The story of Chanukah is well known to all. The Greeks came
and defiled the Beis Hamikdosh and all its oils. The
Chashmonaim, after liberating the Beis Hamikdosh,
could find only one jug of oil fit for lighting. They lit
the Menorah with that one jug and miraculously, the
oil burned for eight days. The question has been asked: We
are taught that if a large proportion of Klal Yisroel
is impure, then the service of the Mikdosh can be
performed in an impure state, even with impure oil. Why,
then, was a miracle necessary? Even if there was no pure oil
to be found, the Chashmonaim could have kindled the
Menorah with impure oil, since all of Klal Yisroel
was impure at that time.
The twenty-fifth of Kislev was already a historic date in
Jewish history, even before the Chanukah story took place.
The Pesikta and Yalkut Shimoni explain that the
Mishkan built by Bnei Yisroel in the desert was
completed and ready for "chanukah" (inauguration) on
the twenty-fifth of Kislev. However, Moshe Rabbenu waited
until the first of Nisan to perform this ceremony. Hashem
said at that time: "I will compensate the twenty-fifth of
Kislev with the chanukah of the Chashmonaim."
This Midrash inspires a question: The twenty-fifth of
Kislev lost the inauguration of the whole Mishkan and
received in return only the purification of the altar. Is
this fair compensation?
To understand the answer to this question we must first delve
deeper into significance of the yom tov of
The Mesillas Yeshorim tells us that there are two
mistakes a person can make in the darkness of night: He can
fail to see what is in front of him, and he can confuse a
pillar with a person and a person with a pillar. Similarly,
the Ramchal continues, in the darkness and confusion of this
world, a person may fail to discern the pitfalls of the
reshoim, or worse, he can confuse bad ways with good
and vice versa.
Chazal taught us how to overcome this darkness. Talmidei
chachomim, who are filled with the light of Torah, can
guide us through the maze of life. The original light from
the very First Day of Creation is also a source of guidance
for us. When Hashem saw the wicked deeds of the reshoim
he hid away this light for the tzadikim at the
time that Moshiach comes. This light resembles the
light of Torah, of pure truth.
The purpose of the Beis Hamikdosh was to manifest this
light in the world. Chazal tell us that after the destruction
of the Beis Hamikdosh, the Greek philosopher Plato
found Yirmiyohu Hanovi sitting and crying over the
"Why does a wise man like you mourn stones?" asked Plato.
Yirmiyohu answered, "Tell me all the philosophical questions
that trouble you and I will answer them."
After answering all of Plato's difficulties, Yirmiyohu
explained that his wisdom came from these stones. How could
he not mourn over their destruction?
The Midrash explains that the windows in the Beis
Hamikdosh were narrow on the inside and wide on the
outside so that the light of the Menorah would radiate
out into the world. Indeed, the gemora calls the
Beis Hamikdosh "the light of the world."
The Netziv takes this idea further and contrasts the Aron
Hakodesh with the Menorah, the two sources of the
light of Torah which embodied the purpose of the Mikdosh. The
Aron Hakodesh, he explains, contained the Written
Torah, the luchos brought down by Moshe Rabbenu at
Sinai. The Menorah, however, represented the Oral
Torah, which is man's ability to innovate in issues of
halacha through chiddushim and pilpul.
The era of the second Beis Hamikdosh was a time when
yeshivos multiplied and the foundations for the Talmud were
laid in Klal Yisroel. This was the time of the miracle
of the Chanukah, when the power of the Menorah was
In this light, the Netziv understands the statement of Chazal
that a person who sees olive oil in a dream should expect to
see the light of Torah. The Greeks fought to extinguish this
light, as we are told in Bereishis Rabbah: "`Darkness'
refers to Greece, who darkened the eyes of Yisroel."
The Greeks at the time of Chanukah defiled all the oils of
the Mikdosh, effectively snuffing out the light of the
Menorah — the source of the light of Torah in
the world. They hoped that this would cause Klal Yisroel
to drift away from Hashem, as they demanded: "Write on
the horn of an ox that you have no connection with the G-d of
The Chashmonaim waged war with mesirus nefesh to
restore the purity of the Menorah and the Torah. Through this
they merited to purify Hashem's Sanctuary, and to rekindle
the light of the Menorah.
To comprehend the above questions, as well as the essence of
the light of Chanukah, we must understand the significance of
the twenty-fifth of Kislev as a time of light. The first
light of the universe was formed on the twenty-fifth of Elul,
the First Day of Creation. The Maharal writes that [in the
seasons of the year] from the twenty-fifth of Elul light and
darkness are equal. But from then on, light slowly fades from
the world and the darkness of night takes over. Until the
twenty-fifth of Kislev, which is the turning point. From then
on, light gradually grows stronger, until the twenty-fifth of
Adar, by which point light and darkness have evened out. From
Adar, the light continues to increase until it reaches its
peak brightness on the twenty-fifth of Tammuz and then
immediately begins to fade again until the twenty-fifth of
Elul, when the dark begins to dominate once more.
With this we can understand why the twenty-fifth of Kislev,
the date when the light begins to rise again, is the most
appropriate time for bringing light into the world. This
concept can be referred to as "beko'ach," the power
for light to increase, and "bepo'al," the actuality of
The Mishkan was composed of two elements: the physical
structure and spirit of the Mikdosh. The spiritual
element flowed from the sense of love and service expressed
by Klal Yisroel as they contributed to its building.
This spiritual essence was the beko'ach, the power of
the Beis Hamikdosh, and the physical structure was a
translation of that love into bepo'al, actuality.
Consequently, explains the Maharal, the Mishkan was
finished on the twenty-fifth of Kislev, when the light has
the ko'ach to increase. It was however only set up on
the first of Nisan when beko'ach meets bepo'al,
when the power of the light begins dominating and
advancing towards its peak.
We now understand why the Chanukah of the Chashmonaim was
fair compensation to the twenty-fifth of Kislev. The Greeks
left the physical structure of the second Beis Hamikdosh
intact, but the spirit was missing. The Chashmonaim,
through their acts of purity and love, restored the spiritual
essence. This was no mere purification of the Altar but an
inauguration of the light, of the spirit, of the entire
On Chanukah, it is customary to recite the thirtieth chapter
of Tehillim: "Mizmor shir chanukas habayis leDovid" (A
song for the inauguration of the Bayis by Dovid). We
know that Shlomo Hamelech built the Beis Hamikdosh.
Why then, did Dovid Hamelech sing the song of
Based on the above idea, we can understand the gemora
in Zevochim that says that Dovid put the
kedusha into the Beis Hamikdosh. The kedusha
is the spiritual element that dwells within the physical
walls, and Dovid inaugurated the spirit of the Beis
Hamikdosh. Therefore, his Chanukas Habayis was for
the essence of the Bayis. Chanukah is therefore the
appropriate time for reciting this chapter of
In light of all this, we can answer the question raised
initially regarding why the Chashmonaim did not use impure
oil in the Beis Hamikdosh. They could have done so in
theory, however the purpose of their battle was to return
purity to the Mikdosh. They sought the restoration of
the pure light of the Menorah which would radiate the
truth of Torah to the world. For this, they could not have
used impure oil.
The Ramchal writes that any time in history when a spiritual
light illuminates the world, such as a yom tov, at
that moment the light of the First Day of Creation comes
back. This is especially true of the light of Chanukah. This
explains why Chazal established it as a yom tov only a
year after the miracle. When they saw that the light of
yom tov illuminated the world on the date of Chanukah,
they established the holiday.
Every year, the light of the Menorah in the Beis Hamikdosh
and its radiance of Torah are revealed in the light of
our Chanukah Neiros. This is what the Chashmonaim
fought to preserve for us.
Let's not pass up this opportunity to put extra effort into
study of Torah, which is the essence and power of these
HaRav Tzvi Kushelevsky is rosh yeshiva, Heichal HaTorah