Hanukah: The Power of the Precious Few

What was miraculous about the victory of Chanukah? Any child in kindergarten knows that the miracle was the shorthanded, weaker Jews defeating the numerous and powerful Greeks. Indeed, it is an historical fact that cannot be denied. But our teacher and rabbi, Rabbi Meir Kahane, z”tl, sought to delve a notch deeper into the miraculous victory of the few against the many, and by doing so, resolve a famous question regarding Chanukah.

The “Miracle Within The Miracle”
Rabbi Kahane would say: Remember, before the victory of the Macabees over the Greeks and hellenists took place, there was the actual war itself. When the Macabees went out to battle, they had no feasible chance of winning. Not only were the Jews fewer and weaker than the well-oiled Syrian Greek war machine, but amongst the Jews themselves, only a sparse few went out to battle under the command of Yehuda Macabee and his brothers. And so, to enable such an inconceivable victory to occur, there had to be, first of all, a few “crazies” who dared to rise up in arms against this invincible empire! Here, Rabbi Kahane would say that the essential miracle of Chanukah was not the war victory, but rather the very fact that a few Jews realized that “things just cannot go on this way”, arose, and with immense faith in the Almighty, declared war on the superpower of their day. For given the fact that they were able to miraculously overcome their awesome enemies, prior to that miracle they surely did not know that the Almighty would perform the miracle for them. Nevertheless, they went out. That in itself, the Rav would say, was an act of immense courage, “the miracle within the miracle.”

God Controls the Laws of Nature

But where does the “miracle of the oil” come into play? Let us ask the question differently: There is some confusion concerning the reason we celebrate Chanukah. Do we celebrate Chanukah to commemorate the oil that was sufficient for only one day, and continued to burn through eight days, or are we celebrating the war victory? It is clear that the essential miracle of Chanukah, its real central theme, is not the miracle of the oil. Indeed, the special Chanukah prayer, “Al Hanisim”, coined by the rabbis, does not even mention the miracle of the oil. The theme and heart of Chanukah is the concept mentioned in “Al Hanisim”, of “rabim b’yad m’atim”, “the many (“Syrian Greeks) who fell into the hands of the few (Jews).” And the very miracle of the oil represents that concept, i.e., the little oil able to “overcome” the many days and continue to burn. The miracle of the oil symbolizes how God controls the laws of nature: Just as oil sufficient for one day can burn for eight, if He wills it; so, too, are numbers irrelevant when Am Yisrael goes out to war. By the same token, just as we said that the miracle of the war victory was the very fact that Jews went out to battle in the first place, so, too, the oil symbolizes “the miracle within the miracle”. After all, in order for the meager quantity of oil to last for eight days, there had to be Jews who lit it in the first place – Jews who were not discouraged from the outset; Jews who did not say: why bother lighting the candles of the Temple if they are going to go out anyway…? No. You do your part, with the means available to you, and Hashem will do His part. “Open for me an opening like the point of a needle, and I will open for you gates like the gates of the sancturary.”

The Question of the “Bet Yosef”

Now we can ask the question posed by the Bet Yosef (Yosef Karo): There is a source which says that the length of the holiday of Chanukah is eight days because oil that was sufficient for only one day, lasted eight. The Bet Yosef asks: Why eight days? Since the oil was naturally sufficient in itself to burn for one day, the miracle was actually only in the additional seven days that it continued to burn. In reality, therefore, in order to commemorate the “miracle”, the rabbis should have established a holiday of seven days. Various and varied reasons are given. Rav Kahane says: Indeed, we celebrate eight days because the first day was a miracle as well. It commemorates the very fact that they dared to go out to battle! The very fact that they dared to “light the candle”. That’s also a miracle, “the miracle within the miracle”.

The Holiday of Our Times
Chanukah is not a childrens holiday of “dreidels” and donuts. It is a holiday that is meant to rekindle our trust in the Almighty, to reinforce the understanding that when Jews go out to battle in an obligatory war with faith in God, they come out victorious, even if they are the underdog.

Chanukah is the holiday for these days. Days when masses of Arabs arise against us, and Hashem stands at our side. But what happens when the official Jewish leadership from left to right is overcome with fear, crippled by lack of faith and thereby incapable of action? Then the torch is passed on to the few. It is passed unto those who are ready to cling onto Eretz Yisrael at any price. And then the day comes in which they are told by the non-believers: “If you are not ready to pull out, that’s your choice. But deal with the enemy by yourselves. Because we are afraid, we have no faith. You claim that you have faith?! Fine – let’s see what you can do.” And those precious few, inspired by a pristine faith in the Almighty, will arise to repel the enemy.

Those with Jewish vision foresee the Macabean war in our generation. In this war, at least at the outset, only a few will take part. Those Jews of rock-solid faith in the God of Israel, who sincerely believe that God is a loyal defender of His people Israel – they will be an example to the multitudes who will eventually follow. “In those days, at this time”.

Tzav: G-d Helps Those who Help Themselves

At the beginning of Parshat Tzav, it says (6:6): “A fire continually shall be kept burning upon the altar, it should not go out”. The Ramban comments, “it is a mitzvah for the Cohenim to maintain the fire.” On this simple mitzvah, where the Cohenim are commanded to light the fire themselves on the altar, there is a grand concept to be learned. For on the verse at the beginning of the Book of Vayikra, “And the sons of Aharon the priest shall put fire upon the altar”, Rashi says: “Even though the fire descended from Heaven, it is a mitzvah to bring (fire) from an ordinary (source).”

And the question which arises is: If the fire comes down from the Heavens and is on the altar anyway, why are the Cohenim commanded to put the fire there themselves; and if the Cohenim are commanded to bring the fire by themselves, why does G-d have to make a miracle where fire comes down from Heaven?

Here we hit upon a basic principle which applies to the Temple, and to all other facets of Judaism as well. Actually, the Temple is the most lofty of concepts. After all, it is the place where the Divine Presence rests. Consequently, it might be expected that the Holy Temple is a matter reserved exclusively for G-d to deal with. On the other hand, if this were so, why would there be a need for a tangible House of G-d on the ground in the first place? Clearly, the entire purpose of this special place is so that man will have a place to connect himself to the Almighty, to serve G-d, and atone for his sins. And so it might seem proper that all matters concerning the Temple should be brought about by the actions of man. How do we resolve these conflicting concepts?

The secret is in the above Rashi: “Even though the fire descended from Heaven, it is a mitzvah to bring (fire) from an ordinary (source).” The sages are coming to tell us that it is true that the fire comes from theHeavens, as should be expected from G-d’s abode. But since G-d intended the House to be for the purpose of man – so that man can connect his deeds to his Creator, He demands that we bring the fire by ourselves, despite the fact that He does not need it.

We see this same idea in the construction of the Tabernacle. After the preparation of the boards for the Tabernacle had been completed, G-d gave Moshe the mission of constructing the Tabernacle: “Moshe said before the Almighty: ‘How is it possible to erect it by means of man (because of the huge weight of the boards)?’ He (G-d) said to him: ‘Put your hand to it’. It appeared as though Moshe erected it, but (actually) it stood up and arose itself.” (Rashi, Shmot, 39:32) Not only did the physical weight prevent Moshe from lifting the boards, but so did the fact that it did not seem appropriate for mere flesh and blood to erect G-d’s House. But since the House was intended for us, G-d wants us to actively take part in it’s construction. This is the answer. G-d wants us to make the effort – that is, to pick up the boards – and then, and only then, will He send us Divine assistance. But without the maximal effort from man, there is no way G-d will do the work for us.

In this way we can understand the midrash which speaks of the final Temple “descending from the Heavens”. The intent here is not that the Temple will drop out of the sky and land “fully furnished”. This cannot be, if not for the reason alone that it is a positive commandment to build the Temple (Rambam, Hilchot Beit HaBichera), and G-d would not “steal” such a vital mitzvah from us. But clearly, the intention is that in spite of the fact that the Temple will come about as a result of man’s efforts, the Heavenly assistance will be so clearly seen that it will be as if it descended from the Heavens. Others explain this midrash by saying that the pace of the building will be accelerated in a miraculous fashion, something out of the ordinary. Still other “Achronim” like the “Tiferet Yisrael” and “Aruch Lenare” explain the midrash in a more figurative fashion, saying after we build the Temple as commanded, the Divine Presence will rest upon it, and this so to speak is the “House descending from the Heavens”.

In conclusion, the rule of us helping ourselves so that G-d will help usapplies to all situations. We must do, and not think that He will do our job for us. On the other hand, it is forbidden to be arrogant, and think that it is within our power to do it all. Rather we must always realize that when we do, it is the “Siata DeShmaya” (Heavenly assistance) which enables our actions to succeed.

Beshallach: Nachson and Hashem “Partners” in Miracle

The midrash relates how Nachson jumps into the stormy sea, and as the water reaches up to his neck, the sea splits. We learn here the general lesson that one must follow the path of “hishtadlut”, human effort. That is, even though G-d explicitly says to Moshe, “Hashem will fight for you and you shall remain silent”, G-d wants our “participation”.

This is the order of the world which G-d set down: despite the fact He is Omnipotent, He demands the “acts of man”. And while man cannot achieve anything without heavenly assistance, G-d demands from man that he strive as much as possible by nonmiraculous means. By doing so, man fulfills his role in this world.

Despite this fundamental principle, something is not clear regardingNachson’s act. We can understand the concept of “hishtadlut” when applied to one’s “parnasa” (livelihood), for example; that while Hashem “provides nourishment to all flesh”, man must still get up in the morning to go to work, for without this natural effort, there will be no “parnasa”. The same applies to the wars of Israel. Though Hashem fights for us, we must do everything that can be done by natural and nonmiraculous means to fight. In contrast, what did Nachson’s action contribute to the sea splitting? His act was not your typical type of hishtadlut! He basically plunged into ranging waters, an act which according to the laws of nature, does absolutely nothing to cause the sea to split! This is not natural human effort; it is more like illogical suicide! And nonetheless, this is what Hashem wanted, asHe says: “Speak to the children of Israel, that they should go forward (into the sea)!”

The explanation is that Nachson’s jumping into the sea symbolized whatHashem demanded from us at that moment: not only an act of “hishtadlut”, but also an act to express bitachon (trust) in G-d. This is certainly something we can understand today, in light of the events taking place and the tests which stand before us. More than once in this generation, we have stood before tests seemingly impossible to overcome. The Almighty has placed us in situations in which holding our ground and not surrendering appeared totally illogical, and even suicidal. Since our return to Zion, our great merit has been that we have withstood the tests, without saying: “Let us return to Egypt”; and without saying we must stop building Eretz Yisrael. And behold, in these very days, we have reached the critical stage, the moment of truth, where the argument countering the approach of faith and trust is: “We have no choice. If we don’t give up the territories which G-d gave us through the miracles of the 1967 war, we will be committing national suicide”, or “fulfilling the Torah commandment to hold onto the territories and expel the Arabs is dangerous”.

In essence, the Almighty has placed us in exactly the same situationwhich the Jews were in at the Sea of Suf. It is a situation of being between fire and fire. On one side, the Egyptian enslavers; on the other side, the sea. On one side, giving up land and leaving the Arabs here to stay means the liquidation of Israel; on the other side, holding onto the land and expelling the Arabs endangers us by bringing the world against us.

Here we need the lesson of Nachson Ben Aminadav. G-d isn’t going to split the sea unless someone jumps in first. While He doesn’t need Nachson in order to make the sea split, He does require that we do something to express our trust in Him – an act of faith proving we believe in G-d in difficult times too. So writes the Ohr HaChaiim: It does not depend on Me … speak to the children of Israel that they should strengthen themselves with faith with all their heart, and they should go forward in the sea before it splits, because due to their faith I will make a miracle … because faith and “bitachon” are great attributes, and they tip the scales for the good…”

The Ohr HaChaim continues to explain why a strong act of faith wasnecessary, since the Jews had just previously demonstrated lack of faith by their saying: “Let us alone so that we may serve Egypt”. Only after Nachson proved his trust in G-d, did G-d split the sea.

That’s it. Of course G-d can do it all by Himself, but He “needs” our active participation. He wants us to actively prove, through fulfillment of the “dangerous” mitzvot in the national sphere, that we trust in Him and believe that He is indeed capable of fulfilling His promises, and will not abandon us.

Without a doubt, many feel that holding our ground and not withdrawing is similar to jumping into raging waters. But precisely here is where the test lies – and we know that the sea will split! After all, our generation has witnessed unbelievable victories, against all odds! Only a blind man thinks that such success is due to our own strength. And so, when G-d demands from us difficult actions, and obligates to help us, we must believe Him! And if we wait for Him to do everything by Himself, we will pay a heavy price, G-d forbid. This is our test. The test of faith. Who said it was supposed to be an easy one?

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