Musings of an Orthodox Jew

Thoughts on Torah and the Jewish world today.

Chanukkah and Teshuvah

When speaking about Channukah, people seldom talk about it and its relationship to Teshuvah (repentance) and Kiruv (outreach to bring Jews back to Judaism).  To me, these seem to be central themes.  Think about it his way:  Why do the Jews revolt? Over taxes?  Over land appropriation?  How about over not having self-rule and living in an “occupied territory”?  No- these matters all are insufficient to drive them to rebel and risk their lives.  The Greeks were a vastly superior power- their army was massive, they ruled a huge empire at the time and were THE world power!  What does drive the Jews to finally rebel?  The order to place an idol in the Temple and sacrifice a pig to it.

In itself, this would be bad- but we also know that many Jews had been attracted to the Greek philosophy and its grounding in this world.  It was attractive, logical, and easily studied- it provided concrete benefits in the here and now in that you then fitted into the ruling culture, became one of them and could move freely and enjoy a better lifestyle.  The Chanukkah story is not just about the miltiary victory, but about a spiritual one as well.  An interesting thing to note is that when we say the insert of Al Hanissim in Birkat HaMazon, the miracle of the oil is not mentioned, but it mentions the great military victory.  What does this teach?  That we won the war because Hashem created a miracle for us; the miracle of the oil was to emphasise that and to make sure it would be understood as such and not to see it as a purely physical victory.

But how does this relate to Tesahuvah and Kiruv?  The oil gives us the clue to this:  a small vial of pure oil is found.  This relates to the fact that a small amount of pure Jews remained while the majority had become Hellenised.  It also has a deeper message- it relates to the holy spark, the soul that is always there no matter how deeply buried it is beneath the trapings of having taken on another religion or committing great misdeeds.  With the correct behaviour, that spark can burn far more than its size would indicate.  It can transcend the physical and become something much greater that elevates us into the realm of the holy.  Mystically, the number 7 is seen as representing completeness in this world, a melding of the spiritual and the physical.  The Shabbos completeing the creation and making it whole- but the number 8 is seen as transcending that, bringing this world beyond the mundane, into the wholly spiritual.  Thus the eight candles of the Channukiah are a symbol of this. 

What is that small vial of oil teaching us?  That no matter how far we have fallen, how deeply we have buried our inherent holiness, we can always recover.  We can always repent and then that small element of holiness, that small vial of oil, brings us closer to Hashem- and once we approach Hashem, he takes over, he sustains us and we can reach beyond the limits we perceive to truly elevate ourselves spiritually.

Where do we see a message of Kiruv? The Hasmoneans fought against the Greeks and the Hellenised Jews- but afterwards they reached out, brought those estranged Jews back intot the fold, brought them back into the mainstream of Bnei Yisrael. Some remained Hellenised and lost to Judaism, but the majority of them returned to Judaism. It is seen in another way- we light the Chanukkah candles because of the dictum of the sages that we must publicise the miracle; this, too is a reaching out to the estranged and saying, “Come back, return, realise what it is that Hashem does for his people.” As I have frequently quoted from Pirkei Avot “Kol Yisrael arazim zeh lah zeh, v’yesh l’kol Yisrael chelek b’olam haba” “All of Isreal is responsible one for another, and for all of Israel there is a place in the world to come.” So this Chanukkah, lets watch these candles burning with a guest, with someone who would not light candles for themselves- and hope that this simple action will ignote the pach shemen (small vial of oil) within to a great flame of Teshuvah.


December 15, 2009 - Posted by | Chagim, Torah | , , , , , , ,

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