Neiros Chanukah: With Faith We Will Succeed

25 Kislev 5781 – Chanukah.  On the evening of 25 Kislev, corresponding to Thursday evening, December 10, we kindle the first Chanukah candles.  With the holiday of Chanukah, we commemorate and celebrate the victory of the small Maccabee army over the mighty Syrian-Greek forces, who ruled the Holy Land over 2,000 years ago, in the time of the Second Temple.

Under the battle cry of מי כמוך באלים ה״, Who is like You among the powerful, O Lord? (Shemos 15:11), the מכבים vanquished the aggressors, recaptured the Temple, restored sovereignty to the people in the Land, and reignited the Jewish flame amongst our people.  

In the Al Ha’Nissim/B’yimei Mattitsyahu prayer, which is added to our Amidah daily during Chanukah, as well as to our Birkas Ha’Mazon, we say: 

בִּימֵי מַתִּתְיָהוּ בֶּן יוֹחָנָן כֹּהֵן גָּדוֹל חַשׁמוֹנַאי וּבְנָיו כְּשֶׁעָמְדָה מַלְכוּת יָוָן הָרְשָׁעָה עַל עַמְּךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל לְהַשְׁכִּיחָם תּוֹרָתֶךָ וּלְהַעֲבִירָם מֵחֻקֵּי רְצוֹנֶךָIn the days of Mattisyahu son of Yochanan the high priest, the Hasmonean, and his sons, when the evil kingdom of Greece stood against Your people Israel in order to make them forget Your Torah and violate Your laws; וְאַתָּה בְּרַחֲמֶיךָ הָרַבִּים עָמַדְתָּ לָהֶם בְּעֵת צָרָתָם רַבְתָּ אֶת רִיבָם דַּנְתָּ אֶת דִּינָם נָקַמְתָּ אֶת נִקְמָתָםYou, in Your enormous mercy, stood up for them in their time of great need, upheld their cause, judged their case, and avenged their oppressors: מָסַרְתָּ גִּבּוֹרִים בְּיַד חַלָּשִׁים וְרַבִּים בְּיַד מְעַטִּים וּטְמֵאִים בְּיַד טְהוֹרִים וּרְשָׁעִים בְּיַד צַדִּיקִים וְזֵדִים בְּיַד עוֹסְקֵי תוֹרָתֶךָYou delivered the mighty into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the impure into the hands of the pure, the wicked into the hands of the righteous, and the wanton sinners into the hands of those who cling to your Torah; וּלְךָ עַשִׂיתָ שֵׁם גָּדוֹל וְקָדוֹשׁ בְּעוֹלָמֶךָ וּלְעַמְּךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל עָשִׂיתָ תְּשׁוּעָה גְדוֹלָה וּפֻרְקָן כְּהַיּוֹם הַזֶהAnd You made for Yourself a great and holy Name in Your world, and performed a great salvation and miracle for Your people Israel, as You do today; וְאַחַר כֵּן בָּאוּ בָנֶיךָ לִדְבִיר בֵּיתֶךָ וּפִנּוּ אֶת הֵיכָלֶךָ וְטִהֲרוּ אֶת מִקְדָּשֶׁךָ וְהִדְלִיק נֵרוֹת בְּחַצְרוֹת קָדְשֶׁךָ וְקָבְעוּ שְׁמוֹנַת יְמֵי חֲנֻכָּה אֵלּוּ לְהוֹדוֹת וּלְהַלֵל לְשִׁמְךָ הַגָּדוֹלAnd afterward, Your children came to the Holy of Holies in Your House, and they cleansed Your Palace and purified Your Temple and they kindled lights in the courtyard of Your Sanctuary and they established these eight days of Chanukah to give thanks and to praise Your Great Name.

How is it that a small band of Kohanim – not fighters by tradition or training – could lead a band of brothers, made up of the Jews of Judea, to battle, and emerge victorious over Antiochus’ great, mighty, well-trained, well-armed, and well-funded army?

In a drasha presented in December 1974, R’ Dr. Norman Lamm z’l, remarked: “To rely on G-d, to act with hope and confidence and emunah and bitahon, is the only sane and rational course.  With all prior attention to the exigencies of economics, arms, and politics, underneath all and before all else, the issue of success – or failure, G-d forbid – will hang on faith: faith in G-d, faith in Israel, faith in the justice of our cause, faith in ourselves, faith in our future.

“A recent issue of the Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv relates that there was an old Breslover Hasid in Jerusalem.  He came to Israel, then called Palestine, at the end of the 1920’s, when Russia forbade emigration and the British let no one into the Holy Land.  The late Rabbi Elimelech bar Shaul tells that he once asked this old Jew how he managed to cross the international borders at such a difficult time in order to get to Palestine.  The Hasid answered, ‘What kind of question is that?  I knew that a Jew must come to the Holy Land, and so I wanted to come, and so I came.’  ‘But what about the certificates (needed for immigration)?’ the rabbi asked the Hasid.

“‘Bah, that’s nothing.  I knew that if I wanted to come, that if I believed that I must come to Eretz Yisrael, then I will, with the help of G-d, reach it.  Indeed, I once stole across the border in Syria, but the British caught me and sent me back.’  ‘And after that did you get a certificate?’ asked the rabbi.  ‘No, not at all.  I knew that something must be wrong with my faith, that I did not believe with my whole heart, and that is why I did not succeed in stealing across the border.  So I sat in the beit midrash and I worked on my faith.  Again I tried, and again I was caught.  So again I returned to the beit midrash, to strengthen my faith and my trust.  I thought that if I believed with all my heart and all my might, that I desired with every bone in my body to reach Eretz Yisrael, that the Holy One would help me.  So I tried a third time, and then I believed as one must believe, and that is why I am here.’

“As we enter Hanukka we reaffirm our priorities,” notes R’ Dr. Lamm.  “First, we must strengthen our own emuna, our own faith and hope.  Secondly, we must dedicate all our efforts to save klal Yisrael and the State of Israel.  Afterwards, וְאַחַר כֵּן בָּאוּ בָנֶיךָ, we must make sure to rid ourselves of the desecration of contemporary Hellenism, of the flippancy to Torah and halakha, of the insinuation of assimilation and quasi-assimilation into our religious life.  Then we must clean the sanctuaries of Judaism, purify its temples, kindle lamps in its courtyards, and, with the light of G-d and Torah, illuminate the life of all Jews, and through them become ohr lagoyim, a light to all the nations” (Derashot Ledorot, Genesis, p.199-200).

It is true that by nature a small band of Kohanim could not win the war.  It is true that by nature, in a Temple utterly defiled, no flask of pure oil should be found.  It is true that Klal Yisrael should have been wiped out long ago by the aggressors who rose up against us in each and every generation.  From the physical threat of Haman and his ilk, to the spiritual threat of the Yevanim and their kind, the salvation and survival of our people is nothing short of a miracle.  So while by nature we should have long ago ceased to be, the Chanukah licht reminds us that our existence is not governed by nature.  It is governed by miracles and our faith in the RS”O.  

And with continued faith in G-d, and faith in ourselves, we will surely kindle our own flame as we commemorate the miracle of oh-so-long ago. ברוך אתה ה’ … שעשה נסים לאבותינו בימים ההם בזמן הזה.

בברכת חנוכה שמח ושבת שלום, 

Michal

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