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20 Kislev 5766 - December 21, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Opinion & Comment
Chanukah, the Miracle of Mesiras Nefesh

Compiled from the sichos of Morenu veRabbeinu HaRav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, shlita

According to the Maharam MiRottenburg (Tur; Orach Chaim, Simon 670), there is no obligation of mishteh vesimchah — of having a festive meal on Chanukah. The Bach, in order to explain the opinion of the Maharam, writes that the primary reason for the harsh decree against Klal Yisroel was because of hisrashlus be'avodoh, a laxity in our commitment to serve Hashem. Chazal therefore require us to celebrate Chanukah through hallel and hodo'oh — praise and gratitude.

Chanukah is a time for purity and pure ruchniyus. The festive celebrations that take place during Chanukah are optional and not obligatory. This is the halacha as found in the Shulchan Oruch. The Rema adds that if celebrations do take place during Chanukah, it is customary to sings songs of praise. By so doing, the festivity becomes a seudas mitzvah.

The Bach explains that since Klal Yisroel lost their interest and devotion to the avodoh in the Beis Hamikdosh, the avodoh and the Beis Hamikdosh were taken away from us by our foes. Only after Klal Yisroel was chozer beteshuvoh and gave their lives for the avodoh, did Hashem bring about their salvation through the Kohanim, those who actually did the avodoh in the Beis Hamikdosh. Hence, the miracle was made specifically through the lights of the Menorah — because the Kohanim were moser nefesh; they risked their lives to restore the avodoh in the Beis Hamikdosh.

This is why, according to the Maharam MiRottenburg, as the Bach writes in his conclusion, on Chanukah we are obligated "only in hallel and hodo'oh which is avodoh shebelev." When our hearts weakened, Hashem put our hearts to the test. When we passed the test, Chazal obliged our hearts to sing out in praise and gratitude. This is all ruchniyus.

When we slacked off in our commitment to avodoh — to ruchniyus — we had to reinforce our ruchniyus. Hence, very appropriately, we express our thanks through hallel and hodo'oh — through ruchniyus. Celebrations of eating and drinking are outside the spirit of the miracle of Chanukah.

The Bach includes in his explanation of the Maharam MiRottenburg a reference to the ner tomid and the lighting of the Menorah. Our foes deliberately set out to destroy specifically these mitzvos because they represent the eternity and purity of the avodoh. These are mitzvos of ruchniyus, and the miracle of Chanukah is a miracle of ruchniyus. Our celebration is thus a celebration of ruchniyus.

A nes ruchani is recalled and publicized with ruchniyus. A celebration embellished with food and drink— like Purim — would not be in harmony with the main lessons we learn from the nes of Chanukah. The whole point of Chanukah is to celebrate the victory of ruchniyus over gashmiyus. Thus, according to the Maharam MiRottenburg, the pleasures of food and drink are out of place.

An avodoh of hallel and hodo'oh is required. Our hearts must be moved by something ruchani, because our hearts must reach the proper madreigoh of gratitude and appreciation for the nes of Chanukah; the victory of ruchniyus over gashmiyus.


Quoting the Levush, the Mishnah Berurah (Orach Chaim 670, s.k. 5) adds some more details to the Bach's explanation: "If Klal Yisroel would have submitted to them; if they had allowed themselves to be conquered, to pay tribute and to accept the pagan faith of the Greeks — chas vesholom — they [the Greeks] would not have wanted anything else. However, HaKodosh Boruch Hu strengthened Klal Yisroel and they triumphed; therefore [the celebration of Chanukah] was established for only hallel and hodo'oh."

The Mishnah Berurah continues, saying that the Greeks wanted us to reject our faith. We refused to obey them and so Hashem helped us. Their plan failed and we were victorious. Therefore we are thankful to Hashem and we praise Him that He did not abandon us and that He allowed us to continue to serve Him. Our situation was so desperate, that mesiras nefesh was the only proper response.

Once we were willing to risk our lives, then Hashem came to our aid. As a result of our mesiras nefesh we were privileged to all the miracles that we mention in al Hanissim: the tremendous victory of the weak over the mighty, the few over the many, the tehorim over the temei'im, the tzaddikim over the reshoim, and the bnei Torah over the rebellious.

Hashem saved us because of our mesiras nefesh and because of mesiras nefesh we regained the avodoh. We regained the Beis Hamikdosh.

It was a miracle!

Can we really imagine the odds that we faced? Can we logically understand the extent of what had to take place?

There were many miracles. How could the weak defeat the mighty and the few triumph over the many? We were few, very few. We were outnumbered, outmatched, we had no allies — the odds were not just against us. Al pi derech hateva we were doomed — chas vesholom.

It was not just a problem that called for a solution, although many of us saw it that way: just submit, capitulate and eventually chas vesholom, assimilate. Those of us who saw the truth had to face huge invading armies, armies that were seasoned and fully equipped with the most advanced weaponry of the time. We stood up for Hashem and His honor. Hashem saved us.

Throughout our history there have been many battles and wars. Were we ever the most powerful? Did we ever have the upper hand? The Torah testifies, "Not because you are the most numerous of all nations did Hashem desire you and choose you; for you are the smallest of all nations" (Devorim 7:7).

We are always outnumbered. The lone lamb has always been surrounded by seventy wolves. Boruch Hashem, our Shepherd never sleeps, never slumbers. However great the odds were against us, Hashem comes to our rescue. True, it was a miracle, but what was so special about the nes of Chanukah? What was the miracle all about?

Chanukah was a time when Hashem did more than save us. True, the war was won, but the real miracle was not that we were alive. The real miracle was that we, because of our mesiras nefesh, were zoche to ruchniyus avodas Hashem. This is the nes of Chanukah.

Mesiras nefesh means to put aside all physical concerns and considerations. It is impossible to achieve and grow in avodas Hashem as long as we are predisposed to the body, to the guf. As long as we want to pamper the guf we cannot achieve ruchniyus. A desire for physical comfort is the antithesis of ruchniyus.

People are moser nefesh for all sorts of things. Mesiras nefesh means that we let nothing stand in our way of achieving our goal.

We find it very easy to be moser nefesh for physical goals. In contrast, when it comes to ruchniyus we find it very difficult to be moser nefesh. If we do not have a proper understanding of why we should be moser nefesh for ruchniyus, how can we ever expect to be moser nefesh and how can we ever expect to achieve ruchniyus?

This is why it is so very important to know and remember these words of Chazal: "This is the derech of Torah: Eat bread with salt and drink water in measure. Sleep on the ground and live a life of deprivation, and in Torah you shall toil. If you do this, you are fortunate, and it is good for you: you are fortunate in Olom Hazeh, and it is good for you in Olom Habo" (Ovos 6:4). Chazal are teaching us the truth about life and its purpose.

Chazal are teaching us the way we should lead our lives. Chazal are telling us what we should be moser nefesh for; and they are teaching us the splendid outcome of our efforts as long as we take their words and guidance to heart. The nes of Chanukah was a result of our willingness to be moser nefesh for avodoh, for ruchniyus. Hashem saved us because we were willing to risk our lives to serve Him. Chanukah was a renewal of our relationship with Hashem, and on Chanukah the best way of expressing this relationship is through hallel and hodo'oh.

Everything we achieved on Chanukah was through mesiras nefesh. During the miraculous time of Chanukah nothing stood in the way of our desire to renew our relationship with Hashem Yisborach.

Nothing should stand in our way of expressing our gratefulness and appreciation to Hashem, not even mishteh vesimchah. Our avodoh should be pure. It should be pure ruchniyus.

Chanukah is a time for mesiras nefesh not indulgence. Mesiras nefesh for avodas Hashem.

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