Beit Midrash

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To dedicate this lesson

Hanukah Lights and Jacob’s Small Vessels


Rabbi Avraham (Abe) Abrahami

Genesis 32:25:
כה וַיִּוָּתֵר יַעֲקֹב, לְבַדּוֹ; וַיֵּאָבֵק אִישׁ עִמּוֹ, עַד עֲלוֹת הַשָּׁחַר.
25 And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.

Rashi and Babylonian Talmud Chulin 91:1 commentary:
Jacob left behind small vessels and he went back for them.

Maharshal* (Yeriot Shlomo) and Tzeda Laderekh** commentary on Rashi:
It is written in the previous verse (Gen. 32:24) that Jacob transferred everything that was his from one side of the Yabok (or Jabbok) river to the other side (see map of ancient Israel over the page). Jacob went back to get the vessels פכים (Heb. Pakhim) left behind.
These vessels did not belong to him but to G-d. A Tzadik (righteous person) like Jacob would not steal vessels that were not his but divine revelation unveiled to him that the vessels did not belong to another person but were placed there by an angel. Jacob went back to keep his vow and anoint the stone he laid his head on with oil poured from the vessel/s.
Because Jacob put himself in danger to go back at night alone to keep his vow, his descendents, the Hasmonean, merited the Hanukah miracle of lighting the Menorah for 8 days instead of one.
The questions are; if this Mitzvah of anointing the stone was so important, why did Jacob not transfer the vessels first? And why did he leave it for later, going out at night on his own and putting himself in danger?
Jacob was worried that his wife could be in a state of a Nidah (during her menses) or that another impure person might touch the vessels and defile the oil. This is why he did not transfer the vessels first and left them to be brought last, so he personally would guard them under his watchful eyes.
He put his life in danger because this Mitzvah was so precious to him, and when Hashem saw the self-sacrifice of Jacob he promised to reward his children with the miracle of Hanukah.
Purity and defilement:
Vessels of clay and their content do not become impure from touching them on the outside, only from the inside. But Jacob was so careful that he did not wish to take any chance, in case the oil may be transferred to another vessel and then poured back into the original vessel/s.
Rabbi Behaye brings in the name of Talmudic scholars Baalei Hatosafot*** concerning the above verse; do not read that Jacob was left alone (Heb. Levado) לְבַדּוֹ, but לכדו (Heb. Lekado) – for the sake of his vessel/s.

Why anoint a stone and why with olive oil?
As instructed by G-d, the vessels in the Tabernacle and later in the Jerusalem Temple were anointed and dedicated for holy service with olive oil and aromatic spices (e.g. myrrh, cinnamon etc.). Likewise was the high priest, and kings who were anointed with oil. The Messiah (Mashiach) is called the ‘anointed one’.
The high priest who was anointed before going to battle and delivering an uplifting speech to the soldiers was called Mashuah Milhama (the anointed one for war). Jacob could see in his dream with divine intervention that the Temple will use olive oil in the Menorah (candelabra) and for making pancakes as offerings. Therefore, he decided to pre-empt the future and demonstrate his gratitude and foresight to G-d accordingly.

* Solomon Luria was one of the great Ashkenazic Poskim and teachers of his time. He is known for his work of Halakha, Yam Shel Shlomo, and his Talmudic commentary Chochmat Shlomo. Luria is also referred to as Maharshal מהרש"ל
**‎ Rabbi Hayim ben Issachar Baer Eylenburg, commentator on Rashi.
*** Tosafists were medieval rabbis from France and Germany who are among those known in Talmudical scholarship as Rishonim (there were Rishonim in Spain also) who created critical and explanatory glosses (questions, notes, interpretations, rulings and sources) on the Talmud. These were collectively called Tosafot ("additions"), because they were additions on the commentary of Rashi. For example - Samuel ben Meïr (RaSHBaM), Meir ben Baruch of Rothenburg (MaHaRaM) plus others;
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