LET THERE BE LIGHT
Rabbi Shlomo Freundlich
The festive days of Chanukah have been largely associated with gift giving, social gatherings, and dreidel playing. The reality is, however, that the essence of Chanukah is our renewal and rededication to Torah study and the performance of mitzvot.
The festive days of Chanukah have been largely associated with gift giving, social gatherings, and dreidel playing. The reality is, however, that the essence of Chanukah is our renewal and rededication to Torah study and the performance of mitzvot. In fact, the great Chassidic masters characterize Chanukah as the holiday of the Oral Law. Let us delve into this a bit deeper.
In Parshat Beha'alotcha, the Torah relates Aaron's compliance to perform the daily service of kindling the Tabernacle menorah by using the words "Vaya'as kain Aharon - And Aaron did so" (Numbers 8:3). Interestingly, the Zohar (the basic work of Kabbalah) observes that the phrase which confirmed the realization and physical expression of Hashem's "thoughts" during the week of creation, "Vayehi chain - And it was so," is found as an addendum to every one of G-d's creative acts except for the creation of light. Our sages explain that the intended primeval light had to be withdrawn by Hashem after being put in place, because its extraordinary spiritual glow would be incompatible with the spiritual confusion that the world would suffer through the deeds of the corrupt people. Since G-d's intended source of illumination had to be retrieved, the Torah does not record the confirming "Vayehi chain - And it was so" for the creation of light. Seemingly, the universe would have to settle for something inferior and less spiritually charged than originally intended. However, as we will see, the world would not be deprived of the magnificent spiritual surge that the original light provided.
The Zohar astoundingly reveals that the Torah's wording of "Vaya'as kain Aharon," describing Aaron's adherence to the mitzvah of lighting the menorah in the Tabernacle, refers not only to kindling the physical flame of the menorah, but actually replaces the lost "Vayehi chain" absent in the creation of light. Aaron's lighting of the menorah compensated for the loss of the marvelous spiritual glow that had been suspended during the week of creation. His lighting of the menorah ignited a flame that triggered a cosmic explosion that infused into creation a spiritual reservoir of clarity and understanding for those committing themselves to study and probe the depths of G-d's Torah. If Torah learning is critical to the existence of the Jewish people, then pouring oil into the menorah's lamp literally fueled our physical and spiritual welfare.
The destruction of the holy Temple and the loss of Aaron's menorah seemingly created a devastating vacuum that was to drain the Jewish people of their spiritual vitality. However, we find a tradition recorded in the writings of the Rokeach, a great medieval Torah scholar, that the 36 mitzvah candles (excluding the shamash) lit on the nights of Chanukah correspond to the wondrous light of creation that shined for 36 hours! The lighting of the Chanukah candles in each and every Jewish home, then, in a very real sense, reproduces the daily lighting of the Temple menorah with all of its implications for the Jewish people.
It stands to reason that Chanukah is the time to capitalize on this new-found rush of spiritual opportunity. One can literally receive a heightened dosage of spirituality if one commits himself to Torah growth during these special days of Chanukah. So, this Chanukah, let Torah study and punctilious mitzvah observance be the greatest gift we can give to ourselves and our families.
These thoughts were gleaned from Ohr Gedalyahu by Rabbi Gedaliah Schorr, a great Torah scholar of the past generation.
Rabbi Shlomo Freundlich, a teacher at the Yeshiva High School of Atlanta for over 13 years, is currently serving as the interim dean.
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