By Yochanan Gordon
Despite the vast amount of recovery and relief still ahead of us after Hurricane Sandy, Chanukah could not come at a more opportune time. The fundamental notion of Chanukah is that where things are naturally dark, G‑d introduces a miraculous light to illuminate that darkness.
After the defilement of all the flasks of oil in the Holy Temple, save for one tiny flask capable of burning no longer than one night under normal circumstances, G‑d miraculously caused that the light extend for eight days.
The commentators analyze the number of days that the miracle of Chanukah lasted. The Menorah burned for eight days, but there was enough oil for one day, meaning the miracle lasted seven days. Some reconcile this by suggesting that the oil was filled up in eighths, therefore leaving only enough oil for part of the night. However, when they entered the Temple in the morning to clean out the cups, they miraculously found its contents were unconsumed by the fire that had burned through the night. Whichever way you view the technicalities of the miracle, there should have been a time where, under the limitations of nature, darkness should have set in but didn’t. This is the realization that nothing in this world is real other than G‑d. As the Gemara says, “If it weren’t for the constant help of G‑d, we would be incapable.”
At a chizuk shiur in light of all the troubling occurrences of the day, Rabbi Ahron Kaufman, rosh yeshiva of Ateres Shmuel in Waterbury, brought to light an interesting observation how, after the Holocaust, with the rebuilding of Jewish life and the State of Israel, we affirmed never to allow such destruction again. Yeshivos were built, Torah began flourishing, and the State of Israel developed a robust army which, despite its seeming vulnerability to defiant enemies who outnumber them, won victory after stunning victory—leaving the commentators stunned by this incongruity. Despite the innate knowledge that victory is delivered by G‑d, there were those who attributed this success to our strength rather than the beneficence of G‑d.
In acharis hayamim, which we are knee deep in, it seems that the sort of obstacles that we are being met with, at least partially, are natural disasters that no army could even attempt to overcome or avoid. In a journal entry prior to his assuming leadership of the Chabad movement, Reb Menachem Mendel Schneerson, zt’l, analyzes a Mishnah in Shabbos which says, “All wood derivatives are unfit to be used as a wick other than flax.” The Rebbe writes, “Wood represents arrogance, regarding which Chazal write, ‘G‑d says to the arrogant, he and I are unable to coexist at once.’” Even flax, which comes from woody fibers, requires beating and humbling in order that its physical element not assume control over it, before it can be spun into linen. Along these lines, the Zohar writes, “A tree which does not produce light (the light of G‑d) should be beaten.” Taking this one step further, the Torah draws a similarity between man and trees of the field.
It emerges that the light we kindle during Chanukah is intended to banish the darkness generated by self-centeredness and egotism, which is a war staged by the nefesh habehamis within each of us.
Furthermore, there is a distinct difference between the Shabbos candles and the Chanukah candles. Shabbos candles were instituted to increase shalom bayis, as Rashi in Maseches Shabbos writes, “since people get agitated from having to feel their way through a dark home.” Chanukah was instituted to be lit at the doorway spilling over to the outside or public domain. The Shabbos lights are mainly internal and the Chanukah lights are external. The Baal Shem Tov writes that he learned from Reb Pinchos Koretzer that before lighting Shabbos candles he should make sure the windows of the house are closed, since the purpose of the Shabbos candles are strictly internal. Not so the Chanukah candles.
Among the current events that have put us collectively on edge recently is the tenuous and rather volatile situation perpetually unfolding within Israel where our brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, are clearly in harm’s way. Beyond Israel and Gaza, the situation across the region in Syria, Egypt, and Iran is like a tempest ready to blow over, creating an uncertain and bleak future for us as a whole. What are we supposed to be thinking of as we stand over our menorahs, candle in hand, as the fire and the wick kiss and illuminate the street just beyond the window or doorway?
We are all aware that the main name of G‑d which is written but not pronounced is the Shem Havayah (the name which is spelled yud-hei-vav-hei). The value of Havayah written out in its simplest form equals 26.
The process through which G‑d created this world was through a system known as eser sefiros or ten Divine attributes. The Shem Havayah written in its simplest form represents these 10 sefiros. Yud represents chochmah or wisdom, hei represents binah or cognitive understanding, vav represents the six sefiros of chesed or kindness through yesod, foundation, and the final hei represents malchus, royalty.
Chazal tell us that just as we are in exile, G‑d too sits in exile and will only be redeemed with the Final Redemption that we all await. Thus our exile is a result of G‑d placing himself in exile. G‑d in a sense caused a separation between the six sefiros of Z”A (Ze’ir Anpin) and Malchus. For this reason, prior to the performance of mitzvos and at certain junctures throughout davening, Chassidim are accustomed to recite “L’shem Yichud” which asks G‑d to reunite the shem Yud-Hei-Vav-Hei as a result of the mitzvah and bring about the Final Redemption.
The name of G‑d which corresponds to malchus is the shem A-D-N-Y, which has a numerical value of 65. In addition to the Shem Havayah, even higher than it is the shem A-H-Y-H, which corresponds to kesser, or the crown which exists above the seder hishtalshelus. Lower than Ekyeh and Havayah is Elokim, which is G‑d as He is masked within the veil of nature.
Generally, when we recite the Shem Havayah we are supposed to unite it with the Shem Adnus. This is called shiluv, or intertwining of two or more names. Reb Chaim Vital writes based on the teachings of the Arizal as recorded in Shaar Hakavanos that there is a complete yichud, and that consists of these three combinations of Havayah, Ekyeh-Havayah, Elokim, and Havayah-Adnus, in that order. This is why on the first night of Chanukah we recite three berachos where in the first berachah of lehadlik ner Chanukah we intertwine the names Havayah-Ekyeh; in she’asah nissim, Havayah-Elokim; and in shehechiyanu we focus on the names Havayah-Adnus. The sum of these three combinations of names (26, 21+26, 86, and 26+65) yields the number 250, which is the same value as the word ner, candle. (The kavanos of ner Chanukah are much more detailed and I urge you to look in the source. To aid in comprehension I suggest Tiv Hakavanos on Chanukah by Reb Gamliel Rabinowitz, shlita.)
The Rebbe, in a footnote below the aforementioned journal entry, quotes the Gemara in Shabbos 25b which says, “Vatiznach m’shalom nafshi,” meaning, my soul has been despaired from peace. The Gemara asks, “What is this verse referring to?” Rebbi Avahu said, “This is referring to hadlakos ner Shabbos.” The Rebbe adds parenthetically, “In a place where there is no ner or candle there is no peace.”
For millennia, Jews the world over have gathered under the worst forms of oppression to light the Chanukah candles amidst tangible darkness, hoping to give way to everlasting light, peace, and serenity. This year we are doing the same, hoping to effect the same outcome. What is it that has made the light of redemption so elusive? Why have our kindled lights not brought in a spirit of peace?
Chanukah shares a similarity with the giving of the Torah. There is a dispute regarding which month the world was created in. Reb Eliezer says the world was created in Tishrei while Rebbi Yehoshua says the world was created in Nissan.
Although we celebrate Rosh Hashanah in Tishrei, in accordance with Reb Eliezer, the Torah says that we received the Torah in the third month from Nissan, which is Sivan. It makes sense then to suggest that there is an inextricable connection between Chanukah and Shavuos. The main decree against the Jews under Greek rule was against studying Torah. Chazal tell us that G‑d initially gave the Torah in order to bring peace to the world. We see this recurring similarity between candles, peace, and Torah coming all together.
Perhaps, peering a little deeper into the decrees of the Romans over the Jews, it was not so much the Torah study that bothered the Greeks. The Greeks would have allowed Torah study for the sake of academia. They wanted the Jews to write on the horn of an ox that they hereby have no portion in the G‑d of the Jews.
Technically the Jews could have observed every ritual in the Torah as long as they denounced their subordination to G‑d. Therefore, it is important that we add meaning to our observance of lighting Chanukah candles this year. Instead of lighting in the name of tradition and getting lost in all the arbitrary or peripheral seasonal activities, perhaps take a moment to meditate on what the Divine candle represents and the purpose of illuminating our dark world through becoming humbler and more refined individuals, declare forthrightly that victory is solely G‑d’s, and we will, in that merit, introduce a spirit of peace and everlasting light into an otherwise dark world. A freilichen Chanukah! v
Comments are welcome at email@example.com.