Kollel Beis HaTalmud
Yehuda Fishman Institute's

Back to This Week's Parsha | Previous Issues

Parshas Mikeitz

Chanuka- Food for the Soul
by Rabbi Yosef Levinson

Of all the Jewish holidays, Chanuka is unique; it is the only festival where we do not have a mitzva to serve a seuda - festive meal. The main celebration of Chanuka is l'hallel u'l'hoda'os, to sing praise and express our gratitude to Hashem for our redemption. The Levush (670) explains that this is because the Yevanim, Greeks, did not threaten our physical existence, rather they sought the spiritual genocide of Bnei Yisrael. They barred the study of Torah and denied us the right to fulfil the mitzvos. Therefore the Sages who instituted the holiday of Chanuka felt that the most appropriate way to commemorate the miraculous victory over the Yevanim would be a spiritual celebration.

However the Bach (670) writes that we still need to understand why we were persecuted spiritually in the times of the Chashmonaim, while in the days of Mordechai and Esther, Haman sought to physically annihilate the Jewish nation. Furthermore, since the struggle of the Chashmonaim was a spiritual one, why were they were required to take up arms and to defeat the Yevanim on the battlefield? And surely a physical salvation such as this warrants our celebrating physically with food and drink as we do on Purim. There is even a more central question here. Since the Greeks sought to harm us spiritually by denying us the opportunity to learn Torah and keep the mitzvos, shouldn't the manner in which we merited Hashem's miracles and salvation have been a spiritual one, by supplicating the Ribbono Shel Olam with prayer? And yet we were redeemed only after the Chashmonaim challenged the Greeks in warfare.

The Bach explains that in the times of Chanuka, the people started to display a lax attitude in regard to the Avoda, Temple service. They failed to perceive the significance of the avoda. To rectify this aveira, it was necessary for the Chashmonaim to be moseir nefesh, willing to risk their lives for the right to serve in the Beis Hamikdash. By placing their lives on the line, they displayed that they truly valued the avoda. They realised that the Bnei Yisrael are privileged to be able to serve Hashem. Never before did the Jewish people bear arms and battle for the right to learn and observe the Torah. The Chashmonaim must have seen a hint somewhere in the Torah that this was what Hashem expected of them. From the Midrash (Bereishis Rabba 77:3) it appears that the Chashmonaim learnt from none other than Yaakov Avinu that this was the way to overcome their oppressors.

Two weeks ago, we explained (Vayishlach - A Night to Remember), that Yaakov's struggle with the saro shel Eisav, Eisav's angel was a spiritual battle. It was a battle over Torah. Yet this appeared clearly to be a physical struggle. Why didn't the saro shel Eisav attack Yaakov spiritually, by distracting him from his studies? Also, how was Yaakov able to defeat his adversary? A mortal, no matter how powerful, is no match for an angel. We explained then that the malach was not sent to harm Yaakov, he was sent to aid him, to show him and his descendants that our main struggle in this world is the battle over limud Torah. We can now understand why he fought Yaakov and how Yaakov overcame him. The malach appeared as he did to teach Yaakov that to defeat the Yetzer Hara, we must overcome those that strive to prevent us from serving Hashem - we must resemble a malach.

Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner zt"l writes (Pachad Yitzchak, Shavuos), that the essence of a malach is only to do Hashem's will. This can be seen in their name. The word malach means a messenger. Their entire existence is to perform their designated task. We are taught that one malach cannot perform two tasks. This is because the malach's mission is his essence and a being cannot have more than one source of existence. For Yaakov to succeed he had to be completely dedicated to his mission of Torah. By fighting with mesiras nefesh, being prepared to lose one's life, one shows that he is totally committed to his mission. In this way Yaakov became the malach's equal and was able to emerge victorious from his struggle. The Chashmonaim remembered the lesson of that night. They realised that only through mesiras nefesh for Torah and avoda, through complete dedication to Hashem's service could they defeat the Yevanim.

After the saro shel Eisav realised that he could not overcome Yaakov, he struck Yaakov's hip. The Midrash explains (Bereishis Rabba77:3) that this refers to the tzaddikim who will descend from Yaakov. When their enemies restrict their study of Torah, they too will fight like Yaakov and emerge unscathed.

This is the meaning of the tefilla Al Hanissim. We say: "You delivered the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the impure into the hands of the pure, the wicked into the hands of the righteous and the wanton sinners into the hands of those that toil in Your Torah." At first we appear to be magnifying the miracle, even though the Chashmonaim were few and weak, nevertheless they defeated the vast and superior Greek armies. We then switch focus and explain how they were worthy of Hashem's intervention; the impure and wicked versus the pure and righteous students of Torah. However we can now see that this tefilla follows one theme. In the beginning we are not declaring the greatness of this miracle, rather we are emphasising the mesiras nefesh of the Chashmonaim. Even though they were few and weak and certainly no challenge for the mighty Yevanim, they still went out to fight Milchemes Hashem, Hashem's war. Here too then, we are indicating how deserving they were of Hashem's salvation.

When reflecting on the Chashmonaim, we should not focus on their battles, we should not picture them as mighty warriors of Israel. We must focus on their mesiras nefesh. It was only because they were ready to die for the privilege to serve Hashem that they lived to do so.

Daf Hashavua Kollel Beth HaTalmud Copyright (c) 2001 by Rabbi Yosef Levinson

Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper, provided that this notice is included intact.

Back to This Week's Parsha

For information on subscriptions, archives, and
other Shema Yisrael
Classes, send mail to
Jerusalem, Israel