Ra’anana Community Kollel
Ner Tamid, Consistent Light
Rabbi Dovid Simon
We all know that Chanukah celebrates the miracle of the flask of oil, which lasted for eight days. The Beit Yosef (Orach Chaim 670) asks the following question: Since the flask had enough oil for one day, the miracle was only for the seven extra days that the oil burnt. Why then do we celebrate for eight days? There are many answers given to this question. I would like to share one with you that can teach us all an important lesson about the proper approach to mitzvot and avodat Hashem.
The Torah (Shmot 27: 20) describes the mitzvah of the Menorah as “Le’ha’alot Ner Tamid” - to light a lamp tamid. Rashi explains that the word tamid in this context does not mean literally at all times but rather consistently, every single night. The Torah is telling us that consistency is an integral part of the mitzvah of the Menorah. Therefore had there been no miracle, had they lit the Menorah for one night and then had a seven-day hiatus until they could light it again, then even the first night the mitzvah would not have been complete. In retrospect, the miracle affected the first night as well, raising it to the level of ner tamid.
But why does the Torah stress that the Menorah be lit with consistency? The Gemara (Ketuvot 17a) tells us that Rav Shmuel bar Yitzchak would juggle with three haddas branches in honor of bride and groom. At his funeral, a pillar of fire came down from heaven. The Gemara concludes that he merited this honor because of his custom and practice of Me’Samaech Chatan V’Kallah.
He was not rewarded because he did it once or twice or even many times but because he made it his consistent behavior. Everybody does good occasionally. The occasional good deed does not make a person a good person. Only by consistently maintaining proper behavior can we internalize it. Only by keeping the mitzvot - tamid - with consistency - do they become part of our lives.
This concept plays a central role in the story of Chanukah. The Bach (Orach Chaim 670) writes that the Greek persecution was a divine punishment for the Jews lackadaisical attitude to the Avodah in the Beit Hamikdash. Not that they stopped performing the as Avodah but they did not apply themselves to it consistently as they should have. The result was that the korban tamid, the lighting of the Menorah and the rest of the Avodah were banned by the Greeks. The mesirut nefesh of the Chashmonayim, their willingness to give their very lives for the Avodah rectified their previous sin. With their Teshuvah complete, they merited Hashem’s salvation and the miracle of Chanukah.
The Sefat Emet uses this concept to explain an apparent inconsistency in the text of the tefillah Al Ha’Nissim.
The prayer begins by describing the aim of the Greek decrees as Le’Hashkicham Toratechah U’leha’aviram Mei’Chukei Re’Tzonechah - to cause them (The Jews of the time) to forget G-d’s Torah, and to violate the statutes of G-d’s will. This would imply that we view the Greek persecution as primarily an affront against G-d. But in the conclusion, we praise G-d for Ravta et Rivam, Danta et Dinam, Nakamta et Nikmatam - You have fought their fight, avenged their vengeance. The implication there is that it was an attack against the Jews.
In reality, there is no contradiction. The Greek decrees were not directed against the Jews physically but against their observance of Torah and mitzvot. The Jews could have said, “We would like to keep Hashem’s Torah, but what can we do? The Greeks will not let us”, and gone on with their lives. Instead, they made it their battle. They showed their devotion to Torah and Mitzvot. They demonstrated that it was a part of their very essence. So Hashem responded accordingly, fought their battle and brought about the miracle of Chanukah.
This year, as we celebrate the eight days of Chanukah, let us remember their message. Let us approach the observance of the mitzvot with consistency and renewed dedication. Let us commit ourselves fully to Avodat Hashem. In that merit may we see miracles in our own day and salvation from our present enemies.