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Opinion & Comment
"And They Decreed the Eight Days of Chanukah to Offer Thanks"
by HaRav Yosef Berl zt'l

[The following is an excerpt from Vayeishev Moshe written by HaRav Berl.]

HaRav Yitzchok Hutner zt'l, the rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Rabbenu Chaim Berlin in Brooklyn, New York, discussed, in Pachad Yitzchok on Chanukah, the unique significance of Chanukah. For a better comprehension of what Chanukah really is HaRav Hutner's essays on that topic are indispensable.

In my humble opinion, in order to understand the meaning of showing our gratitude to Hashem on Chanukah we must first explain what it means to thank HaKodosh Boruch Hu in general. We will start off by citing the gemora (Brochos 7b): "R' Yochonon said in the name of R' Shimon bar Yochai: From the day that HaKodosh Boruch Hu created His world there was no person who thanked HaKodosh Boruch Hu until Leah came and thanked Him, as is written, `Now I will thank Hashem' (Bereishis 29:34)."

This is really amazing. Thanking Hashem is common and routine among us: it is done many times a day. How can it be that it never occurred to the holy Patriarchs and all the tzaddikim -- until Leah -- that we should thank Hashem?

All of the brochos open with the second person -- "Blessed are You" -- and conclude in the third person -- "Who loves His nation," "Who guards His nation," "by Whose word everything was created." The seforim hakedoshim explain the reason for this change in form (the basis of the explanation is in the Rashbo). Since HaKodosh Boruch Hu is revealed through His acts, while He Himself is hidden, we therefore start our brochos with the second person, referring to His acts, and conclude by praising Him in the third person, since He is hidden. "And the Chayos ran to and fro" (Yechezkel 1:14) -- so do we first start by praising Hashem with His deeds and then with His concealed presence.

The text of one brocho is distinctive from all the others. That is the brocho of thanking Hashem in Shemoneh Esrei: "Blessed are You, Hashem, You Whose name is `The Beneficent One' and to You it is fitting to give thanks." In this brocho both the beginning and end are in the second person. We are directly addressing HaKodosh Boruch Hu.

Let us analyze two different reasons for thanking Hashem.

First I will offer a parable. There was once a benign king who had pity on his kingdom's old men and women, and he fed and supported them. Now, when an elderly person receives the king's gift it is undoubtedly proper for him to praise the king for his great kindness. Nevertheless, there is no need to thank him for this kindness, since it was not an individual kindness, a kindness directed only to him. The elderly person was merely one out of thousands of elderly people who benefited from the king's kindness.

In modern times this can be compared to retired people receiving social security from the government. They should surely praise the government for its benign attitude and help, but since no one has received a personal benefit, specially, only for him, he does not need to thank the government.

If, however, a person was sentenced to die according to the country's law, but later the king, through his clemency, released him, such a person, besides having to praise the king for his kindness in general, must personally thank him for the benevolence he showed especially towards him. He should request an audience with the king and thank him for making an exception and saving him from death.

Praising and lauding someone can be done even in the third person -- from far away. But thanking someone for his particular kindness for him must be done in the second person -- in front of the one who had mercy on him: "Blessed are You."

Now we can begin to understand why the Ovos themselves did not thank Hashem until Leah. "The kindness of Hashem fills the earth" (Tehillim 33:4). "He sustains the living with chesed" (Shemoneh Esrei). "Who nourishes the whole world in His goodness, with grace, with kindness, and with mercy" (Bircas Hamozone). We are well aware that even if we labor to comprehend the full essence of Hashem's chesed we are unable. Certainly we are unable to grasp the limits of Hashem's chesed -- "For My thoughts are not your thoughts" (Yeshaya 55:8). Since HaKodosh Boruch Hu and His kindness are one, just as we cannot perceive Him so we cannot perceive the limits of His goodness.

The Ovos realized that Hashem's attribute of goodness, that they perceived in the Creation in general and even in their lives in particular, is only a minute part of His universal goodness. They did not understand that Hashem had done any particular special goodness to them, but thought that this was part of the general goodness that HaKodosh Boruch Hu sends to every individual in the Creation. The Ovos therefore never thanked Hashem for His goodness, but only praised and exalted Him.

Leah was the first person who felt that besides the general chesed that Hashem sends into the world for His Creations, He had sent her an individual goodness and kindness, and moreover, one that was more than she even deserved. It was therefore proper for her to thank Hashem in the second person -- directly to Him.

"And You have brought us close to Your great Name . . . to thank You" (Bircas Krias Shema). If we are so close to Hashem that we can receive special goodness we should thank Him directly -- in the second person -- for this closeness.

The brocho in Shemoneh Esrei mentioned above, that starts and ends in the second person, is the bircas hahodo'oh (the brocho of thanking Hashem). This brocho is intended to thank Hashem for His particular goodness to us and is therefore completely in the second person.

Usually we divide the miracles of Chanukah into two: the miracle of victory over the enemy and the miracle of the lamps. The miracle of our victory was certainly needed greatly, since without it we would, chas vesholom, have been destroyed. We must still, however, analyze the miracle of the menorah's lights.

1) What was the chidush in this miracle? There were ten miracles that were done daily in the Beis Hamikdash (Ovos 5:5). The Beis Hamikdash's miracles were natural for such a center of kedusha and Shechina. Moreover, the gemora (Taanis 25a) writes that one erev Shabbos at the end of the day (see Rashi) R' Chanina ben Dosa asked his daughter why she looked sad. She answered that she had confused a pitcher of vinegar with one of oil and had filled the Shabbos lamps with vinegar. There was no time now to empty the lamps, clean them, and go and look for oil. R' Chanina said to his daughter: "What difference does it make to you? The One Who told oil to burn will tell the vinegar to burn." The beraissah tells us that the lamp burned a whole day until it was used even for havdoloh.

We see that for R' Chanina vinegar could burn even longer than if it were ordinary oil. Oil would have burned only a few hours but the vinegar burned more than a day. If so, where was there so great a chidush if in the menora oil burned eight days instead of one?

2) What halachic need was there for the miracle of the menora (as the acharonim ask)? Since the halocho is that tumah is permitted for a tzibbur, the Maccabees were allowed to light the menora with tomei oil.

"`Outside the veil of the Testimony, in the ohel mo'ed, shall Aharon order it from evening unto morning before Hashem continually' (Vayikro 24:3). Does He need its light? For forty years bnei Yisroel went through the desert and were only guided by His light. [The menora of the Beis Hamikdash] was a testimony for everyone that the Shechina rests upon Yisroel. What is the testimony? Rav said, `This is the western lamp into which was put the same amount of oil as the other lamps, enough to last through the night, but it would burn the whole night and day.' In the evening the Cohen would light the other lamps from the western lamp, and it would be the last lamp to be cleaned in preparation for the lighting" (Shabbos 22b).

Although the mishna in Tomid (3:9) says that the cleaning of the five lamps came before that of the two eastern lamps [meaning the lamp east of the western lamp and the western lamp] (a halocho inferred from a posuk), and this apparently shows us that all the lamps were extinguished at night -- even the western lamp -- this was in days when the miracle did not happen. The posuk does not rely on a miracle and teaches us what to do when the miracle did not happen. However, as long as Yisroel were cherished by Hashem (the period before Shimon Hatzaddik died) the western lamp would burn the whole day, and that was the testimony of the menora.

We learn from this that long before the time of the miracle of Chanukah, the testimony was void and the Shechina was no longer among Yisroel. The sign of love from Hashem to Klal Yisroel no longer existed. Nonetheless, the mesiras nefesh of bnei Yisroel against the shmad decrees of Greece caused Hashem's testimony and love for the Jewish People to return.

So we see that actually the miracle of Chanukah offered no chidush, and in addition there was no halachic need for the miracle of the Chanukah lights. The miracle's aim was that Hashem congratulated bnei Yisroel for endangering their lives to observe His covenant, and furthermore it showed that Hashem's love for Klal Yisroel still endured.

The miracle of Chanukah was the "end of all miracles" (see Midrash Tehillim 22:10). It was a miracle that displayed Hashem's excessive love for His people. With this miracle we received "more than our share," and therefore Chazal decreed these eight days of Chanukah specifically to thank Hashem.

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