22 Kislev 5763, His Fifth Yahrtzeit
Introduction: Centrality of the Flask of Oil
The gemora (Shabbos 21) asks, "What is Chanukah?"
Rashi explains, "On account of which miracle was it
instituted?" for there were two of them. A small handful of
Chashmono'im were victorious in battle against thousands of
Greeks, and a flask with just one day's supply of oil lasted
for eight days. According to Rashi, the gemora is
asking which of the two was the main reason for the
The gemora responds, "Tonnu Rabbonon, the
Rabbonon learned: On the twenty-fifth of Kislev are the days
of Chanukah [of which] there are eight, on which there is no
eulogizing and no fasting. For when the Greeks entered the
Temple they defiled all the oils in the Temple and when the
rulers of the house of Chashmonoi gained the upper hand and
defeated them, they searched and found only one flask of oil
that remained with the seal of the Cohen Godol. It
only contained oil to light [the Menorah] for one day.
A miracle took place in it and they lit from it for eight
days. A year later, they institutionalized them and made them
festive days of praise and thanksgiving."
Rashi explains that this festive character is not in the form
of a prohibition against working but in saying Hallel
and in adding al hanisim to the brocho of
Thanks in the Amidah.
We need to understand why the apparently greater miracle of
the victory over thousands of Greek soldiers is not made more
prominent. Moreover, every single day of the year the Ner
Maarovi of the Menorah in the Temple burned
miraculously. All the other lamps burned for twelve hours
and, with the same amount of oil, the Ner maarovi
burned for twenty-four hours. There would thus also seem
to be greater novelty in the victory in battle than in the
From Hashem Alone
In order to answer these questions we shall first quote
Medrash Eichoh (4:15): "There were four kings. Each
had a different demand. They were Dovid, Yehoshofot, Asa and
Chizkiyohu. Dovid requested, `I shall pursue and catch my
enemies and I shall not return until I have destroyed them'
(Tehillim 18:38). Hakodosh Boruch Hu told him,
`I shall do so.' Thus the posuk says, `And Dovid smote
them from the evening until the end of the following night'
(Shmuel I 30:17) . . .
"Asa came and said, `I don't have the strength to kill them;
I shall pursue them and You do [the rest].' [Hakodosh
Boruch Hu] told him, `I shall do so,' as it says, `And
Asa pursued them . . . for they were broken before Hashem and
before His camp . . . ' (Divrei Hayomim II 14:12), not
`before Asa' but `before Hashem and . . . His camp.'
"Yehoshofot came and said, `I have strength neither to fight
not to pursue; I shall say shiroh and You do [the
rest].' Hakodosh Boruch Hu told him, `I shall do so,'
as it says, `And when they started singing and praising . . .
Hashem set ambushers . . . and they were smitten' (Divrei
Hayomim II 20:22).
"Chizkiyohu came and said, `I have neither strength to fight,
nor to pursue, nor to say shiroh; I shall sleep on my
bed and You do [the rest].' Hakodosh Boruch Hu told
him, `I shall do so,' as it says, `And it was on that night;
and an angel of Hashem went out and smote the camp of Assur .
. . ' (Melochim II 19:35)."
What is the explanation of the differences between these four
kings? The great mussar teachers explain this
medrash in the light of the posuk in parshas
Eikev (8:12-3). "Lest you eat and be sated . . . and your
cattle and flock increase and your gold and silver grow very
great . . . and your heart grow proud and you forget Hashem .
. . and you say in your heart, `My strength and the might of
my hand have gained me all this wealth.' "
Dovid Hamelech was a mighty warrior who had killed eight
hundred men at one time. This is the meaning of his prayer
(Tehillim 69:2-3), "Save me Hashem, for the waters
have reached danger point; I have sunk in the mud of the
depths . . . " Rashi explains that "the waters" refer to the
nations. [Because he relied solely upon Hashem to save him
from his foes, as this posuk shows] Dovid, in his
humility and faith was able to say, `I shall pursue and catch
my enemies,' without being at any risk of thinking that he
had his own strength and might to thank.
Asa was different. He said, "I don't have the strength to
kill," because he was worried that if he killed his enemies
himself, he might chas vesholom attribute the victory
to his own strength. He thus said, "I shall pursue them and
You do [the rest]."
Yehoshofot was concerned that if he even just pursued his
enemies, he would feel proud of his own strength. He thus
said, "I shall say shiroh and You do [the rest]."
Chizkiyohu was afraid that even if he said shiroh, he
would begin to think, "The power of my shiroh .
. . " so he said "I shall sleep on my bed and You do
Once, when I went to see the Brisker Rov zt'l, I asked
him about the posuk, "And you shall say, `My strength
and the might of my hand have gained me all this wealth.' "
In parshas Vo'eshchanan however, the posuk
(6:10) says, "Great and good cities that you did not build .
. . houses filled with every good thing that you did not
build . . . " How is it then possible to say, "My
strength and the might of my hand have gained me all
It is well known that the Brisker Rov was a man of very few
words. This time however, he spoke at length. He cited proofs
that it is possible to believe in one's own might in amassing
even things which one had no hand in building. One can
believe in "my might and my righteousness" [he said]. In
other words, a person can believe that he has merits that
make him deserving [of his gains]. This too is "My strength
and the might of my hand," chas vesholom [and it
explains Chizkiyohu's concern].
To return to our original question: We can now answer why the
miracle of the flask of oil was chosen for commemoration
rather than the military victory. Others could come and
attribute that success to human strength and prowess, for
after all, the Chashmono'im really were mighty
warriors. On the other hand, no human intervention whatsoever
was involved in the miracle of the oil. The Cohen
merely lit the lamps of the menorah which contained enough
oil for one day and they burned for eight days. Here it was
clear that was no other agency; it was pure, unadulterated
The Miracle of Nature
Another approach can be suggested, based on the famous
question asked by the Beis Yosef: Why are there eight
days of Chanukah, implying that the miracle lasted eight
days? The flask contained enough oil for one day, so the
miracle only took place on seven, not eight, days. The Alter
of Kelm zt'l answered that the extra day is to teach
us that oil's property of combustion, all the time and even
for one day, is itself a miracle. All natural phenomena are
miracles for, after all, they all come from the hand of
Hakodosh Boruch Hu.
This is the lesson conveyed by the Ramban at the end of
parshas Bo (13:16): "As a result of the major miracles
a person acknowledges the hidden miracles, which are the
foundation of the entire Torah. For a person has no portion
in the Torah of Moshe Rabbenu until he believes that all our
circumstances and experiences -- both collective and
individual -- are miracles, having no connection whatsoever
with the natural order and the way of the world . . . "
A certain talmid chochom who learned in Yeshivas
Ponovezh as a bochur, told me that he used to
accompany the Mashgiach, the gaon and
tzaddik, HaRav Yechezkel Levenstein ztvk'l.
Once they passed a garden where a sprinkler was watering the
vegetation. Apparently with the intention of imparting a
lesson, the Mashgiach asked his companion whether he
knew how the sprinkler worked, how it revolved etc. The
bochur replied that when the handle is opened a stream
of water is released and the nature of the water is that the
force of the ejected stream drives the sprinkler's head in
revolutions in the opposite direction.
The Mashgiach took exception to this answer and
responded, "No, no, there is no cause and effect. The Creator
makes it happen. There are no natural forces whatsoever in
operation" and he quoted the words of the Ramban, as above.
[Clearly, this lesson can only be conveyed through the
miracle of the oil.]
The Shechinoh is With Us
Another idea that can be mentioned in this connection is one
that I have discussed in parshas Behaalosecha. I shall
repeat it here briefly. In the course of its discussion of
Chanukah, the gemora (Shabbos 22) quotes the posuk
(Vayikro 24:3), "He shall arrange it [the menorah]
outside the curtain of the [Oron of] testimony . . .
The gemora asks, "Does He need its light? It is
however, testimony to all the world's inhabitants that the
Divine Presence rests upon Yisroel." The gemora then
asks which aspect of the menorah's lighting is the
testimony. Rav replies, "It is the ner maarovi, into
which he would put the same amount of oil as the other lamps,
yet [twelve hours after they had all gone out] he would light
from it and would finish with it."
Certainly this was miraculous! But besides this miracle,
there were ten others that took place regularly in the
Beis Hamikdosh (Ovos 5:5). Why is this particular one
cited as testimony to the resting of the Shechinoh
upon Klal Yisroel?
The ten miracles however, testified to the Shechinoh's
presence in the Beis Hamikdosh, for they only
pertained to things belonging there. The ner maarovi
showed that it rested upon Klal Yisroel!
This is illustrated by what happened after the inauguration
of the Mishkon. The Torah tells us that, "Moshe and
Aharon . . . came out and blessed the people" (Vayikro
9:23). Rashi tells us that the blessing was, "May the
pleasantness of Hashem rest upon you and may the work of our
hands be established for us . . . " (Tehillim 90:17).
Aharon's hands were imbued with such great holiness that a
miracle took place in a lamp that he lit. Had his hands had
less holiness -- had the Shechinoh not been resting
upon them -- the miracle of the ner maarovi would not
have taken place. This was why Moshe and Aharon blessed
Klal Yisroel with this particular blessing.
The miracle of the flask of oil thus shows us that all the
miraculous victories in battle only took place because the
Shechinoh rests upon Klal Yisroel; this was
revealed by the oil's burning for eight days.
Purpose of the Miracles
Another question I have is, if there was a miracle with the
flask of oil, why isn't it mentioned in the prayer of Al
hanisim? [After recounting that,] "You handed the mighty
over to the weak, the pure to the unclean, the wicked to the
righteous," all it says there is, "Your sons came to Your
sanctuary . . . and lit lamps in Your holy courtyards . . .
". No mention whatsoever is made of the oil's burning
miraculously for eight days.
The answer is that the whole purpose of the miraculous
victory was to acknowledge Hashem's greatness by coming into
the Mikdosh, lighting the Menorah and thanking
and praising Hashem's name.
The purpose of all miracles is so that we recognize Hashem's
greatness. This is why we conclude [Al hanisim] with,
"And You performed miracles and wonder for them and we shall
thank Your great name." If they wouldn't have "come to Your
sanctuary and lit lamps in Your holy courtyards," this would
have meant that they didn't realize the purpose of miracles
such as the victories in battle, namely, in order to praise
Hashem. There is thus no reason to mention the details of the
miracle of the oil. What is important is to stress the
purpose of all the miracles -- that they came to the
Mikdosh, lit lamps in purity and holiness and thanked
Hashem and praised Him.
Victory of Purity
The opening of Al hanisim, "In the days of
Mattisyohu," can be explained in the following way. The
miracle in Hashem's having "handed over the mighty to the
weak" and "the many to the few" is readily understood. The
Greeks were mighty warriors and they were defeated by the
Chashmono'im. There were also many thousands of them and just
a handful of Chashmono'im. What though, was the miracle in
Hashem's having handed "the impure to the pure"? Does being
impure lend more physical strength and make those who are
impure any more likely to win?
I remember from when I was a bochur, one time someone
came over to me smoking a cigarette on Shabbos, out of spite.
I protested, but he paid no attention until I beat him until
he threw the cigarette away. (Boruch Hashem, several
years later he came and admitted that as a result of that
incident, he eventually became a baal teshuvoh.)
To explain the miracle of the victory of the pure over the
impure, I suggested the following idea. The miracle of
victory would have been incomplete had Hashem merely handed
the mighty over to the weak and the many to the few. Even
after victory over the Greek army, there were many wicked
Jews who copied their culture. These Hellenists would have
come to Yerushalayim and set up a government there, similar
to today's Zionist governments R'l. Where would have
become of "thanking and praising Hashem's great name"? The
impure, who were handed over to the pure refers therefore, to
the wicked among the Jews, who submitted to the Chashmono'im,
who did come to the Mikdosh to light the
Menorah and to praise Hashem.
The miracle of the flask of pure oil therefore came to throw
all the other miracles into perspective, both the military
victory over the Greeks and the spiritual victory over the
Hellenists, as a result of which Yerushalayim and the
Mikdosh regained their full measure of holiness. [This
is why Al hanisim opens with the mention of
Mattisyohu Cohen Godol, the Chashmonoi, to stress that
it was the pure element in Klal Yisroel that emerged
victorious from the Greek persecutions.]
Celebrating Spiritual Rescue
According to this, we can understand why Chazal did not
institute any festive meal or other commemoration of our
miraculous deliverance from physical danger. As we have
shown, the fundamental miracle was the cleansing of the
Mikdosh from all impurities and the cleansing of the
botei medrash (the talmudei Torah and yeshivos)
from modernization, philosophy and haskoloh.
I heard the following comment from the gaon and
tzaddik HaRav Ben Tzion Yadler zt'l. The
Yerushalmi (Sanhedrin 10:2) says, "Why was King Achaz
so named? Because he supported the botei knessios and
botei medroshos. Achaz said, `If there are no kids,
there are no goats. If there is no flock, there is no
shepherd.' " Achaz reckoned that if there were no young
talmidim, there would eventually be no sages and no
prophets. If there were no prophets, there would be no
ruach hakodesh. In other words, Hakodosh Boruch
Hu would, as it were, cease to cause his Shechinoh
to rest upon Klal Yisroel. Apparently this means that
Achaz closed the doors to the botei medrash and did
not allow the talmidim to enter to learn Torah. HaRav
Yadler asked: In that case, he should have been named Soger,
meaning `Closer,' not Achaz, which denotes holding or
Achaz was not such a fool however, as to send guards to close
up the botei medrash. He understood that Klal
Yisroel would not stand for such a measure and would rise
up in rebellion and selflessly wage a holy campaign against
him. What did he do? He held onto the doors. He didn't close
the doors; he opened them up. He granted a stipend for
religious causes, for the renovation of the botei
medrash. He allocated large sums for this cause and sent
in a government inspector! And . . . a committee of inquiry,
whose conclusion was that they were unable to allocate funds
for pupils who had to sit in such cramped conditions, with
their backs bent, while they learn Torah. Therefore, the
supervisor must tutor them in sports, in football, baseball
and karate and all kinds of other games. This would ensure
the youngsters both a healthy body and a healthy soul. Sport
would have to become a daily feature. At first, for half an
hour a day, and then longer -- until there had been success
in "making them forget Your Torah." Let them concentrate all
their thoughts in their feet, while they play football and in
other kinds of haskoloh, R'l.
This is why King Chizkiyohu, who was Achaz' son, wanted to
increase purity in Klal Yisroel, instead of impurity,
and to repair what his father had spoiled. He wanted to
reinstate the traditional atmosphere and Klal
Yisroel's spirit of holiness.
This is why Chazal did not make any commemoration for our
physical salvation on Chanukah: In order to show that the
main miracle was the rescue of our souls. This is why we
mention, "and for the wars" at the beginning of Al
hanisim. This does not refer to a fight for physical
survival but a holy campaign to deliver "the evildoers into
the hands of those who are occupied with your Torah . . .
they purified Your mikdosh and lit lamps in Your holy
courts and enacted these eight days of Chanukah to thank and
to praise Your great name!" May we soon witness the
rebuilding of our House of holiness and glory, with the
arrival of Moshiach Tzidkeinu, omein seloh!