The old joke goes “They tried to kill us. We won. Now, let’s eat”. Chanuka is the exception to this and it is celebrated in a unique way. Unlike our other holidays where we are commanded to feast and partake of the physical in order to celebrate, Chanuka is celebrated with emphasis on the spiritual.
The Talmud tells us that the way we celebrate Chanuka is by saying הלל והודאה- “praise and thanks” which is interpreted in Halacha as saying הלל and inserting על הניסים in our prayers. The question begs itself- why should Chanuka be any different? The answer given is that the celebration has to match what was at stake to lose. Most holidays that we have are celebrating that fact that we were not destroyed and wiped out as a nation. The Greeks didn’t threaten us in a physical way- in fact they never even tried to destroy our temple- rather there attack was a spiritual one. An attack that was trying to kill our souls, therefore the celebration of Chanuka is of a spiritual nature.
Let us analyze exactly what their strategy and goal was in destroying our Neshamos so that we know exactly what it is that we are celebrating- and what Chanuka is all about. Chazal tell us a list of things that the Greeks forbade us to do. Amongst that list are some obvious ones that they would object to. Shabbos- is the day that we refrain from work to testify that we believe in a creator- that was very anti Greek. Bris Milah- the Maharal explains is a mitzvah which demonstrates our belief in this world not being just physical- but that the physical is there to be uplifted to spiritual heights. The number 8 always represents the supernatural. 7 represents the 7 sides or area of a box- its limited to the natural order of the world, while 8 is beyond physical limitations- that’s why a bris is performed on the 8th day.
The one thing that the Greeks forbade us to do which is puzzling is not to observe our new month- Rosh Chodesh. Why were the Greeks so opposed to this mitzvah?
There is a lot to say about Rosh Chodesh, but to sum it up, Rosh Chodesh is all about the idea that we can never stay the same. We have to always rejuvenate ourselves and keep our passion for what we do. Even though we may go through the same motions, our job is to keep the passion alive. This is what the moon teaches us. Unlike the sun that remains the same, the moon is constantly waxing and waning. The Greeks said, perform your Mitzvos if you will, but only go through the motions. Don’t be passionate about them as if there is something meaningful or spiritual behind them.
We say in our prayers that one of the goals the Greeks had- was להשכיחם תורתך- to make us forget the Torah. Asks R’ Yitzchak Hutner of blessed memory, how do you get someone to forget something? He answers, that one’s mind cannot grasp a concept and can only understand a piece of wisdom if it’s enjoyable. Perhaps, we can appreciate that the subject in school and in life that we were and are best at, are the ones we enjoy learning and being involved in. Without enjoyment the material does not go in or get processed internally. The Greeks tried to take away our enjoyment and our passion for learning Torah, which would stop us from learning it and eventually lead to its being forgotten.
With this R’ Hutner explains, why when we say our daily blessing on the Torah, we right afterwards request for the Torah to be sweet. This is something which we don’t find when we say a blessing on any other mitzvah- tzitzis, lulav etc. We simply say the bracha by most mitzvos and stop there. Says R’ Hutner, that unlike Tziztis, lulav or whatever the mitzvah may be- if I simply perform it I fulfill it. True it’s an added plus if I enjoy it, but it’s not essential to the performance of the mitzvah. Unlike learning Torah, without the enjoyment the mitvah simply cannot be fulfilled. Therefore we ask Hashem to allow us to fulfill the mitzvah by making is sweet for us. Its not by chance that right after we request for the Torah to be sweet for us- we ask –ונהיה אנחנו וצאצאינו...כלנו ודע שמך"”- we ask that our children should also follow in Torah- which teaches us that if we want others to follow in the ways of the Torah it first has to be sweet for us- then they will want to join you.
Hopefully, we can now appreciate what it is that we are celebrating on Chanuka- it’s the celebration of being able to serve Hashem with joy and passion.
Another question asked is, why was this holiday called Chanuka which means Chanu-Kah, they rested on the 25th? There was a miraculous war with the few weak Macabbees against the massive and mighty Greek army, couldn’t we make a name which represented the might and victory, like ‘we won on the 25’, as opposed to emphasizing that we rested?
The answer given is that we don’t take pride in the physical might of winning a war. All we cared about is that when the war was finally over, that we were able to rest and go back to do what we were passionate about- living with meaning. The victory is חנו-כה!
As Chanuka begins, it is human nature is to get very excited. And as the days go by we tend to light the menorah with less excitement each day. Rav Dessler writes that it should be the opposite. Each day one should be getting more excited as they light another candle- as mentioned before, that’s what we learn from Rosh Chodesh. We should never allow ourselves to get stale and act out of rote.
The gemara says that one fulfills the mitzvah of Chanuka if his light last until the רגל, literally the foot of the people leaves the marketplace. Rav Gedalia Schorr says homiletically that רגל can also mean doing things out of habit (רגיל). The point of the menorah is to be lit until we get rid of the רגילות , the rote monotony in our observing the Torah out of habit- rather than living with passion.
Let us all have a happy, healthy and growth filled Chanuka!