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Kislev 5759 - November, 1998 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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"And They Kindled Lights in the Courtyards of Your Holiness"

by Yisroel Spiegel

The miracle of Chanukah is composed of body and soul, matter and spirit. Part of the miracle deals with the victory of few against many in a physical war involving armies and troops, and the second part is a spiritual miracle, pure and clear, that materialized — was made possible — through the pure cruse of oil, the pure light that was kindled and burned for eight days.

It is an obvious, apparent miracle which would be symbolized for all succeeding generations by that pure, uncontaminated oil and the flame of lights which warms a Jew's heart and opens his eyes and mind to see, think, introspect.

The days of Chanukah are a response to one miracle which was clothed in a natural form, an actual battleclash to oust Greek rule, and to a second miracle which was altogether metaphysical and supernatural, the miracle of the finding of the pure cruse of oil which bore the seal of the Kohen Godol intact.

Many commentators delved into the significance of the combination, the association of these two miracles, and, as the gemora, ask, "Mai Chanukah? What is the essence of Chanukah?"

Why was it necessary to have a supernatural miracle to signify spiritual purity? Was the military miracle not sufficient, so profoundly captured in the Al Hanissim prayer: "You fought their cause; You avenged their vengeance; You transmitted the strong into the hands of the weak, the many in the hands of the few, the impure in the hands of the pure and the wicked in the hands of the righteous"?

Was this great turning point, of Jewry shaking off the wicked, foreign rule, not sufficient to state the point? After all, the foreign domination was political, military and also ideological, for the Greeks sought mainly to extinguish Jewish uniqueness by coercing the desecration of prime commandments, by abolishing the observance of Shabbos, circumcision and a declaration denying belief in a providential Creator. "Write for you upon the ram's horn: we have no portion in the G-d of Israel."

Was this miracle not sufficient — that a handful of zealots led by Matisyohu the Chashmonai and his sons rose up and led the people in rebellion, in war and then routed foreign rule, when the prime incentive, the supreme battle cry, was to fight the battle of Hashem, to overthrow the rule of religious suppression?

The enemy was bent upon destroying the very spirit and essence of Jewry, burning its soul, effacing its uniqueness. Was not the overt miracle of victory sufficient to express a victory of Hashem over the forces of evil and a renewal of Jewish sovereignty? The few overcame the many, the weak ousted the strong, the supremacy of the good over evil — those not learned in war defeated those whose essence is war through their religious zeal to defend the honor of Hashem and His Torah.

This war revealed the nonbelligerents as girded with strength and courage, capable of waging battle against their enemy and defeating them. Did this amazing victory fall so short as to require another miracle, a purely transcendent, supernatural miracle, wholly sanctified, ethereal and spiritual, a miracle completely removed from the necessary accompanying phenomena of war and bloodshed, like killing the enemy on a battlefield and the other gory but essential details which might engrave their impressions upon the soul and spirit of a man?


The War of the Chashmonaim began with a handful, a small minority of the people. The majority had already been swept up by Greek culture. The kulturkampf was led by the Jewish Hellenists who set the tone and gave the direction. They succeeded in making deep inroads among the people, who began pursuing the gods of beauty, of physical glory and self gratification. The masses rejected their heritage and abandoned Torah and mitzvos and became desensitized to their dependence upon Greek culture. They forgot their unique destiny as the Chosen People and desired to erase the demarcations between Jew and gentile.

The foreign rulers correctly divined that in order to impose a sure, complete supremacy it was necessary to uproot Jewish individuality and uniqueness, to eradicate that essence of growth that set it apart from other nations. For, while the Greeks were united by common territory and language, the Jewish people were built upon Torah, as stated at Mt. Sinai: "This day you have become a nation unto Hashem your G-d."

It was a systematic campaign, a battle not necessarily won by the might of the sword but through culture. Through a purported ideal of a willingness to improve the vanquished society, to enlighten it and bring progress, promote intellectualism, education and culture, equality of mankind and membership in the grand, global species of man in his improved society.

And they succeeded to a great degree! In declaring war, the Chashmonaim realized that they would have to physically oust the enemy from their borders, to thrust out their very presence. But the real war would not be over even after this was accomplished. The many Jews who had already been swept up with Greek culture, whose souls had already been polluted from their alien ideology, still had to be liberated and reclaimed. Those souls were still dominated by the enemy. And even if those masses realized the need to be liberated from the actual presence of foreign political and military rule, they may have been unable to grasp the importance of a spiritual release, of religious liberation.

Furthermore, because of their extensive dependency and moral addiction to atheistic ideas, the masses were incapable of grasping the tremendous impact of the military miracle in its so-physical and so-natural form, of troops, maneuvers, tactics, arms, military strategies and so on. They probably found all kinds of rational explanations for the victories, like fighting on home territory, clever planning and know- how with negligent preparation on the part of the enemy which had underestimated Jewish strength and so on.


Then along came the miracle of the cruse of oil. A purely spiritual, supernatural miracle which could not be rationally explained. The very finding of this uncontaminated cruse, after the Greeks had defiled everything, was a miracle, which combined with the unnatural fact of its lasting seven times longer than expected. This miracle found expression through the burning of the lights which not only symbolically, but actually, illuminate the eyes as well as the hearts of Israel.

Suddenly, everyone began to see not only the precious light of the Menora kindled in the Beis Hamikdosh, but also to see and realize the impact of the military miracle in this light. Now they were able to see the deeper significance of the victory of the few over the many, of the weak over the strong. This was not usual at all! It could not be dismissed with reasoning and explanations.

With the miracle of the oil, people realized that the former victory was indeed a great miracle, in the guise of a natural course of events. Hashem had been leading the Jewish forces in order to deliver the enemy in their hands. The victory, the liberation, was His.

"What is Chanukah?" We surely know what happened, the events that took place which this festival commemorates through eight days of thanksgiving and praise. The question asked is why did we need the second miracle of Chanukah, that of the oil? What does it come to teach us? The answer is: it came to open our eyes so we could see, to remove and counteract the cataract of culture-blindness that obscures one's spiritual vision from seeing his Father in Heaven. There is no value in physical liberation so long as the masses remain with the same ideological misconceptions as before, with the same adherence to Greek atheism and pursuit of physical beauty and so on.

In Jewish conception, a spiritual bondage is far worse than a physical one. In order to make the physical military victory all the more effective and obvious, it was necessary to have the spiritual miracle of the pure oil, the oil that illuminated the hearts of Israel to see and understand and to return to their lodestone of Torah and mitzvos.

"And afterwards, Your sons came . . . and cleansed Your temple and purified Your sanctuary and kindled lights in the courtyards of Your holiness . . . " for this was the supreme objective.


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