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During the Second Temple, the Greek empire reigned (over Israel),1 and they (the Greeks) passed decrees against the Jews and (tried) to erase their religion, and did not allow them to carry out Torah (study) or the commandments. They put their hands on their property and their daughters. They entered the Temple, destroyed and made the pure unclean. The Jews were in great distress because of them and were much oppressed, until the G-d of their fathers had mercy on them, delivering them from their hands and saving them. Then overcame, the sons of the Hasmonean High Priest, (the Greeks) and killed them and saved the Jews from their hands. They appointed a king from the Priests, and the kingdom of Israel was restored for more than 200 years until the destruction of (the) second (Temple). When the Jews overcame their enemies and destroyed them, it was the 25th of Kislev2 when they entered the Sanctuary (inner room) and did not find pure (olive) oil in the Temple, except one jar sealed with seal of the High Priest, and it did not contain enough to light except for one day only. But they lit from it the lamps of the Menorah3 for eight days, until they could crush olives and produce a (new quantity) of pure oil. For these reasons, decreed the Sages of that generation that these eight days that begin on the 25th Kislev, will be days of joy and praise. One lights on them lamps at evening at the entrance to the houses, every evening of the eight nights to show off and demonstrate the miracle. These days are called ''Hanukah'' that is to say ''they rested'' (chanu) on the ''25'' ('th of the month) because on the 25th they rested from their enemies. and also because of those days they (re)-dedicated the house (Temple) which their foes had defiled. Also some say that it is a commandment to increase slightly the festive meals on Hanukah. Another reason is because the work of (building) the Sanctuary (in the desert) was completed in these days. One should tell one's children the story of the miracles that were done for our fore-fathers in those days, (see Josephus) However, these meals are not considered as part of the commandment unless one says at the meal songs of praise. One should increase charity in these Hanukah days, for this can help mend any defects in our souls. This charity, should be given particularly to poor Torah scholars. (KSA 139:1)
1) 352 BCE until 70 CE
2) 139 BCE
3) The Menorah was made of gold and had seven branches.
Parshas Mishpatim teaches us a great deal of the Mitzvos needed for a functioning society. Included among them are many of the dinei mamanos (laws of money) as well as the Torah principle of an eye for an eye. There are however, a couple of prohibitions listed which seem either out of order or attached to a particularly harsh punishment. We are told that if a person strikes their parent, they are to be put to death. (21:15) In the next pasuk, we are told that the punishment for kidnapping is also death (21:16) Then, to complete the trifecta, the next pasuk comes back to a person who earns capital punishment for cursing their parent. (21:17) What is special about these seemingly non capital crimes that earn them the harshest of punishments? Why do we interrupt two prohibitions regarding children’s conduct towards their parents with one which involves kidnapping?
Understanding why cursing or striking ones parent earns the death penalty is actually made clear for us elsewhere in the Torah. At the end of Parshas Emor (24:15), we are instructed that someone who is M’kalel Hashem also earns the death penalty. Indeed, many Mepharshim understand the child/parent relationship to be akin to the connection between man and Hashem. In each case, if you could curse the persons or One who gave you life, then mida k’negged mida demands that you forfeit your life if you forget this tenet and act inconsistent with it, even for a moment. Some commentaries use this same rationale to explain why Kibud Av V’em (Honoring ones parents) is on the right side of the Aseres Hadibros – the side generally accepted to be the mitzvos Bein Adam L’makom. Respecting one’s parents is a matter between man and G-d.
This still leaves the question as to why we interrupt the two capital prohibitions involving one’s parents with the prohibition and punishment for kidnapping. The Ibn Ezra’s commentary may provide some guidance on this point. He points out that an integral element of the crime of kidnapping is that the kidnapper sold the victim. (21:16) The Ibn Ezra (in the name of R’ Saadia Gaon) opines that it is this element which demands capital punishment – for if someone is sold in their youth, they may grow up and marry a forbidden relative (parent, brother, sister, aunt etc.) out of ignorance to his genealogy. Heinous a crime as kidnapping is, it is this threat to the integrity of the Jewish family which demands capital punishment. With this understanding it becomes clear why the Torah interrupted the two prohibitions regarding ones parents with that of kidnapping – They both threaten the very foundation of Judaism, the family.
Without family, there is no Mesora. Without Mesora there is no Torah. Our ancestors experienced and witnessed the Exodous from Mitzrayim, the splitting of the sea and the giving of the Torah at Sinai. It is that bond with Hashem which has been passed down through a hundred generations. It is that bond with which we explain our survival as a people during this 2,000 year exile. Without family, without Mesora it all falls. All the Mitzvos are important and critical but the preservation of family may be the most important, as the vessel with which we transmit our Mesorah. When we think about how much time we devote to being devout