Beit Midrash

  • Shabbat and Holidays
  • Hanukkah In Our Time
To dedicate this lesson

Chanukah and a Jam at the Jaffa Gate

On Purim, the faith in God's omnipotence and the Torah's divinity were revealed. On Chanukah, the faith in personal Divine Providence was revealed: God delivered the many into the hands of the few. We, too, must strive to see God's providence in all.


Rabbi Meir Goldwicht

1. How are Sukkot and Chanukah related?
2. Chanukah Candles before Hillel and Shammai
3. Three Principles of Faith – Three Pilgrimage Festivals
4. Three Portals to Purgatory
5. Chanukah and Purim
6. What Did Herod Do?
7. The Great Light and the Small Candle
8. Uncovering God's Word in Everything

How are Sukkot and Chanukah related?
At the close of the chapters dealing with the Jewish Festivals, the Torah adresses the Festival of Sukkot. Immediately thereafter it discusses the laws of lighting the Menorah in the Holy Temple:
"Command the people of Israel, that they bring to you pure olive oil beaten for the light, to cause the lamps to burn continually. Outside the veil of the Testimony, in the Tent of Meeting, shall Aaron order it from the evening to the morning before the Lord continually; it shall be a statute forever in your generations. He shall order the lamps upon the pure lamp stands before the Lord continually" (Leviticus 24:2–4).

R' Eliezer Rokeach of Worms explains that the proximity of these two matters teaches us that there is a conceptual relationship between them: "The Torah put the issue of olive oil next to Sukkot in order to allude to Chanukah: Just as Sukkot consists of eight days during which we recite the full Hallel prayer, so Chanukah consists of eight days during which we recite the full Hallel prayer . . ."

There are other laws which point to a likeness between Sukkot and Chanukah. On Sukkot we leave our houses and go outside; on Chanukah too we light the candles by the entrance of the house outside. A Sukkah built higher than twenty cubits is invalid. A Chanukah menorah lit in a place higher than twenty cubits is likewise invalid. Here, then, are a number of laws which Sukkot and Chanukah have in common.

Our first question is, what is the nature of this inner relationship between Sukkot and Chanukah which our early authorities sought to teach us?

Chanukah Candles before Hillel and Shammai
The discrepancy between the schools of Hillel and Shammai regarding the lighting of Chanukah candles is well known. Do we start with one candle and finish with eight, or the opposite? This disagreement did not arise until approximately one hundred years after the Hasmoneans recaptured the Holy Temple. What happened during these hundred years? Did people not light Chanukah candles?

Three Principles of Faith – Three Pilgrimage Festivals
In order to answer these questions let us begin by turning to the Maharal in his work "Gevurot HaShem" (ch. 4). Maharal directs our attention to three places in the Torah where it is written that the People of Israel had faith.

The first is when Moses brings tidings of the coming redemption: "The people believed. They accepted the message that God had granted special providence to the Israelites" (Exodus 4:31). Another occasion is at the parting of the Red Sea: "And they believed in God and in Moses His servant" (Exodus 14:31). And the third time is when the Children of Israel received the Torah: "I will come to you in a thick cloud, so that all the people will hear when I speak to you. They will then believe in you forever" (Exodus 19:9).

Maharal explains, "One should know that there are three principles which act as the pillars of [our] religion, and if, Heaven forbid, one of them should fall, [our] religion as a whole would likewise fall.

"The first is Divine Providence, the belief that God governs the earth. God did not, as the heretics claim, abandon the world, for if this were the case there would be no reason to worship Him. [Why worship God] if He does not extend His providence over mankind and hold us responsible for our actions?

"The second principle is that everything is in God's hands and that there exists no other such force. This is know as 'faith in God's existence.' Certainly all admit that God "exists"; what is forbidden is to say that God is not really omnipotent and it is possible to escape His dominion . . .

"The third principle is that God speaks with man and has given him the Torah. This is known as 'faith in the Torah's divinity.'

"Therefore, when Moses came to redeem [the Children of Israel] and God noted their oppressed state and did not abandon them, it says that [the Children of Israel] believed that God had granted special providence to his nation and took note of their oppression, and this is faith in Divine Providence.

"At the parting of the Red Sea they became aware of the truth of God's existence, that there is no matter that escapes Him and that all is within His authority and His capacity because He transformed the sea to dry land. Therefore it says, 'And they believed in God.'

"Regarding the Giving of the Torah it is written, 'They will then believe in you forever' – the third principle of faith. And so, with the Exodus, God wished to instill in them all of the true beliefs, and the main reason for the miracles which God performed in Egypt was in order that they become convinced of all the true beliefs."

Maharal, then, teaches us here that the Exodus clarified three principles of faith. The first is the Torah's divinity – "They will then believe in you forever," the second is that no other power contends with God, and the third is Divine Providence.

These principles are given expression in Israel's three pilgrimage Festivals. Passover, whereby we joyfully commemorate the Exodus from Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea, gives patent expression to our faith in God's omnipotence; Shavuot gives expression to our faith in the Torah's divinity; Sukkot – our faith in Divine Providence, as it is written, "Your garment did not grow old upon you, nor did your foot swell, these forty years" (Deuteronomy 8:4). The Jewish people walked with God in the desert, and this was felt by all on a personal level.

How wonderful, writes Maharal, that these three Festivals are termed "regalim" ("legs"). Indeed, they are the "legs" of our religion, upon which all of Judaism stands. When Balaam rode upon his female donkey, on his way to curse the Jewish people, she lay down and Balaam beat her. Then she opened her mouth and said, "What have I done to you that you beat me these three 'regalim' "?

Why is it not written three "pe'amin" ("times")? The Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni ad loc.) explains that she is hinting to him: You seek to destroy a nation which celebrates three "regalim" a year? You wish to pick on the Nation of Israel who believes in the all-powerful God, Divine Providence, and the divine Torah? You haven't got a chance!

Three Portals to Purgatory
Based upon these three principles, Maharal explains the words of the Talmud (in Eruvin 19a):

"R' Jeremiah ben Eleazar further stated: Gehenna has three gates; one in the wilderness, one in the sea and one in Jerusalem. In the wilderness, since it is written in Scripture: 'So they, and all that appertain to them, went down alive into the pit.' In the sea, since it is written in Scripture: 'Out of the belly of the nether world I cried, and You heard my voice.' In Jerusalem, since it is written in Scripture: 'Saith the Lord, whose fire is in Zion, and his furnace in Jerusalem,' and the school of R' Ishmael taught: 'Whose fire is in Zion' refers to Gehenna, 'And His furnace in Jerusalem' refers to the gate of Gehenna."

We received the Torah in the desert. Korach stands in the place where we received the Torah and undermines the faith in Moses as the giver of the Torah, and, consequently, that the Torah comes from God. Therefore, he finds himself at the entrance to Gehenna.

Pharaoh undermines the faith that God is omnipotent. After all the miracles and plagues that he witnesses, he continues to chase the Children of Israel. Therefore he runs to the entrance to Gehenna at the sea. The sea represents power. No force can stand before the sea as it assaults the dry land.

Millions of pilgrims make their way up to Jerusalem during the Festivals. Seeing all this, a Jew is liable to think, "Of what importance am I? What does one more transgression or one more good deed matter amongst this great throng of people?" In this manner, a person effectively devalues vice and virtue. Therefore, in Jerusalem of all places, there is a danger that a person will lose his faith in personal Divine Providence and this is what the sages mean when they say that the entrance to Gehenna is in Jerusalem.

Chanukah and Purim
On a parallel with the Three Pilgrimage Festivals there are two rabbinic holidays, Chanukah and Purim. On Purim it became clear to the Jewish people that God is all-powerful. According to the laws of nature, the Jews had no chance of escaping destruction – "The decrees which are decreed in the king’s name, and sealed with the king’s ring, no man can revoke" (Ester 8:8) – nevertheless, God reversed everything.

Another thing which took place on Purim was that the Jewish people accepted the Torah anew, as the sages say, "They accepted it anew in the days of Ahasuerus." On Purim, the faith in God's omnipotence and the divinity of the Torah were revealed. On Chanukah the faith in personal Divine Providence was revealed: God delivered the many into the hands of the few, and in this lies the inner bond between Purim and Chanukah.

What Did Herod Do?
When Herod reigned as king in Jerusalem, he sought the priesthood for himself on the grounds that he was married to Miriam of the Hasmonean family. His first step, then, was to kill the entire Hasmonean family, with the exception of his brother-in-law, Aristobulus, whom he appointed High Priest.

During the Yom Kippur service, the congregants see Aristobulus acting as High Priest and recalled his grandfather. Unable to control themselves, they evince an extraordinary fondness for him. They forget, however, that Herod's men are present, and these servants are quick to inform the king. "You have no chance of ruling," they tell him, "until you kill Aristobulus; the people are drawn to him, not you."

So, after Sukkot, Herod invites Aristobulus to an event in one of his palaces. In the palace there is a large pool which people dip in from time to time in order to cool off. Herod suggests that Aristobulus take a swim in the pool. Aristobulus enters the water, but Herod's agents are waiting there and they promptly drown him. The public understands what has happened and with this the Chanukah celebrations came to an end. Having liquidated the entire Hasmonean dynasty, Herod announces that there will be no more Chanukah.

At this point, the schools of Hillel and Shammai announce that Chanukah is moving out of the Holy Temple and into the private home of each Jew. During the first hundred years, Chanukah celebrations were played out in Jerusalem and the Holy Temple. Now, public celebration moves Sukkot, and Chanukah is celebrated privately in the homes, each person with his own candle.

Regarding R' Shimon ben Gamliel, the Talmud relates that when he took part in the Celebration of the Water Drawing ("Simchat Beit HaSho'eva"), he would juggle eight torches at once, exactly the same number as the Chanukah candles. He did this in order to teach the people that the festiveness of Sukkot can dovetail with the festiveness of Chanukah. Both are expressions of personal Divine Providence.

The Great Light and the Small Candle
It often happens that during the period when we celebrate Chanukah, non-Jews are celebrating their holidays too. A person who does some traveling abroad, outside of Israel, will notice that at this time of year the streets are rife with festive holiday lights, on the trees and the houses. Only on the seventeenth floor does one find a small Chanukah menorah burning in the window. It looks hapless amidst all the bright and flickering lights. One thing should be remembered, though. When there is a power failure, it is the Chanukah menorah alone that continues to burn and give off light. All of those flashy bulbs represent power, yet the power of today is not the power of tomorrow. By contrast, self-sacrifice endures forever.

King Solomon, the wisest of men, compares man's soul to a candle. "The soul of man is the candle of the Lord" (Proverbs 20:27). Most of us, however, would probably liken the soul to light, which is more sublime than a candle. Why, then, does King Solomon liken the human soul to a candle?

Indeed, light has an advantage over a candle. Light illuminates a room and allows us to enter and walk about without stumbling. It allows us to do as we please. However, the light does not illuminate the corners, or under the beds. The candle represents the capacity to check those places where ordinary light falls short.

This is the advantage of the soul as well. It reaches every corner – even those corners which seem low and small. The body symbolizes the light. When the Almighty expelled Adam from the Garden of Eden, He made "garments of leather" for him. The sages say that in Rabbi Meir's personal Torah scroll it was written "garments of light." The Almighty is saying to Adam,"Return to your sources. You do not need a garment to cover your body, for the body itself already covers the soul. The body represents the light, and the soul represents the candle, the fine details and nuances."

Uncovering God's Word in Everything
In the State of Israel there is an unwritten law which says that we do not invite foreign prime ministers during the intermediate days of a Festival (Chol HaMoed). Such a visit disrupts the traffic flow, and during the Festivals families want to travel and make their way to Jerusalem.

This year Israel accidentally invited the President of the Soviet Union during the intermediate days of Passover, and in the course of his visit he traveled to the Russian Church in East Jerusalem. For this reason the Old City was closed off completely for a period of time. I myself was amongst those who stood by the Jaffa Gate unable to enter, as everybody shouted and complained about the situation.

While standing there, I said to myself, "God, You must be trying to tell us something. What is this visit supposed to be teaching us?" Here is what I thought: This president was once a leader of the KGB, and it was his task to wage a fierce battle against the Jews of the Soviet Union. One of the symbols of Jewish resistance to the Communist regime was matzah bread on Passover. Lubavitch Chassidim sacrificed themselves greatly for the sake of baking such matzah.

So, I said to myself, God must be telling this leader: Not only in your country will the Jews eat matzah. You yourself will visit Israel during the Passover Festival and you eat kosher food. Even if you want to eat bread, you will not be able to. They will say to you, "We are sorry, there is only matzah."

After sharing this thought with the people around me, they had more patience to wait . . . the Jews had sacrificed themselves, and here was another expression of the great victory. Therefore, this year too they will light Chanukah candles before the Kremlin, because this small candle stands tall in the face of Stalin, Trotsky, and Lenin. It stands tall and succeeds. All of those flashing lights eventually go out. Only the candle remains forever.

If we station ourselves firmly upon faith in personal Divine Providence, if we truly sense that everything around us happens through God's providence, we shall certainly merit, by virtue of this faith, to see the High Priest light the candles of the Menorah in Jerusalem's Holy Temple.
Some of the translated biblical verses and translated Talmudic sources in the above article were taken from, or based upon, Davka's Soncino Judaic Classics Library (CD-Rom). Other translated biblical verses were taken from R' Aryeh Kaplan's "The Living Torah" (Moznaim).

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