A Torah Thought for Teens – Parshas Mikeitz/Chanukah
By: Rabbi Yakov Horowitz
One of the unique properties of observing the mitzvah of Chanuka is the concept of pirsumei nisah – the requirement to publicize the miracle of Chanuka to passersby. We therefore place the lights of Chanuka in a window that opens to the street, or near the doorpost. The Menorah is a public statement of the miracle of Chanukah and expresses our faith in Hashem.
Why, however, is this particular commandment linked to the pirsum of its performance? There are no other mitzvos where promotion plays such a meaningful role. Why, then, is the publicity of the mitzvah of Chanukah so critical to its fulfillment?
The Sfas Emes offers a fascinating insight into our victory over the Yevanim (Greeks) that sheds ‘light’ on these matters – and explains the deeper meaning of the celebration of Chanukah.
As Torah Jews, we believe that kedusha is found in all aspects of Hashem’s creation. An integral part of our emunah is the belief that chol (non-spiritual matters) is kodesh in its hidden phase. Hashem created these sparks of holiness in every part of creation. Eating, sleeping, even exercising, bring kedusha to our lives when we devote the energy created by these activities to the service of Hashem. Our mission is to find holiness in the seemingly mundane actions of our daily life, and thereby bring a sense of purpose and meaning to our existence. We are not free agents, we are ovdei (servants of) Hashem, striving – one mitzvah at a time – to fulfill His mandate to us, as expressed in our Torah.
The overriding culture of the Greeks, the Sfas Emes maintains, was not the worship of idols; it was rather the philosophy that nothing is sacred. Their secularist world view was that only the physical was important, not the metaphysical. Hence the emphasis of the Greeks on exercise (and sports) as the center of their culture – not as part of healthy living, as explained by the Rambam, lehavdil.
Their main thrust was that all must be subject to reason. The Greeks presented the notion that nothing can be accepted if it cannot be proven by logic. Only things that can be seen, tasted or measured are to be valued.
This would explain their preoccupation with eliminating Shabbos, Rosh Chodesh and Bris Milah, rachmanah litzlon (G-d forbid). They were offended by the concept that one day of the week was different than any of the others. What is the physical difference between Shabbos and Tuesday, they claimed. Why does the first day of the month have any more sanctity that any other day? What is logic behind the emphasis on kedushah, as exemplified by bris milah? They defiled the Beis Hamikdosh because they were affronted by the notion the kodesh kadashim could be holier than any street in Yerushalayim.
Our Chazal teach us (Gemorah Sanhedrin, 64a) that after the destruction of the Beis Hamikdosh, the temptation to serve idols (avodah zorah) was removed from the world. Hard as it may be for us to comprehend, the urge to serve idols was so strong during that time period that our chachomim begged Hashem to destroy that particular yetzer horah (evil inclination). The Maharal explains that the disappearance of all idols was needed in order to maintain a sense of balance. Without the kedusha of the Bais Hamikdosh, we could not withstand the tumah of avodah zarah. Once the power of idols was reduced, Greek culture rose to prominence among the gentiles of the world – and posed a fresh, grave threat to the spiritual life of the Jewish people. Not new, different idols, but rather the belief that nothing is sacred.
With this in mind, the Sfas Emes offers a beautifully clear understanding of the significance of pirsumei nisah in the observance of Chanukah. Displaying our menorah in public is not merely a tangential component of the mitzvah; it is the central theme of Chanukah. We display – in the most public of settings – our fundamental emunah (faith) in the notion that there is kedusha in every part of Hashem’s creation. The Greeks disputed the notion that there is kedusha in the bais Hamikdosh. We therefore celebrate our victory over the Greeks with a public proclamation. We inform all that we will transmit the holiness of our homes, our mikdosh me’at, to the public square, to the areas of our life where the holiness is more hidden. The Greeks attempted to snuff out all displays of kedusha; we respond by projecting holiness to the eyes of all passersby.
The Ibn Ezra explains that Hashem instructed us to build a Beis Hamikdash (a localization of kedusha) since it will allow us to experience holiness in all its glory in (at least) one place on this earth. Our mission in life is to then export this awareness to all aspects of our life. We need to use this, in the words of the Ibn Ezra, as a doorway to the rest of the world – to help us understand that the glory of Hashem’s presence is everywhere.
May the kedusha of the neros Chanukah enlighten all aspects of our lives.
Best wishes for a gutten Shabbos and a meaningful Chanukah.
© 2004 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved