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Torah Attitude: Parashas Vayeishev: How to best fight our enemies on Purim and Chanukah

Summary

We say the special prayer of Al HaNissim in Shemoneh Esrei and when we bentch after meals to thank G'd for delivering the mighty Greek-Syrian army into the hands of the few Chashmonaim. If the Torah scholars protect the nation through their study, why did they go into war at the time of Chanukah? Purim was established to be celebrated with food and drink. Since everything at the time of Chanukah was spiritual, we celebrate with lighting the menorah and extra prayers of thanksgiving for eight days. Unlike in the story of Purim, there was originally no physical danger at the time of Chanukah. The Nazis were just like Haman. The communists were like the Hellenists. When we say in Al HaNissim that G'd delivered the wanton sinners to the hands of those who delved into the study of Torah, it refers to the Jewish Hellenists who had joint the Greek-Syrians in their war against Torah-observant Judaism. The different approaches in the stories of Chanukah and Purim were both correct. We can well understand why it had to be the Torah scholars who took up arms at the time of the story of Chanukah. We still have our most powerful weapon of Torah study.

Al HaNissim

In last week's Torah Attitude we discussed the importance of protecting the Jewish people with a regiment of Torah scholars through their learning, rather than by conscripting them to the army. This coming motzei Shabbos we start celebrating the eight days of Chanukah. We kindle our menorahs to commemorate the miracle of the oil that should have lasted one day but burned for eight days. And we say the special prayer of Al HaNissim in Shemoneh Esrei and when we bentch after meals, to thank G'd for delivering the mighty Greek-Syrian army into the hands of the few Chashmonaim. Starting with Modim, we express our gratitude and appreciation and say: "We thank You for our lives that are in Your hands and for the miracles and for the warfare that You performed for our ancestors You fought their battles You delivered the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few and the wanton sinners to the hands of the one's who delved into the study of Your Torah."

Why Chanukah war?

An obvious question arises. If the Torah scholars protect the nation through their study, why did they go into war at the time of Chanukah? In order to answer this question, we shall analyze the basic difference we find between Chanukah and Purim.

Food and drink on Purim

Rabbi Yoel Sirkish, better known as the Bac"h, in his commentary on Tur Shulchan Aruch (Ohr HaChaim 570) points out that Purim was established to be celebrated with food and drinks, as it says in the Book of Esther (9:20-22): "And Mordechai wrote and he sent books to all the Jews to accept upon them to celebrate the fourteenth of the month of Adar and the fifteenth to celebrate them as days of feasting and gladness " Chanukah, on the other hand, was established to be celebrated in a much quieter way. Rabbi Sirkish explains the different ways of celebration. He quotes the Talmud (Megillah 12a) that teaches that the Heavenly decree allowing Haman to go ahead with his evil plans was a punishment for the participation of the Jewish people in Ahashvarous' feast. Since they had sinned by feeding their bodies in a prohibited manner, the danger they were put in affected their bodies. Their repentance included fasting, and by refraining from eating and drinking they rectified what they had done wrong by participating in the feast of Ahashvarous. To commemorate that the story of Purim centred around eating and drinking, we celebrate that festival, more than any other, with food and drinks.

Chanukah menorah

But on Chanukah the Heavenly decree came about due to the Jewish people being slack in serving G'd. This enabled the Hellenists to prohibit the Temple service that involved bringing daily offerings and kindling the golden Menorah in the Temple. When the Chashmonaim started the communal repentance they stood up and were ready to sacrifice themselves in order to re-establish the Temple service. G'd empowered them to push away the enemy and showed His love for His chosen nation by letting the oil burn miraculously for eight days. Since everything at the time of Chanukah was spiritual, we celebrate with lighting the menorah and say extra prayers of thanksgiving for eight days.

No physical danger

Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman, the pre-war Rosh Yeshiva of the Yeshiva in Baranovitch, wrote an essay where he quotes the Levush (Shulchan Aruch ibid) who mentions that unlike in the story of Purim, originally there was no physical danger at the time of Chanukah. Many Jews embraced Hellenism at the time and assimilated with the gentiles. It was only when Matisyahu, the high priest, and his sons started fighting that there was physical danger to their lives.

Nazis like Haman, communists like Hellenists

Rabbi Wasserman wrote his essay in the 1930s, and he compares the two enemies of the Jewish people at that time to Purim and Chanukah. The Nazis were just like Haman. It did not interest them whether a Jew was Torah observant or not. They wanted to annihilate, G'd forbid, every Jew they could lay their hands on. The communists were an entirely different story. Similar to the Hellenists, they wanted that everyone should give up their belief and join them and their party. Unfortunately, many Jews went along and they were no less zealous than their gentile mentors.

Hands of those who study Torah

The Eliyahu Rabba (Shulchan Aruch ibid 682:1) explains that when we say in Al HaNissim that G'd delivered the wanton sinners to the hands of those who delved into the study of Torah, it refers to the Jewish Hellenists who had joint the Greek-Syrians in their war against Torah-observant Judaism. Rabbi Hirsh elaborates on this and says that these Jews preferred the immorality of the Greeks and their unrestrained lifestyle, and therefore sought to bring about the cessation of the study and observance of Torah.

Different approaches

Rabbi Wasserman makes an additional observation of the difference between the stories of Chanukah and Purim. In the story of Chanukah, a handful of Chashmonaim started a revolt against the Greek-Syrian governor and his huge army. On the other hand, in the Purim story, Esther instructed Mordechai to gather the Jews and fast and pray for three days. What was the correct approach? He explains that in both instances the approach was right. For when the Jewish people is faced with a spiritual danger resulting in the estrangement of Jewish individuals from G'd and assimilation, we must be ready to sacrifice our bodies to save Jewish souls. That is why the Chashmonaim started their revolt. But when the Jewish people is faced with physical danger and destruction, we must understand that G'd is communicating with us and wants us to repent and get close to Him. That is the reason why Mordechai and Esther called upon everyone to pray and fast, and strengthen their Torah study and observance.

Spiritual fight

With this insight we can well understand why it had to be the Torah scholars who took up arms at the time of the story of Chanukah. For this was not a regular war against an enemy who wanted to kill. It was a spiritual fight that had to be fought by spiritual giants like the Chashmonaim.

Powerful weapon of Torah study

We live in a time when the land of Israel is surrounded by enemies who want to follow in the footsteps of Haman and Hitler. At the same time, we have many forces who try to bring us to abandon the faith of our forefathers. Says Rabbi Wasserman, in today's society it is not practical for us to fight physically against our spiritual enemies. But we still have our most powerful weapon of Torah study. For as our sages explain, when the Voice of Jacob is heard in the halls of Torah, then the hands of Esau are weakened, both when he and his descendants fight us on a physical level and on a spiritual level.

May we all experience G'd's salvation from our various enemies, just like our ancestors did in the time of Chanukah and Purim.

These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.

These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.

Shalom. Michael Deverett

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