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WINTER VACATION

by Yaacov Cohen    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

Chanukah is perhaps the most widely celebrated and well-known of all Jewish festivals. As it draws nearer, its approach can be felt almost everywhere we go. Yet, most people may not know where this festival received its name.

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Chanukah is perhaps the most widely celebrated and well-known of all Jewish festivals. As it draws nearer, its approach can be felt almost everywhere we go. Yet, most people may not know where this festival received its name.

The Ran, a classic 14th century Talmudic commentator, explains that the word Chanukah is actually a combination of the Hebrew word "chanu" which means "they rested," and the two letters "chav" and "heh," corresponding to the numbers 20 and 5 respectively. Read as one word, Chanukah means "they rested on the 25th." This refers to the final defeat of the Greeks by the Hasmoneans on the 25th day of the month of Kislev, the day that Chanukah begins.

The Maharsha, a 16th century commentator on the halachic and aggadic sections of the Babylonian Talmud, wonders how we commemorate the resting of the Jews on Chanukah. If Chanukah is truly a festival of rest, then we should be prohibited from the same types of activities that we are forbidden to partake in on other days of rest, namely Shabbat and other festivals. How is our resting on Chanukah different from the resting of Shabbat and other festivals like Passover and Sukkot?

In the beginning of this week's Torah portion, Rashi, the fundamental Torah commentator, quotes the Midrash which states that Jacob had asked Hashem to free him of all his hardships and troubles (which included having to work for 14 years for the right to marry Rachel, and being on the run from Esau), and allow him to live in tranquility. What exactly was Jacob asking for?

When Jacob was enroute to the house of his uncle Laban, he stopped for 14 years to study in the Yeshiva of Shem and Eiver. Our sages teach us that he did not go to bed during this time. He remained immersed in Torah study without any interruption. Is this what Jacob wanted to go back to? Is this tranquility? Would we call this taking a vacation from pressures and hardships? Apparently so. Jacob knew that the ultimate peace of mind that a person could have comes with total immersion in Torah study, without distraction. This is what he requested from Hashem.

The Greek's war against the Jews was not intended for our physical annihilation. Rather, it was targeted at our spirituality - more specifically, at our Torah itself. The Greeks wanted nothing more than to have us do away with the Torah and assimilate into their culture. On the 25th day of Kislev, the battle ended. The Jews emerged victorious, and were once again able to practice the mitzvot as they pleased, and study Torah without pressure or hardship as they had before. They truly rested on the 25th.

It is this peace of mind, that is found through engaging ourselves in Torah study, that we celebrate on Chanukah. It is not a festival to rest from prohibited labor, but rather it is a time to partake in the type of "vacation" that Jacob had asked for, and that the Maccabees won with their defeat of the Greeks. It is a time to study our holy Torah.

This newly-acquired freedom of being able to submerge ourselves into the depths of the Torah, and observe its laws is what we thank Hashem for in the prayer of Al Hanisim recited throughout Chanukah. Nowhere in this prayer do we mention the story of the jug of oil that miraculously lasted for eight nights on only one night's supply, which the Talmud explains was the reason why the rabbis decreed Chanukah as a formal festival. The prayer only describes and give thanks to Hashem for the war that we won against the Greeks. Perhaps this is because that victory was a personal victory for each one of us. Through the demise of the Greeks, the study of Torah was once again rekindled and was subsequently able to be studied by all of us today. This is truly a personal miracle that we all derive direct benefit from.

During Chanukah, let us feel this miracle by strengthening ourselves in perfecting our observance of mitzvot, and by putting more effort and time into Torah study. In this way, we might just have the best vacation ever.

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Yaacov Cohen, who hails from Atlanta, is studying in Yeshiva Toras Chaim in Miami Beach.

You are invited to read more Chanukah articles.

You are invited to read more Parshat Vayeishev articles.

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