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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Parshas Mikeitz/Shabbos Chanukah 5774
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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11/28/13

STAM TORAH

PARSHAS MIKETZ/CHANUKAH 5774

NATURAL MIRACLES

Francois-Marie Arouet, known to the world as Voltaire, is considered one of France’s greatest writers and philosophers. He was also a fierce and outspoken critic of religion. He considered himself a deist who did not believe that absolute faith, based upon any particular or singular religious text or tradition of revelation, was needed to believe in G-d. Instead, Voltaire focused on the idea of a universe based on reason and respect for nature. He wrote vociferously against the folly of religion and the Bible and boasted that he could personally prove its futility.

In 1759, when already in his later years, Voltaire purchased a château (manor-house) in the town of Ferney near the French-Swiss border. In 1778 he died, in his words, “abandoned by G-d and man”.

There is a humorous postscript to Voltaire’s legacy. Twenty years after his death the Geneva Bible Society purchased his estate and transformed it into the headquarters for the British and Foreign Bible Society.

[1]Throughout the duration of holiday of Chanukah we recite the special prayer “Al Hanisim” in Shemoneh Esrei and in Birkas Hamazon.

A casual reading of the prayer reveals a seeming glaring deficiency in the text. Any child somewhat familiar with the holiday of Chanukah knows about the miracle of the candles on the menorah remaining lit for eight days. Yet in this prayer there is hardly an allusion to that miracle. If the miracle of the candles was the reason for the establishment of the holiday, how can the prayer endemic to the holiday virtually completely omit it?

Furthermore, after lighting the Chanukah candles, we recite the declaration of “Haaneiros halalu”.

Here too the emphasis is on the miraculous victories of the Maccabes, with nary a mention of the miracle of the menorah?

Furthermore, the miracles that transpired during the Maccabean wars were imperative for the survival of the Jews as a Torah-nation. The Syrian-Greeks had forbidden them from practicing religion and mercilessly persecuted those who did not heed their decrees. If the Jews had any hope of preserving their heritage their only chance was to resist and go to war. The problem was that they were hopelessly outnumbered, outflanked, and out-strategized. They had no chance of victory. Their victories were nothing short of miraculous. In fighting those wars so they preserved the heritage and traditions of Klal Yisroel as a nation.

The miracle of the menorah however, seemed superfluous. Ramban explains that, as a general rule, G-d does not alter the rules of nature, unless there is an urgent situation that warrants it. At that point the Maccabes had already recaptured the Bais Hamikdash and ousted the enemy from the city, securing them from imminent danger. Even if lighting the Menorah was so vital that another day could not lapse without it, G-d could have allowed them to discover eight pure jugs of oil. It surely would have been a more subtle “hidden” miracle and not a grandiose nature-alerting miracle. What was the point of the miracle of the menorah?

Bais Yosef asks why the holiday of Chanukah is celebrated for eight days. If the jar of oil that they found had sufficient oil with which to light for one day then the miracle was only for the subsequent seven days. If they had enough oil for one day why isn’t the holiday only seven days?

The commentators ask an additional question regarding the miracle of the menorah: If the little jar of oil that they found contained sufficient oil for eight days, that oil was obviously supernatural. However, the law is that Menorah must be fueled by pure organic olive oil. It may have been a wondrous sight that the candles remained lit, but when all is said and done, if they did not use natural olive oil they did not fulfill their obligation?

Maharal explains that the miracle of the oil was qualitative, not quantitative. There are some oils which are more combustible than others, and therefore do not maintain a flame as long or as well as other oils. The oil that the Maccabes found contained normal organic olive oil. The miracle was that it took eight days for the oil to burn out. In other words, the miracle of the menorah involved protracted combustion; the amount of oil which was normally used up in one day took eight days to burn. Therefore, the miracle was already apparent the first day when they noticed that only an eighth of the oil in the cup had been used and the flames continued to burn brightly. Therefore, the holiday of Chanukah is eight days long.

In a few places in his commentary on the Torah, Ramban notes that any miracle which had human involvement is not recorded in the Torah. The reason is that when there is human involvement it is inevitable that people will minimize what occurred and rationalize the event.[2]

This was the quandary of the sages after the miraculous Maccabean victories. Despite the physical impossibility of their mission[3], because there was human involvement their victories could not be celebrated on a permanent national scale, and they could not enact a new holiday.

The miracle of the menorah however, was an undeniable manifestation of Divine Power. When the Chashmonaim had only placed enough oil in the menorah for one day and yet it inexplicably continued to burn for eight days, it was an undeniable miracle. The miracle was also unadulterated, in the sense that it had occurred without any human intervention.

The lesson of the Chanukah holiday is when something is qualitatively impossible and a qualitative change occurs which overcomes the quantitative odds, that is undeniably the Hand of G-d. Qualitatively, there was insufficient oil in the menorah for the candles to burn longer than twenty-four hours. But then a qualitative change occurred which supernaturally allowed the candle to be fueled by an eighth of the normal amount of oil. It was clear to all that G-d was altering nature and performing a miracle.

In this sense, the miracle of the menorah paralleled the miracles of the wars. In regards to the war too, the Chashmonaim were qualitatively doomed. It was naturally impossible for them to emerge victorious over the Syrian army. But G-d manipulated their ability to fight and made them qualitatively superior soldiers, in fact herculean. The outcome was, “You delivered the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few”. In the same vein as the miracle of the menorah it was a qualitative change that overwhelmed the quantitative norm.[4]

Maharal explains that the central miracle of Chanukah was the Maccabean victories in battle. However, it was only after miracle of the menorah occurred that it became undeniably clear that the wars too had been a completely divine miracle. Therefore, it was only after the miracle of the menorah that the sages were able to create a holiday to celebrate the victories. Thus, although the main celebration is for the victories of the war, that celebration could only be implemented when the miracle repeated itself in an undeniably Divine fashion, free of human involvement.

When we recite the Haneiros Halulu declaration after lighting the Chanukah candles, and the Al Hanisim prayer in Shemoneh Esrei, we are recounting the main focus of the holiday. Therefore, the emphasis is on the miraculous victories, and the miracle of the menorah is only mentioned in passing. Still, it was the concurrence of both miracles that allowed for the creation of a new holiday. Both miracles espoused the idea that no matter the natural odds, G-d can manipulate nature at will and He does so for the salvation of His people.

During those years when Chanukah begins and ends on Shabbos, thus causing there to be two Shabbos Chanukahs, there are two different haftaros[5] that are read. The haftorah of the first Shabbos Chanukah is from Zechariah (chapter 2), “Rani V’simchi”, in which the prophet describes his vision of the inauguration of the menorah when the second Bais Hamikdash was built. The prophet also describes the vision he had concerning Yehoshua the Kohain Gadol, and his interaction with Satan who sought to destroy Yehoshua before G-d came to his defense.

Zachariah continues, “The angel who spoke with me returned…he said to me ‘what do you see?’ I said, ‘I see, and behold! – there is a Menorah made entirely of gold with its bowl on its top, and its seven lamps are upon it, and there are seven tubes to each of the lamps that are on its top…”

The haftorah of the second Shabbos Chanukah is from Melachim (Kings I, chapter 7), where the prophet details the actual construction of the Menorah when it was built during the reign of Shlomo Hamlech for the Bais Hamikdash, “Vaya’as Chiram”.

During most years when there is only one Shabbos Chanukah, the haftorah from Zechariah is read. It is intriguing that this is the haftorah of choice. It would seem that the haftorah from Melachim which describes the actual construction of the menorah would be more apropos to be read on Chanukah than the haftorah from Zechariah which merely depicts the prophet’s vision of the menorah?

The answer is that at the conclusion of the haftorah from Zechariah the true lesson of Chanukah is clearly expressed. The prophet describes two olive trees next to the menorah which symbolized a continuous supply of fuel for the lights of the menorah. The prophet is confused by the two olive trees and questions their symbolism. “The angel who was speaking to me spoke up and said to me, “Do you not know what these are?” I said, “No my lord.” He spoke to me and he said saying, “This is the word of Hashem to Zerubavel (the leader of the nation and a scion of the Davidic dynasty), saying, “לא בחיל ולא בכח כי אם ברוחי אמר ה' צב-אות" – Not through armies and not through might, but through My spirit”, says Hashem, Master of Legions.” Essentially, the miracles of Chanukah imparted this same lesson: that when all is said and done, it is the spirit of G-d that determines the course of events!

The Al Hanisim prayer reflects this idea as well. “For Yourself You made a great and holy name in Your World, and for Your people Israel You worked a great victory and salvation as this very day.” Although the original miracles, i.e. the miraculous victories of the battles, are the source of the holiday, at that point the holiday was not enacted.

The prayer then continues by mentioning the miracle of the Menorah. “Thereafter, your children came to the Holy of Holies of Your House, cleansed Your Temple, purified the site of your Holiness and kindled lights in the Courtyards of Your Sanctuary.” It was only after the miracle of the Menorah occurred that the holiday of Chanukah was created, as the prayer concludes, “And they established these eight days of Chanukah to express thanks and praise to Your great Name."

The holiday of Chanukah always coincides with the reading of the parshios which discuss the tragic saga of Yosef - the vicissitudes of his life, the confrontation with the brothers, and their eventual resolution.

In a sense, Yosef’s life parallels the epic Chanukah story. Yosef was one individual; in a qualitative sense he was quite limited. Yet, he saved the world and set the groundwork for the salvation of Klal Yisroel in the Egyptian exile. In a qualitative sense Yosef accomplished incredible feats, despite the odds being stacked against him at every juncture of his life.

Yosef also personifies resilience and refusal to yield to overwhelming challenges. He remained a beacon of light in an impure, threatening world, and he ultimately triumphed and reunited his family. But above all Yosef was a bastion of faith and his belief in G-d never wavered. No matter what occurred to him, and no matter in whose presence he stood, he was undaunted to admit that it is the Spirit of G-d that guided him and ensured his survival.

Chanukah is celebrated at the outset of winter, the darkest and most ominous time of year. It serves as a perennial reminder that even in the greatest darkness, or rather especially in the greatest darkness, it is the Spirit of G-d that guides us and the entire world.

“They established these eight days of Chanukah”

“Not through armies or might, but through My spirit”

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[1] The following (excluding the conclusion about Yosef) is my adaptation of a discourse by HaRav Matisyahu Salomon shlit’a, the Mashgiach of Bais Medrash Govoha in Lakewood N.J. The Mashgiach is well-known for his fresh insights and unique perspectives in all facets of Torah. This discourse, which discusses the logic behind the Sages formation of the holiday of Chanukah, is no different.

[2] For example, in Parshas Vayishlach when Shechem ben Chamor abducted Dinah, the daughter of Yaakov, her brothers, Shimon and Levy, avenged her honor by killing out all the men in the city. Ramban explains that, subsequently, the surrounding nations banded together and waged war against the family of Yaakov, to exact retribution for killing out a neighboring city. It was only with great miracles that the outflanked children of Yaakov were able to overpower the other nations. Yet this incredible miracle, including that the war itself, is not mentioned in the Torah. [It is only alluded to a few parshios later (Bereishis 48:22), when, prior to his death, Yaakov offers the city of Shechem to Yosef. Yaakov explained how the city came to his possession; “That I took from the hand of the Amorite with my sword and with my bow.”]

Although their victory was clearly a miracle, it is not recorded in the Torah because they had to physically wage war. After the war, when reflecting on those victories, people would rationalize that the children of Yaakov were better soldiers or more adept at guerilla warfare. Even if people would admit that it was a “miraculous victory”, they would still attribute the victory to superior tactic and skill.

[3] According to Rashi, the rebellion began with thirteen untrained Maccabees going out to fight myraids of trained and equipped Syrian-Greek forces

[4] In Rav Salomon’s words, "שינוי באיכות שהתגבר על כמות הטבעי"

[5] The portion from the Prophets read after the Torah reading each Shabbos



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