It is my pleasure this week to turn over this Q&A column to my dear friend Rabbi Zecharia Senter, shlit”a, with whom I enjoy many a Torah-filled conversation.
Rabbi Senter is the founder of KOF-K Kosher Supervision, one of the largest kosher certification agencies serving the Jewish community worldwide. He was a talmid of Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, zt”l, and received semicha from Yeshiva University’s Yeshivas Rabbenu Yitzchak Elchanan.
Three Chanukah Divrei Torah
By Rabbi Zecharia Senter
Why Eight Days?
The Beis Yosef asks: Why is Chanukah celebrated for eight days and not seven? There was enough oil to last for one full day. The miracle is really that it burned for another seven days. The holiday should, therefore, begin on the 26th day of Kislev, not the 25th.
Many answers have been offered. The Beis Yosef himself answers that on the first day, the entire cruse of oil was lit but only one eighth of it was consumed. Each consecutive day, an additional eighth was consumed. So every day another miracle took place.
Rav Aaron Soloveichik, zt”l, the Rav’s brother, gave another explanation. He said the first day of Chanukah saw not just one miracle, but three miracles! First, It was a tremendous miracle that a single cruse of oil escaped the Greeks’ efforts to defile everything in the Holy Temple.
Second, one would think that the Jews would have given up in despair after seeing all the damage done to the Beis HaMikdash. Everything had been plundered. Yet they had incredible trust in Hashem, and searched for pure oil with tenacity and willpower.
Third, b’chasdei Hashem, the Macabees actually found one untouched cruse of oil, which they proceeded to light.
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A Chanukah That Lasts
As there are no coincidences in the Torah, the beginning of one parshah must have some kind of connection to the end of the previous parshah.
Parshas Beha’alosecha opens with Aaron HaKohen fulfilling the mitzvah of lighting the menorah. The previous parshah, Naso, concludes with the Chanukas haMishkan in which the tribe of Levi had no part. What’s the connection?
Rashi cites a Midrash stating that when Aaron HaKohen saw that he, his family, and his entire tribe were excluded from the dedication, he became very depressed. Hashem comforted him with the response, “I swear, by your very life, that your reward is greater than that of the heads of the tribes. You are going to light the menorah.”
The Ramban asks: How is this a “consolation prize”? How does the privilege of lighting the menorah compensate for their exclusion from the glorious milestone in which every other tribe participated?
He answers that Hashem was alluding to a future dedication, a future Chanukah, when Aaron’s descendants, Yehuda HaMacabee and his brothers, would find a small, untouched cruse of oil in a desecrated Beis HaMikdash that would last for eight days. Hashem was comforting him by saying, “Aaron, there will be another dedication later in Jewish history – the menorah’s rededication performed by your righteous descendants, the Chashmona’im.”
Rav Yosef Ber Soloveitchik asks: How could the dedication, the Chanukah, of the Chashmona’im be greater than the original chanukas habayis during which Aaron HaKohen himself could have lit the menorah? Wasn’t this original dedication more significant?
He answers that the original lighting of the menorah was dependent on the Mishlan‘s existence. Not so the lighting of the menorah that took place in the time of Chanukah. That lighting is remembered and celebrated forever. When we commemorate this great event every year, its spirit, meaning, and inspiration live on in our hearts and minds.
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Why Did The Rambam Place Hilchos Purim First?
My wife’s grandfather, Rav Moshe Aaron Poleyeff, zt”l, a rosh yeshiva of Rabbenu Yitzchak Elchanan Theological Seminary for 46 years, passed away in 1966. Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik spoke at the end of his Shloshim, which took place shortly before Chanukah. At the hazkarah, Rav Soloveitchik shared the following insights about the laws of Chanukah as found in the Rambam’s Mishnah Torah.
The Rambam strangely lists the laws of Purim before those of Chanukah. One might think he does so because, historically, Purim took place before Chanukah. Throughout the rest of the Mishnah Torah, however, the holidays are arranged according to their sequence in the calendar. Why would the Rambam make an exception?
Rav Soloveitchik explained that Hilchos Purim comes first because Purim is what allows us to celebrate Chanukah. Mordechai and Esther pled with the leading chachamim of their generation to establish Purim as an official holiday. Never before in all of Jewish history had a holiday been established in addition to those in the Torah.
The rationale for their request was a kal va’chomer. Since Pesach, which commemorates our redemption from enslavement, is celebrated every year, shouldn’t our salvation from total annihilation be celebrated every year? Many opposed this idea, as indicated in the final verse of Megillas Esther: “v’ratzui l’rov echav” – Mordechai found favor with most – but not all – of his fellow Jews. Nevertheless, the majority ultimately accepted the proposal and Purim became a holiday.
The Mishneh Torah places Hilchos Chanukah after Hilchos Purim because, without the standard set by Purim to have a new non-biblical holiday instituted by our rabbinic leaders, there would be no license to create Chanukah.
Rav Soloveitchik asked another question on the Rambam’s Hilchos Chanukah: Why does the Rambam include the details of the Chanukah story? Nowhere else does he tell us why we celebrate a holiday (which makes sense since the Mishneh Torah is a work of halacha).
Rav Soloveitchik answered that the Rambam felt it necessary to explain why we celebrate Chanukah since such an explanation is not found anywhere in Tanach. For the yamim tovim, we have the Chumash; for Purim, we have Megillas Esther. But no sefer in Tanach discusses why we celebrate Purim. Thus, the Rambam includes this explanation in his Mishneh Torah.
May we all find greater appreciation in the joy and meaning behind Chanukah this year.