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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.
Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi taught that every day a bas kol, a heavenly voice, emanates from Mount Chorev bemoaning the disgrace of the Torah by those who neglect to uphold its honor.
This ‘voice’ is an echo of the sound of the Shofar that resonated at the giving of the Torah, that the Torah asserts never ceased.
The Holy Baal Shem Tov taught that although it is not audible, its sound waves penetrate deeply into our hearts and is often that which silently prods us to change our ways and repent.
Is it that simple? Can the faint sound of this Shofar possibly manipulate us to choose wisely?
Many of us recite daily the portion of the Akeidah, the record of the remarkable devotion to G-d, where Avraham was ready to slaughter his beloved son Yitzchok, with his full compliance.
This event is an eternal merit for their descendants, and we recall this episode in our prayers on Rosh Hashana.
This very notion is integrated into the mitzvah of blowing the Shofar, by our utilizing a ram’s horn preferably, commemorating the ram that suddenly appeared before Avraham to replace the initial directive to slaughter Yitzchok, offering the ram in his stead.
Pirkei D’Rebbe Eliezer reveals that it was the left horn of this ram that was used to convey the ‘sound of the Shofar’ at Mount Sinai, while its right one was designated to herald in the future the coming of Moshiach.
Certainly the ‘Akeidah’ and its message of total submission of ‘self’ towards the will of G-d, is inspiring. But will that be enough to goad someone entrenched in sin to suddenly change?
What is about the symbolism of the ram that so arouses one to repent? Wouldn’t the ‘knife’ be a greater tool of emphasis to the level of devotion one must rise to?
Rabbi Yehuda Segal Rosner, the Av Beis Din of Szekelyhid makes an interesting observation.
It is intriguing why when discussing the bas kol that goes forth, it refers to the mountain as Chorev rather than Sinai, its more common title. Chorev refers to a dry unfertile and ‘desolate’ region.
In a fascinating parallel, there is a Midrash that describes how when Avraham approaches Mount Moriah, he first asks the ‘young men’ accompanying them what they see. They respond that all they see is a ‘barren’ mountain. When he asks Yitzchok the same question, he describes a beautiful and praiseworthy mount shrouded in a cloud.
The very first lesson as one approaches ‘mountains’ in their path in life, is to develop a healthy perspective. What for one person is a desert is to another an opportunity to ply its value.
A heavenly voice laments over those who refuse to ‘squint’ and see beyond the emptiness the great opportunities that awaits those with a positive outlook. Mount ‘Chorev’ is saddened by people’s misjudgment of its true character.
After the angel instructs Avraham to hold back his hand from slaughtering his son, Avraham observes a ram entangled in the thicket. Without even being directed he assumes this is to be brought in place of his son.
How did he have a right to conclude that? Maybe the Satan was once again attempting to misguide him?
The illustrious rabbinic figure, Rav Meir Shapiro, whose yahrtzeit was last week, when assuming the position as Rabbi of Lublin, was asked if had any detractors. He responded it was precisely because he had that he knew he was destined for that role. When things go easy it is often the machinations of the Satan in disguise.
He brought proof from this very question. Precisely because the ram was ‘stuck’ and he had to struggle to extract it, was clear evidence that the ram was destined for this purpose. If it was provided by the Satan as a lure to bring it instead — it would come easily.
Finally, this unexpected turnaround, replacing Yitzchok with a ram, and having it deemed as if Avraham had sacrificed his son, is one of the most vital notions in avodas Hashem.
Rav Zvi Hirsh Bonhardt, a leading Magid in Poland, the father of the renowned Rebbe, Reb Bunim of Peshichsa, offers a greatly encouraging idea.
We do not commemorate the ‘knife’ Avraham was willing to use despite the tremendous of allegiance we can derive from this but remember this event by the horn of the ram instead, because the Torah wants to convey that G-d does not want to ‘do us in’, but seeks our benefit and desires to keep us alive.
All He wants is our willingness to go the extra mile.
The Sfas Emes quotes his grandfather, the Chidushei HaRim, who explains the verse that tells us that ‘Torah is not in Heaven’ — but if it were we would create ladders to get there — ‘Rather, the matter is very near to you’, is coming to teach us that when we undertake an arduous task, eventually we come to realize how relatively easy we came to achieve it.
We derive this from the ram. What appeared to be beyond human ability to accomplish — slaughtering one’s own child — when undertaken, actualized in the bringing of the ram in his place.
The Midrash recalls a ‘brilliant’ insight from the ‘children of Jerusalem’ who when asked what route leads to the city, they would respond there are two, ‘a short one which is long’ and ‘a long one which is short’. What is so amazing about this response?
What they were conveying was that in life when one is ready to put oneself to the task whatever it takes without any shortcuts, will discover it was not really that difficult after all. But when one looks for all the shortcuts, it will inevitably be much longer route than he ever imagined.
Sound waves are not magic. But the very fabric of who we are and where we descend from, make us more susceptible to change, by pausing occasionally to consider how we can change.
If we only permit ourselves to realize that challenges are not impossible impasses but pathways to greatness, we can get the courage to change.
If we believe that difficulty is a sign of G-d beckoning us to His embrace, quietly whispering in our ear to ‘jump’ into His arms, we will gain the confidence we need to take the leap.
If we realize that our loving Father in Heaven just wants us to never fear the long route, we will discover the goal is much closer than we ever thought!
צבי יהודה טייכמאן