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Jewish World Review Dec. 5, 2007 / 25 Kislev 5768

Celebrating the miracle of the soul

By Grand Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rokeach


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A contemporary Chassdic master expounds


http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | The Talmud (Shabbos 21b) introduces the observance of Chanukah in this way:


What is Chanukah? The rabbis taught: "On the twenty-fifth of Kislev begins the eight days of Chanukah. During that period one may not eulogize the dead nor fast. For when the Greeks entered the Temple sanctuary, they defiled all the oils. And when the hand of Hasmonean kings became overpowering and vanquished them, they searched and found no oil other than one small flask that was still sealed with the signet of the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest. It contained just enough oil for one day. A miracle happened to this oil and they lit from it for eight days. The next year they instituted these days as a holiday, with the reciting of the Hallel prayer and others of thanks."

That is the text. Short. Precise. Matter of fact. But is there, in fact, a special, deeper lesson to be internalized from the Chanukah miracle? Not so much what happened, but how it happened? More specifically: Why, of the infinite ways in which He could perform a miracle, was oil burning for an extended time chosen by the Creator?

And one last question, originally posed by the Bais Yosef, the author of Judaism's constitution, the Shulchan Aruch: If the flask of oil under normal circumstances, would burn for a day anyway, then the Chanukah miracle was not eight days. It was seven. Why, then, do we celebrate for eight days?

Answering these questions will leave the reader with an understanding of not only how profound the Chanukah miracle was, but with a new understanding of what it means — and the responsibility one is given — in being Jewish.

SOUL SURVIVOR
There is a fundamental belief that was revealed by the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Chassidic movement: Every Jew possesses an inner spiritual essence that can't be tarnished by even the worst sin he commits. This inner spiritual point is so lofty and so holy that it cannot be contaminated. Even a Jew who discards everything "Jewish" retains this inner spiritual essence. This spiritual core is, and always will be, pure and holy. Indeed, it is to this, the Torah(Lev. 16:16) refers when it describes the Creator as He "who dwells with them in the midst of their uncleanliness."

Another version of this teaching is expressed by the Talmud (Sanhedrin 44a): "A Jew, even if he sinned, is still a Jew." In fact, when one hears of a person who has transgressed all the prohibitions of the Torah and yet is awakened by the desire to repent and return to Him, it is a desire for return that emanates from this inner spiritual point.

The Chassidic sage known as the "Yismach Yisroel" of Alexander, citing the Talmud, observes that the villains in the Chanukah story, the Greeks, were the epitome of secular wisdom. But much like certain forces in contemporary society, they sought to use their "wisdom" to first penetrate, and then defile, the spiritual. Indeed, the Midrash (Beraishis Rabbah 2:4), records that one of the first acts the Greeks forced upon Jewry was that they make a public declaration disassociating themselves from the G-d of Israel.

What the Greeks — with their clear understanding of the profound and deep connection of every Jew to the Creator — believed, was that if they could force the many Jews who embraced the Greek (secular) lifestyle to go a step further and make a formal declaration that they had no further connection to the Creator, they could eradicate even that innermost spiritual point at which every Jew's soul is linked to Him.

And only then, would their way of life prevail.

WHY THE GREEKS WERE DIFFERENT
Jewish history is full of cultures that have distanced Jews from practicing Judaism, from observing the Divine precepts (Mitzvas) and living a Torah lifestyle. But it was only Greek culture that actually sought to remove the inner spiritual core from each and every Jew. While other empires fought for military and political control, the Greek empire sought primarily to win intellectual and philosophical supremacy. The Greek conquest of the Holy Land did not merely defile the Holy Temple and other holy places, it defiled the soul of every Jew.

This is the spiritual contamination the Talmud refers to when it records: "The Greeks defiled all the oil in the Holy Temple, and when the House of the Hasomneans became over-powered and vanquished them, they searched and found only one small flask of oil with the seal of the High Priest."

Oil, as the Talmud tells us (Menachos 84b), is a metaphor for wisdom. And pure oil is the pure source of inner wisdom which is deep within each of us. The Greeks defiled all the oil in the Holy Temple — the minds of the Jews that were contaminated by Hellenistic ideas which deny the true spiritual nature of the world and which are far removed from Judaism.

After vanquishing the Greek army, the Hasmoneans immediately proceeded to "search" in the hearts and minds of the Jews, "searching" for the inner core of holiness in every person. They "searched," and everywhere they looked they found only the heathen ideas of the Greeks.

Until they found one small flask that still had the seal of the High Priest — one small reservoir inside each Jew which the Greeks had not succeeded in contaminating.

That the innermost spiritual point was still pure and untarnished was a miracle, since the Greeks had used skill and "wisdom" in their battle for that inner point. This is what is meant when we recited in the Chanukah prayer, Al Hanissim, that the miracle was the Creator "caused the strong to fall into the hands of the weak; the many into the hands of the few; the unclean into the hands of the pure; the wicked into the hands of the righteous; and the evil ones into the hands of the students of the Torah."

The late Belzer Rebbe, Yisachar Dov, ZT"L, asked: The defeat of a large army by a small force is truly against the laws of nature. The defeat of a powerful army by a weak force is also in contravention of the laws of nature. But in the physical world there is nothing miraculous about the defeat of the wicked or the unclean. The physical world does not consider purely spiritual factors as significant in a military confrontation. So why do we mention these spiritual factors as being miracles in the Al Hinissim prayer?

TWO MIRCACLES
As we now understand the Chanukah story, there were two miracles. One was the military triumph of the house of the Hasmoneans over the Greeks. The second miracle was the discovery that the inner spiritual core of each Jew was intact, and that the inner core of the soul was enough to initiate a spiritual rebirth and growth.

The impure content of the soul was delivered into the control of the pure and holy spiritual core of the soul. The evil part, was delivered into the hands of the inner spark of righteousness. And this inner spiritual core is so much smaller and superficially insignificant, that its ability to regenerate is truly miraculous.

This is also the reason why our sages instituted an eight day holiday of Chanukah — even though the miracle of the oil was only on the seven additional days beyond its natural duration.

The regeneration of the Jewish soul from its tiny innermost core is also a miracle worthy of establishing a Yom Tov (religious festival). An additional day has been added as a celebration of this miracle.

The Kabbalistic holy books speak of the seven primary Divine attributes: kindness, power, glory, eternity, splendor, foundation and kingdom. Each of these attributes has a parallel equivalent in the soul of every Jew. The light which emanated from the inner, pure spiritual core spread and regenerated the seven attributes. This is symbolized by the seven days of Chanukah, plus the added day.

LESSON IN A BOTTLE
Ma'oz Tzur, the poem of thanks we recite after lighting the Menorah, emphasizes this aspect of Chanukah. Uminosar kankanim naasah ness la'shoshanim... from the remnant of the bottles, a miracle was performed to the Jews (metaphorically called "the roses"). From the remnant unharmed deep within each person, inspiration spread to the entire being, restoring each Jew to spiritual completeness. The miracle was the change in the Jews turning them back into roses — sweet-scented flowers.

Interestingly, this is not the only place where sages employ the word kankan (literally a "bottle") as a metaphor for the soul of a Jew. The Mishna, in Ethics of our Fathers, (4:27) exhorts us to "not look at the bottle, but at its contents. Sometimes there is an old bottle full of fresh content, and sometimes a brand new bottle does not even have old content."

Our sages had a message for us: We should be careful not to judge other people by their outward appearance. When one sees a person who appears evil, one should not be deterred by this veneer. One should look at his "contents," and remember that he, too, has an inner spiritual core which is certainly untarnished by evil deeds, and seek to draw him back to his Jewish roots of goodness and holiness.

With this awareness of the powerful miracle of spiritual renewal that is such a vital part of Chanukah, we can understand the message of the Talmud's teaching (Shabbos 21b) that even the types of oil and wicks which cannot be used for lighting the Sabbath candelabra, are acceptable for use in the Menorah for Chanukah. The Chassidic work, Me'or Einayim explains: Even those souls who are so far removed from the Torah's teaching and practice that the light of the Sabbath cannot inspire them or draw them closer, can be touched by the light and inspiration of the Chanukah Menorah.

The essence of Chanukah is the celebration of the miraculous recovery of the Jewish soul from the Greek attack on its purity, and the regeneration of the Jewish soul from its innermost spiritual core. Therefore, it touches every person who sees the light of the Menorah at that inner place, the part of the soul which has never been contaminated.

From this we can learn that Chanukah presents each of us a unique opportunity to rise to a higher spiritual level. It is an opportunity to utilize the season of the greatest connection to the innermost core of our being, the point which is an unspoiled spark of the Divine.

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Grand Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rokeach, the Belzer Rebbe, resides in Jerusalem, where he heads an international Chassidic movement.


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