Wednesday, December 08, 2004


by Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Chanukah comes to warm our hearts. Menorahs with little dancing flames shine radiantly in the windows of Jewish homes, banishing the darkness and cold of winter. The tiny lights call out to all who observe them to stop and listen to their message.

In Parshas Behaalos’cha, a Medrash is cited by Rashi to explain the juxtaposition of two topics: the parsha that commands Aharon Hakohein to light the Menorah with the parsha of the Chanukas Ha’nesiim.

The Medrash explains that Aharon was upset that he had no share in the Chanukas Hamishkon as did the Nesiim. Hakadosh Boruch Hu told him that his share in the Mishkon would be greater than that of the Nesiim—shel’chah gedolah mi’Shelahem— for he would light the menorah.

The Ramban explains the Medrash differently. He says that the consolation to Aharon was not only that he would light the menorah every day, but that his act would live on for millennia. He was comforted with the Chanukah of the Menorah which would take place in the period of the Second Beis Hamikdosh through his grandchildren, the Chashmonaim. That zechus would last throughout centuries of exile, embodied in the lighting of the Chanukah menorah until this very day.

In other words, the menorah that we light today is part of the consolation to Aharon Hakohein for not participating in the Chanukas Hamishkon. Hakadosh Boruch Hu chose to console Aharon Hakohein in the days of the Mishkon by telling him that in 5765-2004, Chaim and Yankel would stand at their windows and take a little Telzer candle to light their menorah.

What an extraordinary feeling to know that we are perpetuating the legacy of Aharon Hakohein as we light our menorahs and sing Maoz Tzur and Ahl Hanisim. If we look deeply into the matter, we will discover profound lessons in that legacy for us.
The Gemorah in Shabbos (21b) asks Mai Chanukah – What is Chanukah? It goes on to describe one of the miracles that took place in the times of the Chashmonaim. The Gemorah states that following the victory over the Yevonim, only one small flask of pure and holy oil was found with the seal of the Kohein Gadol. Though it only contained enough oil to burn one night, miraculously it burned for eight days and nights.

It may be that the Gemorah is stressing that that the flask bore the seal of the Kohein Gadol even though his Hechsher was not mandatory for the oil. The seal of any kohein would have been acceptable. The Gemorah makes a point of telling us that it was sealed by the Kohein Gadol because that fact had a special significance.

That the first flask of oil to be used in the Bais Hamikdosh following the victory of the Chashmonaim was the one that carried the Kohain Gadol’s hechsher was in keeping with Hashem’s promise to Aharon Hakohein. It is also part and parcel of the essence of the Chanukah miracle.

The Gemorah relates that the Menorah should be lit at the door of the home facing the street, so as to advertise the miracle that transpired during the period of the Second Bais Hamikdosh.

The Gemorah then states that in times of danger, the Menorah should be lit inside. This is unusual, for in no other instance does the Gemorah instruct how to perform a Mitzva in times of danger. Why here by the Mitzva of Chanukah does the Gemorah, (and all the Poskim) say that in times of danger we should light inside? Would we then think that we are obligated to jeopardize our lives for the Mitzva of Chanukah which is only M’Drabanan?

The miracle of the Pach Shemen Tahor – the holy flask of oil— is commonly misunderstood. In fact, it would have been Halachacally permissible to light with oil that was found in the Bais Hamikdosh even if it were not certified as being tahor. It was the desire to perform the mitzvah of lighting the menorah with a Hidur that inspired the Chashmonaim to search until they found an unopened certified flask.

The Chashmonaim searched for a sealed, undefiled bottle because they were seeking to do the mitzva lifnim m’shuras hadin; they wanted to perform the mitzva in the loftiest, most sanctified way. To their great merit, they searched until they miraculously found such a jug.

The Gemorah recounts that this jug wasn’t just certified kosher with any Hechsher, it bore the stamp of the Kohein Gadol because this was the fulfillment of Hashem’s promise to Aharon: his offspring would endeavor to fulfill the commandments in the Bais Hamikdosh according to the highest standards. They wouldn’t try to get by with doing the mitzva just to be yotzei, they would seek the lifnim m’shuras hadin.

Thus, Aharon was consoled. He had wondered if it was possibly a lack of zeal in the performance of his priestly duties in the Mishkon which led to his non-participation in the Chanukah of the Mishkon.

To this he received the Divine response. “No, your performance is exemplary. I know that you are not one who seeks shortcuts. For I am aware that you will be the one who kindles and tends to the lights of the Menorah even though these duties don’t require that the Kohein Gadol perform them.”

Even though Aharon didn’t have to busy himself with cleaning out the oil and wicks from the previous night’s service, he was always the one who performed those tasks.
Hakadosh Boruch Hu told him further that this trait would be preserved through the line of succession down to the period of the Chashmonaim. Even though they could have used other oil, they held out tenaciously, not relying on the lenience of Tumah Hutrah B’Tzibur. Though exhausted from waging a war against forces more massive and powerful than them, the Chashmonaim did not rest until they were able to perform the Mitzva of lighting the Menorah in a way that would have done their forefather Aharon proud.

This is why the Gemorah states that the flask bore the seal of the Kohein Gadol, a descendant of the great Aharon Hakohein. It was part of Aharon’s consolation that in the centuries to come, Jews who perform the service of G-d wouldn’t seek the easy way out. It is also a sign that the Aharon’s rarified dedication endures through all the vicissitudes of history.

And perhaps that is why the Gemorah makes a point of saying that in times of danger we light the Menorah inside the house. Let no one think that when angry winds are blowing, and the mitzvah requires courage and sacrifice, we are exempt from lighting the Menorah. Even in times of danger we are commanded to honor the Pach Shemen Tahor – the holy flask of untainted oil. If we cannot prominently display it for all to see, our minimum obligation is to place it on the table for the benefit of ourselves and our children and family.

Let no one ever say that the times are difficult and we can therefore suspend the performance of mitzvos. We must always have that Pach Shemen Tahor on display for us to learn from.

That points to another aspect of the consolation granted to Aharon implicit in the Ramabam. Hashem told Aharon that Jews of all generations would derive great chizuk from the Menorah. Jews will point to the Menorah and say, “When you are dedicated to properly fulfilling G-d’s commandments, He performs miracles for you; spares you from your enemies and grants you the ability to perform His mitzvos.

Indeed, Shel’chah Gedolah M’Shelahem, Aharon Hakohein’s Mitzva is eternal. Every time Yisroel Meyer and Yanky and Moishe light their Menorah, wherever they are, they are proclaiming the eternal words of G-d. They are proclaiming that one must never compromise on matters of holiness. We never will be enveloped by the darkness of Galus. We will resist the corruption of Hellenism and its countless manifestations and variations throughout history.

The Gemorah (Shabbos 21b) states that one may light the Menorah “for as long as there are people in the marketplace.” As long as the Tarmudai are still about, the obligation to light the Menorah is in force. Rashi explains that the Tarmudai are people who sold twigs for light in the period of the Gemorah. They were the last to leave the streets for they waited there for everyone to go home, at which time some would then discover that they were short of fuel, and would rush out to purchase more twigs. Only after the Tarmudai were assured that everyone had sufficient fuel, would they go home.

The Gemorah may be telling us allegorically that as long as there are Jews in the secular world who seek the truth, even if they are misguided and seek it from strangers, we have an obligation to feature the Pach Shemen Tahor and proclaim its message and that of the Menorah to them. Though darkness has descended and it appears that there is no one to talk to, as long as there are people searching we have to leave the light on for them.

The Rambam ends off Hilchos Chanukah with the statement that “Gadol Shalom, peace is great, for the entire Torah was given to establish peace in the world, as it says, ‘deracheha darchei noam vechol nesivoseha shalom.’”

Perhaps that is also a reference to Aharon Hakohein who was the quintessential man of peace and outreach, “Oheiv shalom verodef shalom, oheiv as habriyos umekarvan leTorah.”

When we light the Menorah and follow the Divine commandments we must always be cognizant of that portion of Aharon’s legacy—that of pursuing peace. It is not enough to be bearers of the holy mantle and the untainted Pach; we can not let our obligations serve as an excuse to offend or harm others. Shalom must always be a foremost priority.

As we light the menorah and watch the little flames dance, let us take heed of the message the menorah is imparting. Let’s bear in mind that we are part of the consolation given by Hashem to Aharon Hakohein and therefore must attempt to perform the mitzva with the same kedusha and pure intentions he would have invested in it.

Let us pray that we will soon merit once again having Aharon kindle the great menorah in the Bais Hamikdosh, be’vias moshiach tzidkeinu, bimeheirah b’yomeinu. Amen.


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