THOUGHT FOR CHANUKAH 5780
BY RABBI CHAIM FACHLER
Chanukah and Purim are the only two “Festivals” that are celebrated without the restrictions associated with real Festivals such as Pesach and Rosh Hashana etc. We can drive, turn on the lights, use our smartphones, cook and bake, and basically do all the mundane activities we are used to on a regular day. Chanukah and Purim are definitely more “Chol” – regular weekdays – than “Kodesh” – sanctified days.
And yet, Purim and Chanukah are as different as chalk and cheese. Purim is one day. Chanukah is eight days. We don’t recite Hallel on Purim. We do on Chanukah. We read the Megila on Purim. We do not read the Book of Maccabees on Chanukah. On Purim we give gifts to friends and the poor. On Chanukah we light the Menorah. And finally, whereas on Purim we eat Hamantashen, on Chanukah we devour Doughnuts.
The one thing they do have in common is that on both occasions we recite Al Hanissim in the Amidah and in the Benching, with Purim enjoying a much shorter version.
To understand our Rabbi’s attitude to these two fun festivals, we need to analyse exactly what we are celebrating. Haman, like Amalek before him, and like Hitler more recently, wished to destroy the Jews. All of them. Not so the Greeks and their “converts” known as the Hellenists. They tried to deny the Jews their right to practice their religion, not dissimilar to Catholics in the time of the Inquisition and the Russians during the Soviet era.
In short, on Purim we celebrate a physical victory, while on Chanukah the miracle was not only a military one. The Greek culture which "worshipped" the physical beauty and power of the body was in direct conflict with the Jewish culture which then and now emphasised the spiritual good in a person and the knowledge acquired during a life of study. It is not for nothing that we are known as The People of the Book. Judah the Maccabee and his family were the Jewish heroes of the hour. (Which, by the way begs the question: who decided to call the Jewish sports clubs in Israel and around the world “Maccabi"?)
At the time of the Chanukah events, parallel to the conflict between Judaism and Hellenism, there raged a very deep and quasi-philosophical war within the Jewish people centred around one fundamental principle - the authority of the Oral Law. The Sadducees claimed that only the written Bible need be accepted, and that the Oral Law was added later by Jewish leaders throughout the ages and had no authority. The Pharasees held on to the original Jewish tradition that when Moshe received the Torah at Mount Sinai, it comprised of two parts - the Written Law and the Oral Law - and the two cannot be separated.
Initially, the Oral Law was meant to remain exactly that - oral. For centuries, it was forbidden to write it down, so as to ensure the continuity of education. Teacher to pupil: father to son: generation to generation. If everything was written down, it would lessen the need of personal communication. However, eventually our Rabbis saw that there was a danger of the Oral Law being forgotten, so they allowed it to be documented - hence the development of the Mishna followed by the Gemarra, otherwise known as the "Talmud" - which means both to learn and to teach.
Chanukah commemorates all these victories, which basically saved the Jewish people from extinction through military defeat, through the destruction of our culture, or through simple ignorance.
This is also why the symbol of Chanukah is the flame of the oil or candle. In the material world, you either have something or you don't. When you give something away, it no longer stays in your possession. Not so with knowledge and education. The more you teach, the more you understand. The more you give, the more you receive. When you light one candle from another, not only does the original candle stay alight, the flame even grows in strength as it gives light to the second candle.
Shabbat Shalom, Chodesh Tov and Chanukah Sameach,