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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.
Today, Erev Yom Tov, we celebrated the upherin of our dear son, Yitzchak. In conjunction, my son Efrayim and I made a siyum on mishnayos seder Nezikin. Here are the thoughts I shared at the event:
At any of these “lifecycle” events, I like to try and share a perspective on chinuch and the challenges that are faced and what lies ahead, hopefully with some relevant connections to other events of the day. The last Mishnah in Horayos lays out the hierarchy of kedushah within klal Yisrael. A kohein takes precedence over a levi, a levi over a Yisrael, a Yisrael over a mamzeir, and so on. However, the very last statement of our seder declares that this is only when all else is equal. A mamzeir who is a talmid chacham takes precedence over even a kohein gadol who is bereft of Torah knowledge.
The lesson this mishnah is teaching is a very poignant one, not only in the framework of yiddishkeit, but with regards to society in general. In life, there will always be those are imbued with some degree of advantage over another – those who are blessed with yichus, or an exceptional memory or financial or other stature, and those who are not. But the opportunity is always there for anyone to strive and overcome and fulfill their full potential, or even greater. Certainly, in the land(s) of opportunity in which we live, if we take a long hard look, we see that this is true. But as this mishnah is teaching, in yiddishkeit it is always true.
In truth, this idea can be found within the themes of Sukkos, as well. The four species we shake daily are quite an eclectic mix. We have the esrog, a fruit whose inherent beauty is so apparent, the Torah chose to name it simply by that trait – hadar. The lulav might be slightly less glorious but still quite majestic when it hangs from a palm tree. The hadassim are smaller yet still bright green and pleasant. And finally, we have the aravos which don’t boast any impressive features. Nevertheless, these four species come together and each one is dependent on the other. Even the sukkah itself is an embodiment of this idea. The Torah could have commanded us to create the temporary roof out of beautiful greenery. However, the gemara )Sukkah 12a) teaches us from the pasuk that we are instructed to use the pesoles, the waste we would otherwise throw away. This waste “rises above,” so to speak and becomes the very essence of the mitzvah we perform for a full week.
This is certainly an important lesson we wish to pass on to our son, Yitzchak, as he takes that next step in becoming a man, beginning to learn about and do more and more mitzvos, as well as a valuable lesson to take into the chag of Sukkos.