Miketz/Chanukah – Two Enlightening Thoughts on Chanukah

The Psiksa Rabasai diRav Kahana, a medrish by the Amora Rav Kahana, asks the famous question, why do we light candles on Chanukah, but answers with a not so famous answer: “For when the Chashmonaim, the sons of the Kohen Gadol were victorious over the Greek Kingdom, as it says, ‘and I will arouse your children, O Zion, upon your children, O Yavan; and I will make you as the sword of a mighty man’ (Zechariah 9:13), they then entered the Beis HaMikdash and found 7 (or 8 depending on the version) metal rods, set them up and lit inside them candles” (Parsha 2 Piska DiChanukah). (Click here for Hebrew text.)

The Zera Ephraim asks the obvious question on this medrish: “Why was the main miracle which the gemara mentions of finding only one jug of oil which would have lasted one day and it lasted 8 days, not mentioned? He answers, based on a Megilas Taanis, that to remember the miracle with the jug of oil lasting 8 days would have been enough to set up a holiday where you could not eulogize the dead at that time and to acknowledge the dedication of the alter. However, the lighting is in remembrance of what the Chashmonaim did back then of lighting the metal rods. This is also how Rav Yaakov Emden explained the Megilas Taanis.

The Zera Ephraim also says they knew that the rods which they lit did not come in contact with non-Jewish hands. This would have made them spiritually impure. So to remember that miracle it is befitting to enact a mitzvah of lighting candles on Chanukah.  He explains that finding the metal rods was miraculous because they were able to recognize that they were untouched and not even rattled by non-Jews.

He brings another reason why they were not spiritually unclean, for in fact they were metal rods plated with wood which according to the Rambam cannot become spiritually unclean.

Either way we find an incredible lesson! The fact they found these rods was not an unnatural miracle, rather it was more of a form of Divine Providence that they just happened to have found 7 rods which they were able to ascertain were untouched and not defiled, or were made in a way which could not be defiled and hence were able to fulfill the mitzvah of lighting the menorah in the Beis HaMikdash when the original Menorah was unusable. Does that really warrant a Rabbinic enactment of a mitzvah, one which has become one of the most famous mitzvahs in Judaism which all kinds of Jews, Torah observant and not as observant, try to adhere to each year even until today?

We learn from here how important it is to recognize and to show gratitude for even what seems to be the minor miracles Hashem does for us, those that do not seem supernatural at all but are obviously divinely inspired. Indeed, even those not so obviously divinely inspired should always be attuned to how Hashem is constantly helping us, and by lighting the Chanukah candles, which remind us of the 7 pure rods that were found in the Beis HaMikdash, should arouse us to be more attuned to the subtleties of Hashem’s Divine Providence over each and every one of us.

We can learn a second very important lesson from the last part of the Psiksa Rabasi DiRav Kahana. He asks why we read Hallel on Chanukah and answers with a quote from Tehillim: “And to Hashem who has enlightened us” (Tehillim 118:27). Rav Kahana then asks why we don’t say Hallel on Purim if in the Megilla it writes, “To destroy, kill, and cause to perish all the Jews” (Esther 3:13), and they were all saved? To this question he answers that we only read Hallel on the fall of a kingdom, but the Kingdom of Achashveirosh was still in power. That is why we don’t read Hallel on Purim but the Greek Empire was destroyed by Hashem so they started to give praise and thanksgiving to Hashem, and they said, “In the past we were slaves to Egypt and Greece and now we are servants of The Holy One Blessed Be He as it says ‘Give praise the servants of Hashem.’ (Tehillim 113:1).’” (Click here for continued Hebrew text.)
We have to put into context what was happening at the time. Granted the Jews were still governed by Achashveirosh, but it was a time of peace. The enemies were wiped out, Mordechai was viceroy, and in the next generation, Achashveirosh’s son Darius even sent the Jews to rebuild the Beis HaMikdash. What an incredible state the Jews were in, living in such peace and security; that isn’t deserving of Hallel?! On the flip side, the Jews might have won a major battle over the Greeks and were able to recapture the Beis HaMikdash and rededicate it but they were still fighting the war for some time before they eventually won. That was deserving of Hallel?

The answer is, yes! The Jews in the times of the Greeks felt freedom, freedom to praise Hashem, freedom to serve Hashem, freedom from the clutches of a foreign government which wanted to instruct them how to live. Even if they were not completely free of the threat yet, because they did not feel the yoke of government around their neck, rather they felt like they had been released from bondage like the slavery of Egypt, and could now worship Hashem undaunted, that was worthwhile to sing praises of Hallel to Hashem even if the war was not yet over. They could now feel and be solely servants of Hashem! This is why we say Hallel even today. But by Purim, granted they were living in peace and tranquility after the downfall of Haman, but they still had to answer to the ruling government, that doesn’t inspire euphoria to arouse singing Hallel to Hashem.

We see from here that freedom is better than peace.