1. One of the differences between Chanukah and other festivals is that on other festivals, there is an obligation to celebrate with festive meals which include bread, water, meat, and wine. In contrast, on Chanukah, there is no obligation to celebrate with festive meals; and the meals one serves are optional in nature. The commemoration of the miracle is, in contrast, through the recitation of prayers of praise and thanksgiving, and through kindling the Chanukah lights.
There is a thematic reason for such a difference. The miracle of Chanukah involved a victory over the Greeks who desired to “make them forget Your Torah and cause them to transgress the decrees of Your will.” This — in contrast to the victory of Purimwhere Haman’s decree was directed against the physical existence of the Jewish people, or the miracle of Pesach, when the Jews were rescued from physical servitude — represented a spiritual victory. Accordingly, its commemoration is through spiritual activities, the recitation of prayers and kindling lights which symbolize “the light of the Torah and the lamp of mitzvos.”
It must be emphasized that the commemoration of the other holidays through physical activities also has spiritual significance. For the Jews’ physical activities — even those carried out throughout the year — are fundamentally spiritual in nature as implied by the directives, “All your deeds should be for the sake of heaven” and “Know Him in all your ways.” For example, eating bread and drinking water are similes for Torah study. Surely, this applies on Shabbos and festivals, when delighting in food and drink is a mitzvah.
Similarly, the physical freedom which the Jews achieved on Pesach and Purim is connected with their spiritual service. For the exodus from Egypt commemorated on Pesach is associated with the giving of the Torah on Shavuos. Similarly, Purim is interpreted as a reaffirmation of the acceptance of the Torah on Mount Sinai.
(Conversely, Chanukah is also associated with liberation in the material sense, for in addition to the spiritual restrictions the Greeks imposed on the Jews, they also oppressed them in a material sense, “extending their hands against their property and their daughters” and with the victory over the Greeks, this oppression ceased.)
From the above it is apparent that the distinction of Chanukah as different from the other festivals, applies not only in regard to the fact that the commemoration of Chanukah was associated with lighting candles rather than festive meals, but also that the spiritual significance of the holiday is different and on a higher plane than that of the other holidays. This difference can be understood by comparing water, bread, and wine, the foods served during the festive meals of other holidays and oil, which is used for the Chanukah lights.
As mentioned above, all of these substances are used as metaphors for the Torah. There are, however, differences between them. Water and bread are the staples of our everyday existence. In contrast, wine is not a daily necessity, it is used to contribute an element of pleasure to our existence as it is written, “Wine makes glad man and G‑d.” Oil is not required for our day to day existence. It is never served as a food in its own right.1 Rather, it is used in minute qualities to add flavor to other foods. Thus it is associated with the quality of pleasure.
Bread and water are metaphors for Nigleh, the revealed dimensions of Torah law, the concepts of Torah which are necessary for our people to know to observe the mitzvos properly. Like bread and water, this knowledge is necessary for our people’s existence. In contrast, wine and oil are metaphors for Pnimiyus HaTorah. For like these two substances, the study of Pnimiyus HaTorah adds pleasure and vitality to our observance of the Torah and its mitzvos.
In particular, there is a difference between oil and wine. For wine is drunken as a beverage in its own right, while oil is not. Also, there are times, Shabbos and festivals, when wine is required for Kiddush. Similarly, in regard to the symbolic meaning of the two. Wine refers to those dimensions of the Torah’s secrets that are close to revelation and can be perceived by a sensitive eye. In contrast, oil refers to the deepest secrets of the Torah, those that transcend revelation.
This reflects the significance of Chanukah, that it is associated with these deeper levels of Torah. A question, however, arises: How is it possible that the Jews could rise to a level of service which relates to oil, the Torah’s deepest secrets, at a time when the were persecuted and oppressed by the Greeks?
The resolution of this question relates to a fundamental spiritual dynamic: As the darkness of the world increases, the revelation of the light of the Torah is correspondingly amplified. Therefore, precisely because the Greeks oppressed the Jews and challenged their faith, it was necessary that a higher dimension of Torah be revealed, the dimension associated with oil, i.e., the Torah’s deepest secrets.
To explain this concept: It is well known that the Greeks represent the wisdom of kelipah, secular wisdom. They were philosophers who denied the G‑dly basis of the Torah, refusing to accept that it was communicated to man by G‑d and thus transcends human wisdom. Therefore, they made the oil found in the Beis HaMikdashimpure, i.e., they challenged the wisdom of holiness, and sought to take the Jews away from the Torah.
It is possible to explain that the power possessed by the Greeks to affect the Jews’ wisdom stemmed from their connection to Torah knowledge. For example, we see that the Sages refused to permit Torah scrolls to be written in any foreign language other than Greek. This is derived from the verse (Bereishis 9:27), “May G‑d dwell graciously with Yefes; he will dwell in the tents of Shem.” In this context, this means that the graciousness of Yefes (the beauty of the Greek language) comes when it is employed in the “tents of Shem,” for the purpose of the Torah. This is reflected in the translation of the Torah into Greek by the seventy Sages.
A question can be raised concerning the above based on our Sages’ comments that the day on which the Torah was translated into Greek for Ptolemy was “as difficult for the Jewish people as the day on which the Golden Calf was made.”
This difficulty can, however, be resolved as follows: The translation of the Torah into Greek was primarily a positive activity. The difficulty was that this translation did not stem from G‑d’s command, but rather from that of King Ptolemy. Accordingly, there was a possibility that it would be the source for negative influence, indeed, negative influences so serious that the day was compared to the day that the Golden Calf was made, the direct opposite of the giving of the Torah.
It can be explained that the Greek’s decrees against the Jews came about (after the passage of approximately 100 years) from this translation. The Greeks accepted the Torah as a great source of wisdom. They were, however, opposed to the holiness of Torah, its connection to G‑d. The translation of the Torah into Greek gave them the potential to taint the Torah’s holiness with impurity, i.e., to explain that the Torah was — just like other philosophies of the time — merely human wisdom and not Divine truth.
In this context, we can appreciate the uniqueness of the Chanukah miracle, that the Jews found pure oil with the seal of the High Priest. The decree of the Greeks was intended to make the Torah impure, to reduce the emphasis on the holiness of the Torah. The direct opposite of this is pure oil, untouched by the Greeks, and whose influence stems from the High Priest, the highest level of holiness. It was with such oil that a miracle was wrought for eight days; i.e., in addition to the day on which the miracle was wrought, this miraculous trend continued for an entire week, a complete cycle of time.
The concept of pure oil relates to the study of Pnimiyus HaTorah. Nigleh, the revealed dimension of Torah law, is structured to govern our involvement in all the material dimensions of worldly life. Accordingly, it is in this realm that there is the possibility that Torah will be appreciated merely as wisdom without its G‑dly source being appreciated. In contrast, Pnimiyus HaTorah is the realm of Torah study where G‑dliness is openly revealed. Moreover, when the study of Pnimiyus HaTorah is coupled with the study of Nigleh, one is able to appreciate the holiness of the Torah when studying Nigleh as well.
This quality is emphasized more by the simile of oil, than that of wine. For as mentioned above, wine is drunken as a beverage in its own right. In contrast, oil is used to give flavor to other foods. It is the dimension of oil which gives Pnimiyus HaTorah the potential to reveal the G‑dliness in Nigleh.
Moreover, oil has the potential to illuminate. This points to the potential to reveal the inner light of the Torah. Furthermore, this light is revealed, not only in a Jew’s personal life, but in the world around him. This is reflected in the Chanukah lights which are placed “at the outside of the entrance to one’s home,” and kindled “after sunset.”
These lights should burn “until the foot of the Tarmudites departs.” The name Tarmud (תרמוד) shares the same Hebrew letters as the word moredes (מורדת) meaning “rebellious one.” Thus the Chanukah lights have the potential to dispel the influence of all rebellion against G‑d. Furthermore, the meaning of the word כלי’ rendered as “depart” can also be extended to include kalus hanefesh, the expiration of the soul, because of an overwhelming love for G‑d. The oil of the Chanukah lights has the potential to transform even “the foot of the Tarmudites” and bring them to such a love for G‑d.
Based on the above, we can also appreciate the connection between Chanukah and the holiday of Yud-Tes Kislev, the day associated with the beginning of the service of spreading the wellsprings of Chassidus outward. In the years that followed the nullification of the Greek’s decrees, the main emphasis within Torah study remained on the study of Nigleh. Throughout the entire Talmudic period, the study of Pnimiyus HaTorah was confined to a select few. For example, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the author of the Zohar, was only permitted to reveal his teachings to a chosen group of scholars. This situation continued in the subsequent generations and it was not until the time of the AriZal that it became, “a mitzvah to reveal this knowledge.” Afterwards, though the activities of the Baal Shem Tov, the Maggid, the Alter Rebbeand the subsequent Rebbeim, these teachings were disseminated to wider circles and brought closer to our ordinary powers of comprehension.
This implies that the holiday of Chanukah places an emphasis on the study of Pnimiyus HaTorah as an element in elevating our conception of Nigleh, giving us the potential to appreciate the G‑dliness of the Torah. Yud-Tes Kislev, by contrast, emphasizes on how the study of Pnimiyus HaTorah becomes a fundamental branch of study in its own right, that the teachings of Pnimiyus HaTorah have been brought into the realm of reason and logic so that they can be assimilated within the context of our conceptual powers.
This represents a greater revelation than existed in previous generations. What is the motivating force for this revelation at present? Since there has been an increase in the darkness pervading the world and an increase in the influence of secular wisdom — which as explained above, leads to the possibility that the Torah be seen merely as ordinary wisdom — it became necessary for there to be a greater revelation of Pnimiyus HaTorah, and that this revelation permeate our conceptual processes.
Indeed, in each subsequent generation, as the darkness has continued to increase, there has been a strengthening of the spreading of the wellsprings of Chassidus outward. To give an example of this pattern: At the time of the Rebbe Rashab, there was a tremendous increase in the spread of secular wisdom throughout the Jewish community in Russia. At this time, the Rebbe established Yeshivas Tomchei Temimim, a Yeshivah in which Pnimiyus HaTorah was studied in an ordered and structured manner, as is Nigleh.
This thrust was continued by the Rebbe Rashab’s successor, the Previous Rebbe, who established branches of Yeshivas Tomchei Temimim in many countries throughout the world. Similarly it was reflected in his efforts in pioneering the translation of the teachings of Pnimiyus HaTorah into many other languages, revealing the light of Pnimiyus HaTorah at “the outside of the entrance to one’s home.”
The revelation of Pnimiyus HaTorah at the present time is connected with a deeper purpose than combating the increasing darkness of exile, it is a foretaste of the light of Redemption. Here, too, we see a connection to oil, for the very name Mashiach means “the anointed one,” i.e., a king anointed with the unique oil made for this purpose.2 Similarly, Mashiach will be the one who will reveal the secrets of Torah in the world at large to the extent that “the occupation of the entire world will be solely to know G‑d.” At that time, the study of Pnimiyus HaTorah will be a purpose in its own right. Therefore, as a preparation for and in anticipation of this revelation, there is a greater emphasis on the study of Pnimiyus HaTorah at present.3
Herein, we also see a connection to Chanukah, a holiday of eight days, for the number eight is associated with the Redemption. Similarly, there is a connection to Yud-Tes Kislev, for as the Baal Shem Tov explained, it is the spreading forth of the wellsprings of Chassidus that will lead to the coming of Mashiach. We also see a connection to this week’s Torah reading, for the root of the name Mikeitz, keitz is often used as a term to describe the coming of the Redemption.
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2. This week’s Torah reading contains a narrative that requires explanation. The Torah relates that Yosef took Yaakov4 to Pharaoh and Pharaoh asked him. “How old are you?” Yaakov responded, “The years of my travails are 130. The days of the years of my life have been few and hard and they have not reached those of my ancestors in their journeys.”
This statement raises several questions: a) Why was it necessary for Yaakov to say that “the years of my life have been few”? Pharaoh only asked him his age. Seemingly, he should have confined his answer to that, leaving it to Pharaoh to conclude whether his lifetime was long or short. b) Since after the flood, it was decreed that man would live only 120 years, how could Yaakov say that his years are “few”? His lifetime was already longer than that allotted to the average man. Indeed, it was because Yaakov looked very old, that Pharaoh enquired about his age.
A possible resolution to these difficulties can be offered: The two portions of Yaakov’s response are interrelated. He considered “The days of the years of my life” as “few and hard,” because “they have not reached those of my ancestors in their journeys,” i.e., when compared to the life of Avraham (175 years) and Yitzchak (180 years), Yaakov’s lifetime was short.5 From Rashi’s commentary, however, it appears that this interpretation is not acceptable, for he associates the reference to Avraham and Yitzchak is referring to the difficulty of Yaakov’s years, i.e., in contrast to them, his years were difficult. According to Rashi, it appears that Yaakov saw his lifetime as truly being “short.”
From this perspective, the questions mentioned above can be resolved as follows: Since Yaakov’s years were “hard,” fraught with difficulty, they were “few,” i.e., they were not filled with the inner spiritual service that was desired. We find Avraham described as “bah bayomim,” literally, “having entered his days.” Chassidusinterprets this to mean that he filled each of his days with an appropriate spiritual content.
In Yaakov’s case, however, because his years were “hard,” they had not “reached those of my ancestors,” i.e., there was no approximation to the inner spiritual fulfillment with which Avraham and Yitzchak had endowed their years.
This lack of fulfillment is needless to say relative to the unique level which Yaakov saw as within his potential. Furthermore, in the 17 years that Yaakov lived in Egypt, studying with his children and grandchildren, he compensated for all the previous difficulty he had suffered to the extent that his entire life could be seen as having been lived in an atmosphere of comfort and good fortune and thus filled with the inner spiritual fulfillment he desired.
There is a deeper message in the concept that Yaakov considered his life short because he was not able to fill it with the spiritual content that he desired. Our Sages relate, “Yaakov desired to live in prosperity.” In an ultimate sense, this refers to the perfect goodness and prosperity of the Era of the Redemption. From the time Yosef was born, Yaakov was ready for the Redemption, and since this potential was not realized at that time, he considered his life as lacking.
And Yaakov felt it necessary to communicate this message. He wanted his descendants to knew that even when they were living in “the finest place in the land of Egypt” and were being given “the fat of the land,” since the Redemption had not materialized, they should consider their lives as lacking.
This is particularly relevant to us, the last generation of the exile and the first generation of the Redemption, we must feel that until the Redemption becomes manifest, our lives are lacking. This perception should lead to an increased desire and yearning for the Redemption and also an increase in the activities that will hasten the coming of the Redemption: an increase in the spreading of the wellsprings of Chassidus and an increase in Mivtza Chanukah, the Chanukah campaign. The latter should include organizing Chassidic farbrengens in connection with Chanukah and also the distribution of Chanukah gelt.
May these activities, like the Chanukah lamps, fill the world with light. And may this light continue to grow and increase6 until G‑d gives His children, the entire Jewish people, Chanukah gelt and redeems them from exile. This in turn will cause the upcoming fast of the Tenth of Teves to be transformed into a day of celebration and festivity with the coming of the Redemption.