah teaches us that those difficult times, whether they are in health, spirituality, or finances, are the golden opportunities, which we should try to embrace head on. Taking these times and using them to see the hand of Hashem in our lives is the greatest accomplishment that we can achieve.