A Freilichin Chanuka! Chanuka Sameach! Happy Chanuka!
In whatever language one chooses to greet their fellow Jew during these waning days of Chanukah the common emphasis seems to be on wishing each other a happy and joyous one.
Ironically though, Chanukah has no obligations of joy as distinct from Purim and other holidays where there are very specific halachic requirements in how to rejoice on those days.
It is well known that there were three primary commandments that the Greeks legislated to abolish: Shabbos, Milah/Circumcision, and Chodesh/Sanctification of the Months(the maintaining a lunar calendar system by which the holidays accord).
Interestingly, there is a clear association between simcha, joy, and these three precepts specifically.
We say in our Shabbos prayers, ישמחו במלכותך שומרי שבת, They shall rejoice in Your kingship - those who observe the Sabbath...
The Talmud tells us that Milah is the paradigm mitzvah that was initially accepted with happiness that is still performed today with great joy. (שבת קל)
Our monthly encounter with the new moon and the reciting of the special blessing over it, is tantamount to greeting the Divine Presence itself and must be said with joy and dancing, equal to the joy in celebrating a wedding. (או"ח סי' תכו סעי' ב וברמ"א)
In fact if one takes the first letter of each of these three mitzvos: שבת, מילה, חודש, one discovers the word ֹשָמֵחַ, joy!
Yet in our celebration of this holiday there is no obligation to eat, dance or celebrate in any other physical manner. Where has the joy gone?
On the last day of Chanukah we will continue the daily reading from the Torah where it lists all the sacrifices and offerings that each of the twelve leaders of each tribe donated to the Tabernacle during its days of inauguration, concluding with the very next paragraph that goes on to describe how Aharon the Kohen was instructed to light the Menorah.
The placement of the portion highlighting Aharon’s lighting the Menorah directly after the lengthy description of the inaugural offerings is instructive.
The Midrash describes how after Aharon observed these magnificent and profound expressions of these leaders dedication to the Tabernacle, he experienced a חלישת הדעת, distress, over not having joined them in this dedication - neither he nor his tribe. He was subsequently pacified with the fact that his lot was greater than theirs in that he alone would merit preparing and kindling the Menorah.
Was Aharon possibly jealous of their initiative and achievement? Wasn’t it regarding Aharon, who when discovering that his younger brother Moshe would be appointed to lead the nation rather than he, that the Torah attests, ושמח בלבו, that he rejoiced wholeheartedly over his brother’s success, with nary a taint of jealousy or disappointment?
Even more intriguing is the fact that it was precisely on account of Aharon’s displaying a remarkable spirit of generosity over his brother’s good fortune that he merited to become the Kohen Gadol who would wear the Breastplate of Judgment, with the engraved names of each tribe, upon his heart. Yet here we have Aharon bemoaning his inferior stature.
Even G-d’s response that Aharon would merit to light the Menorah is perplexing, since there were many other activities that were exclusive to Aharon aside from the lighting of the Menorah.
In what way is the Menorah the antidote to his frustration?
Perhaps what bothered Aharon wasn’t his lost opportunity to participate in the inauguration. He was certainly happy for the leaders of the tribes who merited the greatness they achieved in their unique offerings. But he feared at this inauguration of the Tabernacle which represented G-d’s dwelling in our midst and the privilege to sense His Divine Presence here on earth, not only in the desert but for all of time, that it might be contingent on the elevated intentions and profound devotion that these holy leaders displayed and were privileged to experience. But what of the lesser statured, simple Oved Hashem, servant of G-d, who would pine for His closeness but was yet incapable of reaching the heights of spiritual achievement, how would he access the Shechina, the Divine Presence.
This was Aharon’s legacy, to carry the hopes and wishes of those who might still be tainted, to see the greatness within each one of them and prod them towards a closer relationship with G-d, despite their shortcomings. He wasn’t concerned with his own fate, he was worried for the people he so loved.
But where in this dedication was there an infusion of inspiration that would ignite those future souls in the course of the darkness of exile and the clouds of challenge in their lives?
The Ramban explains that it wasn’t with the lighting of the Menorah in the Tabernacle that Aharon was placated. Aharon was shown prophetically how his descendants, the Chashmonaim, during the future Greek exile would courageously stand up to their enemies, not succumbing to their evil decrees and succeeding in restoring the Temple. Not only would they experience a miraculous lighting of the Menorah and rededication of the Temple, the lighting of a Menorah would continue for all of time through the long subsequent exile until the times of the Moshiach and beyond, where we would light our Menorah in the privacy of our homes in fulfillment of the mitzva of Chanukah, bringing the Divine Light into our daily lives.
Is it that simple? Just light a few candles and get inspired?
The Greeks knew that the secret to Jewish survival is their uncanny ability to remain buoyant despite the crashing waves; to remain hopeful in the face of dark clouds; to rejoice even amidst darkness.
There are three vital tools one needs to maintain that equilibrium in life:
1-One must be willing to sacrifice one’s wants and desires for something greater.
2- It is critical to maintain a regimen one adheres to without deviation.
3- Spend time regularly contemplating the fortune of your existence, taking a break from the distractions that stifle meditative calmness.
Isn’t the first act we perform on a male child, circumcision, a testament to the notion of the need to reduce our physical selves so that we may attain a greater stature and joy in life?
The cycle of the moon and the planets which operate on a decreed schedule never altering their task, ששים ושמחים לעשות רצון קונם, they are joyous and glad to perform the will of their Owner...
(מתוך ברכת הלבנה)
Shabbos is a time when we reflect on our purpose; our privilege; our blessings, allowing ourselves to perceive our existence accurately, removed from the weekly grind of toil and competition.
The Greeks knew that if they could tempt us to indulge mindlessly in the pleasures of the world they could defeat us as a nation. They sought to eradicate that symbol of sacrifice, Milah; to remove that image of loyal and unswerving daily devotion and commitment that is embodied in the moon, Kiddush HaChodesh; to prevent us from healthy restorative mindfulness, the quiet contemplative celebration of Shabbos, devising new artificial distractions that would preoccupy our minds and souls, leaving us no time to think.
They targeted that inner joy that is unique to our belief and assures our perpetuity.
Aharon HaKohen epitomized these three sterling qualities. He readily relinquished leadership to make room for his illustrious brother. He is forever memorialized in those famous words ויעש כן אהרן, Aharon did so, as our Sages described it: שלא שינה, he did not deviate, maintaining consistency throughout his entire life. In face of the tragic deaths of his children the Torah records how וידם אהרן, and Aharon was silent, quietly and thoughtfully accepting the will of G-d.
And so the Baal HaTanya describes the Shabbos as an aspect of silence where man totally submits his existence before G-d. (תורה אור כי תשא בהוספות)
Aharon left us a prescription for the quiet joy that inspires us to new heights of closeness to G-d in our daily existence.
The Halacha calls for us to be willing to sell the shirt off our back to purchase oil and wicks to fulfill the mitzva of lighting Chanuka candles.
The Talmud says that one who is רגיל בנר, consistent with the lights of Chanuka will merit children who will be scholars in Torah.
There is a custom for women to refrain from work while the Chanukah candles remain lit as well. The great 17th century German rabbinic figure and posek, Rav Yair Bacharach, the Chavvat Yair, writes that one should gaze and rejoice in the flames of the Chanukah candles for a half of an hour.
These are the three keys to joy: Sacrifice, Consistency, Contemplation.
The depiction of Aharon as ‘rejoicing in his heart’ is the first recorded actual expression of the verb שמח, joy, in the Torah.
We recite at the end of Shacharis every day of Chanukah, Psalm 30, מזמור שיר חנוכת הבית לדוד, the song that was said at the dedication of the Temple. The first letters of the first four words of this prayer spell out שמחה, joy.
If one analyzes the verses within that Psalm there is no allusion to anything related to the Temple. It’s all about life’s challenges and our survival. It’s about constantly singing praises.
A psalm; a song of dedication of the House, of David.
I will exalt You, O Lord, for You have raised me up, and You have not allowed my enemies to rejoice over me.
O Lord, I have cried out to You, and You have healed me.
O Lord, You have brought my soul from the grave; You have revived me from my descent into the Pit.
Sing to the Lord, His pious ones, and give thanks to His holy name.
For His wrath lasts but a moment; life results from His favor; in the evening, weeping may tarry, but in the morning there is joyful singing.
And I said in my tranquility, “I will never falter.”
O Lord, with Your will, You set up my mountain to be might, You hid Your countenance and I became frightened.
To You, O Lord, I would call, and to the Lord I would supplicate.
“What gain is there in my blood, in my descent to the grave? Will dust thank You; will it recite Your truth?
Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me; O Lord, be my helper.”
You have turned my lament into dancing for me; You loosened my sackcloth and girded me with joy.
So that my soul will sing praises to You and not be silent. O Lord, my God, I will thank You forever.
At the end of the day, G-d dwells within each one of us. We just have to let Him in. On Chanukah we dedicate the Temple that stills stands today, our hearts. If we follow Aharon’s directives for a joyous life, we will ignite a flame within us that will continue to warm us way past the days of Chanukah!
א פרייליכען חנוכה,