The gemora in Shabbos 21b asks: What is
When the Greeks entered the Beis Hamikdosh, they
defiled almost all the oil. All that could be found was one
cruse of oil, but a miracle happened and they were able to
light the Menorah from it for eight days.
Was the main focus of the miracle upon the oil or upon the
victory? We find that Al Hanissim only mentions the
latter. Why then, did the Sages commemorate the miracle of
the oil primarily, by lighting candles? They go on to explain
that many make a mistake about the significance of the
Many falsely attribute the military victory to the might and
prowess of the Jewish fighters and to their clever tactics,
thereby diminishing the miracle itself, whereas the miracle
of the oil was apparent for all to see. We must then, draw
the comparison and conclude that just as the miracle of the
oil was overt, no less was the military victory an open
miracle of "many in the hands of few" etc. If we admit the
one, we must admit the other as well.
Midrash Rabbah, Parshas Bereishis teaches: When the
Torah states, "And the earth was without form," it is
referring to the kingdom of Bovel. "And void," refers to the
exile of the Medes. "And darkness," refers to the exile of
the Greeks, who darkened the eyes of Israel through their
decrees when they said: "Inscribe for yourselves, upon the
horn of the ox, that you have no part in the G-d of
Further, it states that a river went forth from Eden from
where it separated into four: The Pishon refers to Bovel. The
second, the Gichon, represents Medea. Chidekel is Greece
which was sharp (chad) and lightweight (kal) in
its decrees. It used to say to Israel: "Inscribe for
yourselves . . ."
Later, in the Bris Bein Habesorim, the "triple calf"
represents Bovel, the triple goat stands for Medea and the
triple ram is Greece. The commentaries pointed out that in
Daniel (chapter 8) it states that the bird and the
goat mentioned there are the king of Greece. Later, at the
Bris Bein Habesorim it says that Hashem imposed a great, dark
dread. "Dread" denotes Bovel and darkness is Greece which
darkened the eyes of Israel with its decrees etc.
This entire excerpt needs an explanation. What is unique
about the Greek exile? What is the meaning of: "Inscribe for
yourselves upon the horn of the ox . . .?"
Midrash Tanchuma, Noach teaches: "`The people who walk
in darkness saw a great light.' This refers to Torah scholars
whose eyes Hashem illuminates to discern between what is
forbidden and what is permissible." However, the Oral Torah
is also referred to as `darkness,' with the same verse as
reference. The understanding is that from the great darkness,
from the obscurity — through great toil and effort in
Torah study — one is able to see the light. The hidden
light from the days of Creation is buried within the Oral
Torah, and those who delve within energetically and toil over
it are privy to discover it.
At Creation, there was darkness over the abyss and then
Hashem said: "`Let there be light,' and there was light."
This light originates in the Torah. The Midrash (Bereishis
Rabbah 3:4) asks: From what was this light created? It
tells that Hashem, as it were, cloaked Himself in this light
and illuminated the entire world with it. The basis of the
light [mentioned on the First Day] is the light of the Torah,
which is rooted in the Oral Torah.
In Gittin 60b it is written: Said R' Yochonon: Hashem
struck a covenant with Israel only for the sake of the Oral
Torah, as it is written, "For by these things did I make a
covenant with you and with Israel."
The brunt of the battle of Greece was aimed precisely against
the Oral Tradition of the Torah. (In fact, they even
translated the Written Torah into Greek.) This is why it says
that they obscured the eyes of Israel. "The eyes of Israel"
refers to the Sanhedrin, the High Court, which was the eyes
of the people. They were the primary custodians of the Oral
Torah in their day. The war which the Greeks fought was to
abolish the power of Jewish Sages and darken the "eyes of
Going back to the covenant between Hashem and Israel over the
Oral Torah, it appears that `covenant' is a cleaving, a
unification, where each side contributes something of itself
to the alliance. The power of Torah is different from any
science or branch of knowledge, since they remain external.
But when a person studies Torah, he absorbs it within himself
and becomes a veritable object of Torah. Torah shebe'al
peh becomes the essence of the person.
This concept is expanded upon in the Maharal's Be'er
Hagolah: One might ask why the covenant specifically
involves the Oral Torah? This is because any covenant
involves two sides which have some kind of essential link
between them. However the written Torah lies deposited in the
Ark and is not actually with a person, whereas the oral
tradition is not only with him but the person himself
actually becomes a Torah person (see the Maharal's further
explanation). And this is what was said previously.
The very power of the Sanhedrin and of Jewish sages, who are
the essence of the Oral Torah as the Rambam states, lies in
the fact that they are the personification of Torah; the
Torah is theirs. It is their very essence.
They were empowered to innovate and to determine the Torah
law. All of their amendments and decrees have Divine
authorization. Of them, was it said, "Both these and those
are the words of the living G-d." This is the light of Torah
which illuminates the entire world, whose inception and
foundation lie in the Divine utterance of "`Let there be
light' — and there was light." This was the light of
Creation which was later cached away and stored within the
It was this light which the Greeks sought to extinguish, even
though they, more than any other nation, were intellectuals,
lovers of the arts and sciences. But their knowledge is
wholly external and cerebral, not integrated into their
being, and not affecting them in any personal way. We see
that their physical behavior was purely indulgent, self-
serving, epicurean, steeped in the pleasures of this
Indeed, it was precisely because they were "enlightened" and
had wisdom that they were jealous of the Jews and their
scholars. They were able to realize that the Jews were the
true products of what they fervently believed in, homo
sapiens par excellence, through and through. They could
perceive that the Jews were baalei Torah, and
possessed of an inner wisdom that penetrated to their
essence, that is the true light. This light irritated them,
and therefore their aim was to abolish Torah, principally the
Oral Torah, and thereby, reduce the world back to darkness so
that they need not be ashamed of their moral decrepitude.
This was the purpose of their pronouncement, "Inscribe for
yourselves upon the horn of the ox that you have no portion
in the G-d of Israel." They cannot be said to have denied a
Creator; they even read the Written Torah which lay ensconced
in its Ark. But we don't want you to have a part of
the G-d of Israel. They did not want the Jews to be
intrinsically part of the Torah and of Hashem Himself, as it
were, and vice verse, that the Torah should be part of them.
For it is known that the Torah Sages adhere to Hashem, they
cleave unto Him and are, as it were, a part of Him. He is
their portion and they are His portion and the Torah leaders
have a tremendous impact upon the entire nation to likewise
cleave unto Hashem.
The Maharal further explains why they chose the symbol of the
ox — to recall the cheit ho'egel. It can be
added here that the underlying reason for that sin was, also,
not a negation of Hashem, but only of Moshe. "For the man,
Moshe — we know not what has become of him." The Jews
erred in denying Moshe who was the ish Elokim, closely
bound to Hashem and he was a very part of the Torah to the
degree that it is called Toras Moshe, or that the
Shechinah verily spoke through Moshe, as Hashem's
mouthpiece, as it were.
They sought to exchange Moshe Rabbenu for an intermediary of
their own choice, and they made the eigel. This is
complete severance, a nullification of the adherence to
Hashem. The nation selects its leaders and representatives
for itself. The Greeks said: "Inscribe upon the horn of the
ox," the golden heifer, "that you have no portion . . . "
Sever Hashem from His Torah, which is a very part and parcel
of Him and of the Jewish people.
The Chashmonaim, the kohanim which Hashem also chose
to be His portion and heritage, were likewise invested with
the power of the Torah and its heritage for all time. As it
is written, "They instruct Your judgments to Yaakov and Your
Torah to Israel." These very kohanim went forth to
fight the battle of Hashem. They laid down their very lives
to uphold the continuance of mitzvah-observance and the
authority of Torah in the midst of the people in its pure
form, all intact. They succeeded in reinstating the light of
the Torah which emanates from the original Divine dictum of
"Let there be light." This light succeeded in repulsing the
darkness of the Greeks and was victorious over them in
restoring the crown to its rightful place.
We are too limited and puny to fathom the hidden facets, the
inner workings of the Torah, but Chazal already said that the
Menorah and procedure of lighting it in the Beis Hamikdosh
incorporated the secret of the segulah power of
the Torah's light. The Menorah has the power to attract the
bountiful light which is emitted from Above and draw it to
the world below; this is the very light which is secreted
within the Torah.
The Rashbam writes in Parshas Emor a reason why the
portion about the Menorah was repeated there. It is to add
the aspect that it be "opposite the Table." The light of the
Menorah is designed to illuminate the Shulchan. This
principle should reflect itself in the Jew's daily life
— that the light of the Torah shed its light and
influence upon a person's table and upon all of his everyday
Therefore, during the war which the Greeks waged against the
light of the Torah, there was a necessity to bolster and
reinforce the power of Torah to be able to illuminate the
darkness. This is why the miracle of the oil which took place
in the Beis Hamikdosh occurred in purity and holiness,
with uncontaminated oil that still bore the seal of the
Kohen Godol. This served to strengthen the influence
of the light of the Torah in its purity throughout the
We can now also understand the matter of lighting candles on
Chanukah throughout the successive generations even though we
verbally only acknowledge and thank Hashem for the miracle of
the military victory against the Greeks. The Al
Hanissim prayer which was ordained by the Sages only
mentions the military victory of the righteous against the
wicked who sought to uproot the Torah etc. But the root of
the great impact of the light of the Torah and its victory
was empowered by the Menorah in the Mikdosh, which
symbolizes the Torah and its illumination. Therefore it, too,
was privy to a miracle. The mitzvah is to learn and know the
root of the matter and to publicize it at large.
We learn in Midrash Rabbah, Parshas Behaalosecha that
Aharon HaKohen was dismayed when he saw that he had no
portion in the sacrifices which all the tribal princes
brought at the dedication of the Mishkon. Hashem
appeased him, saying, "Your portion is greater than theirs,
for your candlelighting will continue for all generations."
The Ramban states there that even though the Beis
Hamikdosh was destroyed and the lighting of the candles
discontinued, still the commandment of lighting Chanukah
candles persists throughout the generations. In Zayis
Raanan, it includes the mitzvah on lighting Shabbos
This is because the power hidden in the Chanukah candles
incorporates the influence of the light of the Torah, just
like the candles of the Mikdosh and this too is the
influential power of the Shabbos candles. In maseches
Shabbos it states that whoever is careful with the
Shabbos lights will merit children who are Torah sages. This
is from the power of Torah [within them].
When Israel sinned with the golden calf, Moshe said, "Why
should You be wrathful with the nation You took out of Egypt
. . . " The medrash explains that Moshe Rabbenu's
argument was that in Egypt they served idols, and that is why
they made the eigel. This somewhat tempers their sin,
showing that when they left Egypt they were not completely
cleansed from their idolatry; the impression of avodoh
zora still lingering within them caused them to sin.
This is why Hashem said: "A pity I didn't continue pouring
out My wrath against Egypt and avenging Myself, for then the
tikkun would have been complete, and then the Jews
would not have erred in the eigel." This, however,
will be corrected with the coming of Moshiach.
Just as the miracle of Chanukah occurred in those days
through the self-sacrifice of the Chashmonaim, and through
the light of the Torah that emanated from the candles in the
Beis Hamikdosh, so too have Chazal determined that
this season in time is propitious for the intensifying of the
light over darkness.
By lighting the Chanukah candles, we draw upon us the light
of the Torah in great bounty to illuminate the darkness in
the hearts and to be successful in Torah study, in yiras
Shomayim, avodas Hashem and to have a portion in the G-d
of Israel and cleave unto Him all the more.