The Meaning Behind the Miracles of Chanukah
Three kinds of intelligence [שֵּׂכֶל, seichel] are capable of illuminating the mind of man. The lowest level corresponds to what each and every one of us is capable of achieving on his own provided that he goes through a normal step by step learning process. Of course, it takes time to acquire this type of seichel. The second level, which is an aspect of ‘Divine influx’ [שֶׁפַע אֱלֹקִי, shefa Eloki], has no need of a step by step learning process; rather, it can come upon an individual suddenly. However, a person can only merit this seichel under certain conditions (see below). The highest level of seichel is difficult to speak of it because it is completely beyond man in this world, i.e. it is ‘transcendent’. Nevertheless, it corresponds to the ‘place’ from where all of the various unsolvable questions, paradoxes and conundrums come, such as the dilemma of how freewill can exist when Hashem knows everything, past, present and future.
It is taught in Sifra di’Tzniuta (Zohar ha-Kadosh, Terumah 178a): עַתִּיקָא טָמִיר וסָתִים זְעֵירָא דְּאַנְפִּין אִתְגַּלְיָיא ולָא אִתְגַּלְיָיא (Atika is hidden and sealed; Ze’ir Anpin is reveal and not revealed). What does this mean? The light of Atika (corresponding to keter in the world of Atzilut) is completely beyond human comprehension in Olam ha-Zeh. It will become comprehensible in Olam ha-Ba but only to those who merit it. On the other hand, the light of Ze’ir Anpin (corresponding to the six middot of chesed, gevurah, tiferet, netzach, hod and yesod), is both revealed and not revealed. This means that the light of Ze’ir Anpin, corresponding to the seichel known as shefa Eloki, is available even in Olam ha-Zeh, but only under certain conditions. If the conditions are not met, then the seichel Eloki is not revealed to the individual. Such a person may learn lots and lots of Torah, but if certain conditions are not met, then the light of Ze’ir Anpin will not be revealed to him. However, if those conditions are met (even if the individual is capable of learning only a limited amount of Torah), then the light of Ze’ir Anpin will be revealed to that individual. And what are those conditions? R’ Nachman of Breslov teaches (Likutei Moharan 21:2): אֲבָל לְהַגִּיעַ לִבְחִינַת שֶׁפַע אֱלֹקִי הַנַּ”ל אִי אֶפְשָׁר לָבוֹא לָזֶה אֶלָּא שֶׁיְּקַדֵּשׁ אֶת פִּיו וְחָטְמוֹ וְעֵינָיו וְאָזְנָיו וְהֵן הֵן מְאִירִין לוֹ שֶׁפַע אֱלֹקִי (However, it is impossible to arrive at this aspect of shefa Eloki unless he sanctifies his mouth, his nose, his eyes and his ears, for these [organs] shine the light of shefa Eloki upon him). And what do these organs correspond to? They correspond to the holy menorah of our face (L.M. 21:2): וְהֵן הֵן שִׁבְעַת הַנֵּרוֹת כִּי פֶּה וּתְרֵין נֻקְבָּא חֹטְמָא וּתְרֵין עַיְנִין וּתְרֵין אֻדְנִין הֵם בְּחִינַת שִׁבְעַת הַנֵּרוֹת וּמְנַרְתָּא דָּא רֵישָׁא הַיְנוּ הַמֹּחַ וּפְנֵי הַמְּנוֹרָה הַיְנוּ שֶׁפַע אֱלֹקִי (They are the seven candles, for the mouth, the two nostrils of the nose, the two eyes and the two ears are the aspect of the seven candles; and the menorah is the head, i.e. the moach [mind], and the ‘face of the menorah’ [see Bemidbar 8:2] is the shefa Eloki).
We hope to explore the meaning of this menorah in next week’s issue; however, herein we want to focus on the miracle of Chanukah itself.
Explaining the meaning of shefa Eloki or transcendent knowledge, otherwise known as מַקִּיפִים [makifim, surrounding light], R’ Nachman teaches (L.M. 21:4): שֶׁהַשֵּׂכֶל הַזֶּה הוּא גָּדוֹל עַד לִמְאֹד עַד שֶׁאֵין הַמֹּחַ יָכוֹל לְסָבְלוֹ וְאֵין נִכְנָס בַּמֹּחַ אֶלָּא הוּא מַקִּיף אֶת הָרֹאשׁ. כְּמוֹ שֶׁאָנוּ רוֹאִים כַּמָּה חָכְמוֹת עֲמֻקּוֹת שֶׁאֵין יְכֹלֶת בַּמֹּחַ הָאֱנוֹשִׁי לְהָבִין עַל בֻּרְיוֹ כְּמוֹ כַּמָּה וְכַמָּה מְבוּכוֹת שֶׁאָנוּ נְבוֹכִים בָּהֶם כְּמוֹ הַיְדִיעָה וְהַבְּחִירָה שֶׁאֵין מֹחַ שֶׁל אֱנוֹשִׁי יָכוֹל לְהָבִין אֶת הַיְדִיעָה הַזֹּאת (This seichel is so very great that the mind cannot bear it; it doesn’t enter the mind, but rather encircles [makif] the head. Likewise, we see that there are many profound wisdoms that the human mind cannot understand clearly, such as the many conundrums that perplex us, such as ‘foreknowledge and freewill’. The human mind is not able to understand this knowledge). Rav Natan Sternhartz, the talmid muvhak of R’ Nachman, elaborates in Likutei Halachot (Orach Chaim, Chanukah 5): וְכָל הַמְּבוּכוֹת וְהַקֻּשְׁיוֹת שֶׁל הַמְחַקְּרִים כֻּלָּם הֵם בַּשֵׂכֶל הַמַּקִּיף וּמֵחֲמַת שֶׁזֶּה הַשֵׂכֶל הוּא מַקִּיף עַל-כֵּן אִי אֶפְשָׁר לְהָבִין זֹאת (All of the conundrums and troubling questions of the philosophers, they all come from the makif [a surrounding external light, transcendent seichel], and because this seichel is transcendent, it is impossible to understand it).
As we saw from the Sifra di’Tzniuta, there are two broad categories of makifim or transcendent wisdom. The uppermost, most exalted forms are within Atika Kadisha and are completely beyond all human comprehension in Olam ha-Zeh. However, the lower forms which are within Ze’ir Anpin are accessible, even in Olam ha-Zeh, but only to those who sanctify the menorah of their face as we mentioned above. Either way, when man is left to his own devices in this world and doesn’t even attempt to sanctify himself, rather he constantly sullies his menorah and defiles it so that it appears as darkness and not as light, then all of these makifim are beyond his grasp. And yet, it is precisely ‘there’ that we find the answers to all of the profound questions that have perplexed man since the beginning of time.
Where do heresies come from? They come from man’s attempts to answer these perplexing questions. And without a doubt, the people who pursued these questions more than any other throughout the history of the world, making a veritable science (or even religion) out of such pursuits, were the ancient Greeks.
It was precisely these ‘Greek wisdoms’, these heretical ideas, that rose against the Jewish People and caused them to forget the holy Torah and to transgress it. Not only that, but as Rav Natan explains (O.C. Chanukah 5): שֶׁהִתְגַּבְּרוּ בְּאֶפִּיקוֹרְסִית הַחָכְמוֹת שֶׁלָּהֶם לְהַעֲבִיר דַּת תּוֹרָתֵנוּ הַקְּדוֹשָׁה, חַס וְשָׁלוֹם (The Greeks increased their heretical ideas in order to eradicate their [the Jewish People’s] holy Torah, G-d forbid). So, the assault against the Jewish People at that time wasn’t just a passive assault, the happenstance collision of two civilizations. No, it was a deliberate collision with malice aforethought.
How bad did things get? The Gemara states (Shabbat 21b): שֶׁכְּשֶׁנִּכְנְסוּ יְוָוֽנִים לַהֵיכָל טִמְּאוּ כׇּל הַשְּׁמָנִים שֶׁבַּהֵיכָל (When the Greeks entered the Temple, they defiled all of the oils that were in the Temple). What took place at the spiritual level that became reflected in these physical actions of defilement? Rav Natan writes about the meaning of the defiled oils (Chanukah 5): בְּחִינַת שֶׁמֶן מִשְׁחַת קֹדֶשׁ דְּהַיְנוּ הַדַּעַת וְהַשֵׂכֶל שֶׁטִּמְּאוּ כָּל הַשִּׂכְלִיּוּת עַל-יְדֵי חָכְמוֹת שֶׁלָּהֶם שֶׁהִשְׁלִיכוּ אֶפִּיקוֹרְסִית וְקֻשְׁיוֹת בְּתוֹךְ כָּל הַשִּׂכְלִיּוּת דִּקְדֻשָּׁה שֶׁהֵם בְּחִינַת שְׁמָנִים (They were an aspect of the holy anointing oil, i.e. the da’at and the seichel, i.e. all [true] intelligence, that they defiled through their wisdom by casting heresy and [pseudo-]questions into all of the holy intelligence, which are in the aspect of oils).
Do we see what happened? By paying attention to and learning Greek wisdom, the Jewish People got themselves so confused and mixed up that they no longer had any true seichel. Everything in their minds was polluted and defiled by Greek ideas.
But then an awesome miracle took place (Shabbat 21b): בָּדְקוּ וְלֹא מָצְאוּ אֶלָּא פַּךְ אֶחָד שֶׁל שֶׁמֶן שֶׁהָיָה מוּנָּח בְּחוֹתָמוֹ שֶׁל כֹּהֵן גָּדוֹל וְלֹא הָיָה בּוֹ אֶלָּא לְהַדְלִיק יוֹם אֶחָד נַעֲשָׂה בּוֹ נֵס וְהִדְלִיקוּ מִמֶּנּוּ שְׁמוֹנָה יָמִים (They checked [searched thoroughly] and found one flask of oil that had been left with the Kohen Gadol’s seal [still intact], and it only had enough oil to light [the menorah] for one day, a miracle was done with it, and they lit from it for eight days). As a result, Chazal established that this event be commemorated yearly from then on (Shabbat 21b): לְשָׁנָה אַחֶרֶת קְבָעוּם וַעֲשָׂאוּם יָמִים טוֹבִים בְּהַלֵּל וְהוֹדָאָה (The next year, they established and made them festival days with Hallel and giving of thanks). Now, Hashem had done many miracles for the Jewish People over the years back then (just read the Scriptures!), but rarely, if ever, did Chazal turned any of those into a yearly commemoration. So what did they see in this miracle that caused it to stand apart from all of the other miracles Hashem did for us? After all, in some respects, having oil last for eight days when, by nature, it should have lasted only one day, is not such a huge miracle.
The truth is that, in some respects, the fact that they found one flask of sealed oil was an even greater miracle. On the spiritual level, the finding of this flask meant two things.
First, it meant that they realized that all of the ‘deep’ philosophical questions that the Greeks took such pride in posing and attempting to answer, which defiled the holy oil of the Jewish intellect, were coming from a transcendent place, from the makif that was essentially inaccessible anyway. The actual source of their philosophical conundrums was sealed, as we learned above from the Sifra di’Tzniuta: עַתִּיקָא טָמִיר וסָתִים (Atika is hidden and sealed). Therefore, there was nothing to these questions. Rather, the Jews saw them for what they really were, sleight of hand, sophistry, i.e. fallacious arguments created with the intent to deceive. Once they realized this, the questions lost their deceiving power, for once someone realizes that he’s been played for a fool and the truth comes out, the deceiver has lost his power and he merely dissolves away. As Rav Natan explains there: הַיְנוּ שֶׁמָּצְאוּ וְהִשִׂיגוּ שֶׁכָּל הַכְּפִירוֹת נִמְשָׁכִין עַל-יְדֵי שֶׁיֵּשׁ שֵׂכֶל עֶלְיוֹן בְּחִינַת מַקִּיף שֶׁאִי אֶפְשָׁר לְהַשִׂיגוֹ שֶׁמִּשָּׁם נִמְשָׁךְ כָּל הַקֻּשְׁיוֹת שֶׁלָּהֶם וּכְשֶׁמָּצְאוּ וְהִשִׂיגוּ זֹאת זֶה הָיָה הַנֵּס נֶגֶד מַלְכוּת יָוָן הָרְשָׁעָה דְּהַיְנוּ נֶגֶד חָכְמוֹת יָוָן כִּי הִשִׂיגוּ שֶׁהַקֻּשְׁיוֹת אֵינָם כְּלוּם רַק שֶׁהֵם בַּשֵׂכֶל הַמַּקִּיף (That is, when they ‘found’ and realized that all heresies are drawn down from the Supernal Seichel, which corresponds to the transcendent [i.e. to the unknowable], and that it is impossible to perceive [now], that from ‘there’ come all of their questions, and when they ‘found’ and realized this, this was the miracle to counter the wicked Greek Kingdom, i.e. to counter Greek wisdoms, for they realized that all of the questions are nothing, rather they come from the transcendent seichel [and thus, are by definition, unknowable]).
Second, as the Chashmonaim leadership were from the holy kehunah, the more they taught teshuvah to the people at large, the more the Jewish People once again had access to the true makifim from Ze’ir Anpin which would reignite their own seichel and restore the holy Torah to its proper place.
Now we will be able to understand the miracle of the seven days mentioned in Shabbat 21b. Referencing a time in the future after the complete revelation of Mashiach, the prophet writes (Zecharyah 14:7): וְהָיָה יוֹם־אֶחָד הוּא יִוָּדַע לַייָ לֹא־יוֹם וְלֹא־לָיְלָה וְהָיָה לְעֵת־עֶרֶב יִהְיֶה־אוֹר (And it will be ‘one day’ known to Hashem, not a day and a night, and at evening time, it will be light). What is this ‘one day’ known to Hashem? It is the day when transcendental wisdom, the true seichel from Atika Kadisha, will be made available. It corresponds to the hidden, sealed makifim from whence comes all of the pseudo-questions, conundrums and paradoxes which perplex the mind of man. And the awesome miracle was that this light was drawn down into every one of the seven days of the week, the regular days of our world. And this is why the light of the first day of Chanukah must be rekindled each and every day before any of the other lights are kindled. And this is why the miracle wasn’t in the light of the first day (because there was enough oil for that day anyway), but rather in the light of the next seven days. The truth is that Hashem opened up a new path now, beginning at that awesome first Chanukah, where the transcendental light of Olam ha-Ba can actually shine into our world, in Olam ha-Zeh. As Rav Natan explains: נִמְצָא שֶׁעִקַּר הַנֵּס נַעֲשָׂה בְּשִׁבְעַת יָמִים (כַּמּוּבָא בַּפּוֹסְקִים) דְּהַיְנוּ שֶׁיּוֹם אֶחָד הַנַּ”ל בְּחִינַת עוֹלָם הַבָּא שֶׁהוּא בְּחִינַת הַמַּקִּיף הֵאִיר עַל-יְדֵי שִׁבְעַת הַנֵּרוֹת בְּחִינַת שִׁבְעַת הַיָּמִים בְּחִינַת עוֹלָם הַזֶּה (The essence of the miracle happened in the seven days (as brought down by the poskim), i.e. that the ‘one day’ mentioned above, which corresponds to Olam ha-Ba and which corresponds to the makif, shined through into the seven candles in the aspect of the seven days, which corresponds to Olam ha-Zeh). And that’s why Chazal established Chanukah as an everlasting holiday. It is truly a season of miracles since the storehouses of Heaven open in a way that happens at no other time in this world.
So let’s not just kindle the lights and quickly run off to whatever we normally do in the evening. Rather, after we kindle the lights, let’s sit down and gaze into the lights, and talk to family and friends about the awesome holiness of these days, for perhaps we will merit to see the light of Mashiach even in our world.