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Our Rabbis taught:
The precept of Hanukkah [demands] one light for a man and his household;
the zealous [kindle] a light for each member [of the household]; and the extremely zealous, -
Beth Shammai maintain: On the first day eight lights are lit and thereafter they are gradually reduced;
but Beth Hillel say: On the first day one is lit and thereafter they are progressively increased
(Bavli, Shabbat 21b)
Bet Shammai takes the stringent view, and requires total elimination of evil, even "the fine traces of evil", even when the evil is barely discernable. This is also the key to their controversy on the question of whether "Heaven was created first" as maintained by Bet Shammai, or "Earth was created first" as maintained by Bet Hillel (Yerushalmi, Hagiga 10a), Heaven and earth represent thought and action. For Bet Shammai, it is not sufficient that man's actions be proper, his thoughts must also be stainless. Bet Hillel can be content with man's actions, if they are pure and honest.
(From "L'Ohr Hahalacha" by R' Shumuel Yosef Zevin z"l)
An ancient alternate tradition, attributed to the stubborn and uncompromising Shammai, is the hassidic tradition of those who witnessed the victory that was followed by the light which progressively dimmed. After achieving political sovereignty, the Sages saw the idolization of the rulers, the increasing assimilation, the wasting of the sacrifices of the early Hashmoneans. This is the reason why in my kibbutz, in the majority of kibbutzim, in most state schools and in public Hanukkah celebrations, on the first day of Hanukkah we light the complete Hanukkah menorah, eight candles and the shamash, as per the custom of Bet Shammai; with each day I remove a candle, in order to caution myself and to recall what happened then and is liable to happen again. The great victory of political Zionism was supposed to bring on the next stage of uplift, renewal and uniqueness, the creation of an original Jewish civilization. Today we have reached a dead end. Nationalistic zealotry or assimilation on the one hand, ultra-Orthodox extremism on the other. It seems to me that the light in our lives is growing dimmer. According to Zionist doctrine, Judaism cannot continue to exist under the conditions of the 21st century without a state; I share this view, but I also believe that the existence of a Jewish state without Jewish content is superfluous and hopeless.
As long as Jews light candles in memory of the revolt and take heed that the light is not to be taken for granted, that it is flickering and may be extinguished, they will continue to spread light. This is the power of freedom.
(Eli Ben Gal: "When Dining with the Devil", Am Oved, Ofakim 1989)
Mishkan and Shekhina in
The Hanukkah Sermon in Rav Kahanah's Pesikta
The Hanukkah Festival receives minimal and random attention in Tannaic sources, but Amoraic sources give it a place of honor. The Babylonian Talmud devotes an extensive discussion to the laws of the festival in Tractate Shabbat, focusing primarily upon the lighting of the lamp and historical aspects (or perhaps we should say pseudo-historical) of the festival. The intensive structure of the discussion earned it the title "Tractate Hanukkah". P'sikta D'Rav Kahanah, a text of midrashic aggada, contains an entire section expounding the Torah reading for Hanukkah, (Bemidbar 7) "And it happened on the day Moshe finished setting up the Tabernacle".
P'sikta D'Rav Kahanah, a midrash composed by Amoraim of Eretz Yisrael, is composed of homiletical units (‘piskaot') arranged according to the yearly holiday cycle. A derasha is devoted to each holiday Torah or Haphtarah reading, to the fasts, to the four special parshiyot preceding Pesach, and to the Sabbaths of calamity and consolation [preceding and following Tisha B'Av]. In some of the manuscripts, as well as in the printed edition1, the Chanukah derasha opens the compilation, thus indicating the importance of the Hanukkah festival in the holiday cycle in Eretz Yisrael during the Byzantine period.
The derasha on "And it happened on the day Moshe finished", which deals with the inauguration of the Tabernacle in the desert, delves into the spiritual significance of building a dwelling place for the Divinity, and also copes with the theological difficulties involved. The designation of a specific place for the Divinity naturally raises questions regarding God's place in the world, such as whether the restriction of Divine revelation to a single place implies its absence from everywhere else.
The P'sikta's homilies present various models for coping with the confining of the Shekhina to the Tabernacle. These models reflect different positions regarding the question of the place of the
Shekhina - as representative of the God's presence in the world. The first model is found in the first p'tichta [beginning] of the derasha:
The essence of
Shekhina began in the lowest sphere, and when the
first human sinned, it left for the first firmament. The generation of Enosh sinned, and it departed from the first to the second.
The Generation of the Flood sinned, it left the second
for the third. The Generation of the Scattering sinned and it moved from the
third to the fourth... in
this derasha, the Shekhina
is not confined to a single location, in heaven or on earth, but it is never
everywhere at the same time; the immediate presence of the Shekhina
is conditional upon Man's actions which draw it close or distance it. According
to Prof. Urbach2, this was the prevailing view in Talmudic thought.
It appears in different contexts, including in the question of the disappearance
of the Shekhina following the destruction of the
It is important distinguish between this approach and the transcendental view which positions the Divinity outside the real world. The quintessential proponent of this approach was R' Yossi who claimed ‘The Shekhina never descended to earth, and Moshe and Eliyahu never ascended to heaven, as is written ‘The heavens are the heavens of God, but the earth hath He given to the sons of men' (Bavli, Sukkah 5a). This position, which negates any possibility of the Shekhina exiting in the physical world, is not to be found in the derashot appearing in the P'sikta. The derasha about the Shekhina ascending and descending presents a very complex position based upon the daring idea that Man determines the place of God in the world.
The second p'tichta' of the derasha offers a different model of coping with Tabernacle-Shekhina-world relationships:
R' Yehudah bar Elaey taught: [This is comparable] to a king who had a young daughter. As long as she was small and had not developed signs [of adolescence], when he met her in the marketplace, he would speak with her, in the alleyways he would speak with her, but when she had matured and shown signs, he said: It is not honorable for my daughter that I speak with her in public, but let a pavilion be made and I will speak to her inside the pavilion.
The parable of
the king and his daughter suggests that we see the Tabernacle as a development
on a time scale: the stage of the nation's growing up, i.e., the
institutionalizing of relations between God and
The third model deals with the problem in the most direct fashion and is expressed in another parable found in the continuation of the p'tichta:
R' Yehoshua of Sahnin said in the name of R' Levi: To what may the Tent of Assembly be compared? To a cave located on the seashore, and the tide rises and floods. The cave is inundated by the sea, but the sea is not diminished. Thus the Tent of Assembly is filled with the light of the Shekhina, therefore it says "And it happened on the day Moshe finished".
R' Levi finds it important to emphasize that the erection of the Tabernacle does not limit God's presence in the world in any way. The Shekhina is found everywhere, and the building of the Tabernacle cannot limit it, just as the sea is not diminished by the tide flooding the cave at high tide. This is a perfect expression oft the immanent view that sees the presence of God everywhere, in the sense of "There is no place where He is not". In contrast to the parable of the father/king and his maturing daughter, which also conforms to the immanent view but restricts the meeting between the Shekhina and Man to the Tabernacle alone, the sea-cave allegory maintains that in the building of the Tabernacle there is no aspect of limitation on the Shekhina. One is tempted to ask: If there is no essential difference between the Tabernacle and any other place - what was the purpose of building the Tabernacle?
dissimilarities between the various approaches presented in the P'sikta, they share a broad foundation: none of them
assumes that after the erection of the Tabernacle the Divinity dwells only
there - an assumption other sources seem to make. This derasha
presents an immanent approach regarding the place of the Shekhina
in the world, howbeit with certain limitations as per some of the above approaches.
In the context of the Hanukkah festival, this view offers an optimistic outlook
about the ability to return the Shekhina to the
1. Mandlebaum edition 5747. All excepts below are from this edition. For an extensive study, see Razel, Mavoh L'midrashim, pps. 223-233)
2. E.E. Urbach, Chazal - Emunot V'Deot, pp. 29-52)
Vered Raziel-Kretzmer is a doctoral candidate in the Department
of Jewish Thought and is a moderator in the "Daroma"
Bet Midrash in
Yosef's Attitude Towards His Brothers
so do I say that all this happened to Yosef as a
result of his wisdom in interpreting dreams. One must wonder, then, how is it
that after Yosef lived for years in Egypt, and was an
official and supervisor in the house of a high Egyptian minister, why did he
not write a single letter to his father to tell him and console him, for Egypt
is only six days distant from Hebron, and even if it were a year away it would
have been proper to inform his respected father… but he understood that that
the bowing of his brothers and his father and all his seed could not be
realized in their land. He hoped that it would happen in
(Ramban, Bereishit 42:9)
I am astounded at what the Ramban wrote, that Yosef acted in order to realize his dreams, for what benefit would their realization bring? And even were there some advantage to be gained, he should not have sinned against his father. And the dreams - he who sends the dreams, provides their interpretation. There seems to be great folly in attempting to realize one's dreams, for these are things which are accomplished without the dreamer's knowledge!
(Akeidat Yitzhak, quoted by Prof. Nehama Leibowitz, in "Studies of the Weekly Parasha")
Therefore a different approach seems preferable. This one, too, is offered by Ramban himself and by other commentators: A great guilt lay on the House of Yaakov, on his ten sons, a great sin which had to be atoned for. How can they atone for this sin, for all the sorrow they caused their brother, and how can they again, brothers united, become the House of Yaakov, the chosen seed? And if you say: "The gates of repentance are never closed", let them repent and their sin will be washed away. To this we say: A person must undergo the very same test which he failed before - in identical circumstances - to determine whether or not this time he will pass.
(Prof. N. Leibowitz:Studies in Sefer Bereishit, p. 327-328)
The question remains - do we have here an explanation of the "historic justice" of Divine providence, or are these words offered in justification of Yosef's behavior towards his brothers (including Binyamin) and his father.
Libel, Test, and Repentance
Then Yosef commanded that they fill their vessels with grain and return their silver-pieces into each man's sack, and give them victuals for the journey. They did so for them. Then they loaded their rations onto their donkeys and went from there. But as one opened his sack to give his donkey fodder at the night camp, he saw his silver - there it was in the mouth of his pack! He said to his brothers: My silver has been returned - yes, here in my pack! Their hearts gave way, and the trembled to one another, saying: "What is this that God has done to us?"
Despite his testing of his brothers with the "You are spies!" libel, Yosef still had doubts as to whether they love Benyamin, or if they still scorn the sons of his mother, Rachel. Therefore, he wanted to involve Benyamin in the test of the goblet, to see whether they would make efforts to save him. At the same time, however, he feared that the brothers might think that he really did steal the goblet - just as Rachel had stolen her father's gods. Because of this they may say "The one who stole shall die," and not plead for him with all their strength - not because of hatred for him, but because of their shame at the act. Because of this, Yosef commanded to place, along with the silver goblet, Binyamin's payment and all their payments, so that they realize that all this was not the fault of Binyamin and his wickedness, but rather the scheme of the master. If, knowing this, they have compassion upon him and essay to save him from servitude, he would then know that they love him; he will consider them to be fully repentant, and will reveal himself to them and do good for them - as, in fact, he did.
(Abarbanel on Bereishit 44:1,2)
Man: "Gradually Reduced" or "Progressively Increasing"
Had the tablets not been broken, man would have been completely prepared for it [the Torah] and there would never have been any change. But now that they were broken, and man is not completely prepared for the Torah, he ‘is gradually reduced' as every thing which is imperfect is in constant reduction.
(MaHaRaL of Prague, Drushim al Hatorah, 40a)
But according to Bet Hillel, whose ruling is accepted law, the main intention is to further the wisdom of the truth of the Oral Law in our hearts, and through the light of truth the darkness and dishonesty inevitably, on their own, must dissipate. Therefore [the progression of candles] according to the passing days is essential, for every wisdom already achieved must be solidified and rooted in the heart, and we ‘promote in [matters of] holiness since it alludes to the wisdom of the holy.
(Resisey Leila, R' Zadok HaCohen of
And he answered and spoke to me, saying, "This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel, saying: 'Not by military force and not by physical strength, but by My spirit,' says the Lord of Hosts.
(Zechariah 4:6, from the haftarah for the first Shabbat of Hannukah)
Just as you saw - This means: that the stone was hewn from the mountain on its own and not by human hands, and the iron was broken up, etc.; so too will be the kingdom of the Messiah; it will not come by military force and not by physical strength, but of its own self when the time comes.
And he answered...'Not by might and not by force...' - Just as you saw the Menorah stand before you by its own accord, without any person setting up the lamps or pouring oil into them, so too the Temple shall be built without human effort but rather by God's spirit and will, and the vision will be further explained to you in detail.
(ReDaK ad loc)
Peace is not just a matter of an ethical tendency. Working for peace is a constant cultural effort, sublime and powerful, work towards which all the most productive forces of the nation should be directed.
(Iggrot HaRAYaH of Rav Kook, zt"l, letter 671)
Therefore the pure and righteous do not complain about wickedness but rather increase justice; they do not complain about heresy, but rather increase faith; they do not complain about ignorance, but rather increase wisdom.
(Harav Kook Ztz"l, Arpeelei Tohar 27-28)
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