1. The main activity on Chanukah is kindling the Chanukah lights. It is the first thing done publicly, in the synagogue, and precedes the reciting of Hallel (said the next day). Although the blessing on this mitzvah is made before
the actual kindling, a blessing is but the preparation to the mitzvah, and is therefore considered part of it. Witness to this is the fact that while the ‘kavanah’ (understanding of and meditation in the mitzvah) of a mitzvah need not be at the time the actual mitzvah is performed, the blessing may be said only immediately prior to the actual performance. Hence, the first activity of Chanukah is the actual kindling of the Chanukah lights.
There is an obvious lesson to be take from this. It is customary, when kindling the Chanukah lights, to use a menorah, an eight-branched candelabrum. Even on the first night, when only one light is kindled, the eight-branched menorah is still used (with the other seven branches left unlit). The reason for this is that when we kindle one light on the first night, in the best way possible, we know then that we cannot stay content with this, but immediately tomorrow we must “ascend in sanctity” and kindle an additional light. This is shown by the presence of the other seven branches on the menorah even when kindling just the first light on the first night. Their presence indicates now, that in the following day, we will kindle yet more lights.
There is instruction in this for a person’s service to G-d. At the start of one’s service, one cannot do everything required to reach perfection. Simultaneously however, a person must know, even at the start of his service, that there are more things to follow, and that he must continually increase in his service and “ascend in sanctity.” This is the lesson derived from the menorah.
The above applies to a person’s personal service. The essence of the Chanukah lights is the illumination of the darkness of exile, thereby meriting the redemption. It is precisely through the descent into exile that we gain the greatness of the redemption — similar to the concept of the superiority of light which comes specifically from prior darkness.
In addition to one’s personal service, one must also help others, that they may illuminate their souls with the “mitzvah which is a lamp and Torah which is light.” It is explained in Likkutei Torah (Parshas Beha’alosacho) that the menorah (in the Bais HaMikdash, which had 7 lights) corresponds to the concept of Yisrael. The seven lights of the menorah symbolize the seven general levels in service to G-d. On Shabbos Chanukah we read about the “menorah made completely of gold.” Of the menorah, Scripture (Bamidbar 8:14) states that: “The menorah was made of a single piece of beaten gold; everything from its base to its blossom consisted of a single piece of beaten gold.” The ‘base’ symbolizes those Jewish souls which are on a lower level, and the ‘flower’ corresponds to those Jewish souls on a more lofty level. Nevertheless, despite such differences, all Jewish souls are on the level of a “menorah made completely of gold” — for everything, from its base to its blossom consisted of a single piece of beaten gold.”
This then is the general concept of kindling the menorah — to kindle and illuminate a Jewish soul with the “mitzvah which is a candle and Torah which is light.” Every Jew is a light. Only some have not yet been kindled. Hence a Jew has the responsibility to ensure that every Jew’s soul is kindled with the “mitzvah which is a candle and Torah which is light.”
The way to do so is indicated by the lesson enumerated before. First one kindles one light — one endeavors to illuminate one category of Jew. Then he adds another light — another category, and so on until all categories, all Jews, are illuminated by Torah and mitzvos. One’s duty is to kindle all the seven lights, so that “the seven lights shall shine towards the center of the menorah.” But, as before, even while beginning with one category, a Jew must simultaneously know that there is further work to be done, that his task is to illuminate all seven categories of Jewish souls.
The fact that all Jewish souls are referred to as “a menorah made completely of gold” indicates that even before a Jewish soul is illuminated with Torah and mitzvos it is intrinsically a pure gold menorah. The Rambam states that the true desire of every Jew is “to perform all the mitzvos and to desist from sin.” Even when he sins it is only because his Yetzer (Evil Inclination) has overpowered him, and when the Yetzer is eliminated, his true desire to fulfill G-d’s will is revealed.
There are different levels in the work of illuminating a Jew’s soul. There are some Jews whose light is not lit at all, and one’s task is to kindle their light. Then there are those who, while their lights are already kindled, burn feebly. one’s task is then to ensure that their lights burn brightly and illuminate even more strongly.
For example: There are Jews who while otherwise observant of Torah and mitzvos, do not learn Chassidus, the esoteric part of Torah. Such people claim that they are only following in the footsteps of their ancestors who never learned Chassidus. Yet they do things which their grandparents never dreamed of doing! Why is it only in these things that people piously claim to follow their ancestors?
Likewise with putting on Rabbeinu Tam tefillin. The Shulchan Aruch states that a G-d-fearing person should put on two pairs of tefillin — Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam. In other things, such people demand recognition and honor for their piety and G-d-fearing behavior. Why in this case do they adopt a mantle of modesty and disclaim any pretense to being a ‘G-d-fearing’ person?
Such people must be influenced to have their ‘light’ strengthened and to start learning Chassidus and putting on Rabbeinu Tam tefillin.
Through our service in kindling the lights of Jewish souls, illuminating them so that “all children of Yisrael have light in their dwelling places,” we merit the true and eternal light of our righteous Mashiach in the future redemption.
2. The general concept of the Chanukah (and Shabbos) lights is associated with Torah study. Our Sages said (Shabbos 23b) “One who accustoms himself [to keep the mitzvah of] the lights will have sons who are Torah sages.” Rashi explains that “since it is written ‘a mitzvah is a candle and Torah is light,’ then through the mitzvah of the Shabbos and Chanukah lights the light of Torah comes.” In other words, the Shabbos and Chanukah lights correspond to the candlestick, oil, and wick, through which the actual light of Torah illuminates.
We see further the connection between the Chanukah lights and Torah study from the Greeks’ decree which was to “make them (Jews) to forget Your Torah,” and as an outcome of this, also to “violate the decrees of Your will (mitzvos).” Moreover, Chanukah is the miracle of the oil, and “oil” symbolizes the level of Chochmah (Knowledge), which is the idea of Torah study.
The connection between Chanukah and Torah study explains the custom of the Rashab who, after the kindling of the Chanukah lights, would study Torah near the lights [not using their actual light of course, since this is forbidden]. Hence, the lesson from all the above is that during Chanukah we must increase in our Torah study.
Now is also the appropriate place to once again urge everyone to involve themselves in uniting all Jews through participation in one of the Sefer Torahs being written for this purpose. When a Jew purchases a letter in a Sefer Torah, he thereby unites with hundreds of thousands of Jews in an eternal bond. Although there are several Sefer Torahs, they are really united as one, and thus through purchasing a letter in one of the Sefer Torahs he unites with all Jews. Not only does a Jew thus unite with all contemporary Jewry, but also with all Jews of all generations, until the generation of Moshe Rabbeinu.
Through Torah, Jews and G-d become one, in a three-fold bond — Yisrael, Torah, and G-d. This is the connection to this Shabbos which also comprises three things — Shabbos Parshas Mikeitz, Shabbos Chanukah, and Shabbos Rosh Chodesh. We read from three Sefer Torahs on this Shabbos; and moreover, these three become one (as evidenced by the fact there is only one Haftorah).
The greatness and necessity of uniting all Jews through the Sefer Torah has never been so urgent as today, when the world situation is in a terrifying decline. We must do our utmost to bring stability to the world, and the first thing to be done is derived from the Mishnah, which states that “the world stands on three things: on the Torah, on prayer, and on deeds of loving kindness.” The main thing is Torah, for, besides being one of the three pillars of the world, through it we know how to conduct ourselves in the other two pillars. Through participation in the writing of a Sefer Torah, the stability of the world is strengthened. This is in addition to the great benefits brought to Jews through this project, as the previous Rebbe said: “Every Jew has a letter in the Torah... This letter gives him strength to withstand all opposition to Torah study. Besides affording him protection, it is also the vehicle through which the blessings. from Above in all good things reach him.”
Besides the Torah being one of the three pillars on which the world stands, it also has dominion over the world and can change the world. Through a Halachic rendition in Torah, the world can be changed. A story concerning the famous Rogatchover Gaon illustrates this. His grandson once showed him accounts showing how much tax was owed to the (Russian) government. The total amount was the sum of several different taxes. The Rogatchover, after perusing these accounts, said that a part of the taxes must be paid because such a tax has a place in Torah (and therefore the dictum that “the law of the land is law” applies). However, the other tax need not be paid because it has no place in Torah. Afterwards, notification was received from the government that there was a mistake in the accounts, and only part of the taxes need be paid — precisely that part which the Rogatchover said had a place in Torah!
The lesson from this is that through Torah one can change the world. This applies even to an individual Jew, and even with things that are not life and death matters. For, since For, since it is a Jew’s money, a Halachic decision changes the actual world — even under the Communistic regime which opposed Torah.
Indeed, although in exile, a Jew is still a free man. “The seal of G-d is truth,” and ever since the exodus from Egypt, G-d has said of the Jews that “they are My servants.” Since Jews are servants of the King of kings, and “the servant of a king is (like) a king,” it is impossible that Jews should be in servitude (to others). Instead, each and every Jew is a free man, which status is achieved through Torah study — “The only free man is he who engages in Torah study.”
Since the truth is that Jews are free men, they cannot endure the falsehood of exile, but desire that the truth be revealed to the whole world — that “G-d is One and His Name One.” This is similar to the dictum of the Rebbe Rashab, that a Jew’s soul never went into exile, only his body. Since the body is subservient to the soul, the body is also on a level above exile.
May it be G-d’s will that all Jews be speedily united in the Sefer Torahs being written for this purpose. Then all Jews, together with the Sefer Torahs, will go to greet our righteous Mashiach, when “I will convert the peoples to a pure language... to serve Him together.” Then we will go together with Mashiach to the Holy Land, the land “which the eyes of the L-rd your G-d are upon it from the beginning of the year until the end of the year,” to the holy city of Yerushalayim, where we shall merit to see the kindling of the menorah by “Your holy Kohanim” in the third Bais HaMikdash.
3. Regarding the particular events that will occur in the times of Mashiach, the Rambam writes that “all these and similar things, a person does not know how they will occur until they occur; for these things are concealed in the Prophets...”
On the other hand, in this area there are things on which the Rambam does render a clear Halachic decision. This does not contradict that quoted above, for there are two types of matters in this area: Those which are unclear, “concealed in the Prophets,” and those which have been revealed clearly. For example, the prophecy “a wolf will dwell together with a lamb.” It is unclear whether this is to be taken literally or allegorically. Likewise, if Eliyahu Hanavi will come before the war of Gog and Magog, or before Mashiach’s coming. On both these things the Rambam writes that a “person does not know how they will occur until they occur..”
In regard to the beginning of the redemption however, the Rambam states the clear Halachic decision that the order will be thus: “A king from the house of David will arise... and force all Israel to go in it (the Torah way) ... and will fight the wars of G-d... and build the Mikdash in its place (and then) gather together the dispersed of Israel.” Then the beginning of the redemption has started — and immediately will be the true and complete redemption.
In the Talmud Sanhedrin (and also Sotah) there is a complete passage dealing with the coming of Mashiach. This too contains some clear statements, and some not explained at all. Besides the oral Law, the subject of the redemption is also found in the Written Torah. The main place is in Daniel, which brings many “dates” for the coming of Mashiach. All those who throughout the generations predicted times for Mashiach’s coming based their calculations on Daniel.
At the end of Daniel it states (12:1): “At that time Michael will stand up, the great prince (i.e. chief angel) who stands for the children of your people; and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation till that time; and at that time your people shall be saved, everyone who is found written in the book.”
In other words: Although it will be a “time of trouble such as never was,” Jews need not fear, for “The Guardian of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps” and “my help is from the L-rd, Maker of heaven and earth.” Especially since “Michael, the great prince who stands for the children of your people” will be present to plead for the Jewish people.
Nevertheless, the verse continues “at that time shall be saved, everyone who is found written in the book.” The simple interpretation of “the book” is the book of G-d, the Sefer Torah. Hence, the above phrase refers to all those who have a letter in the Sefer Torah! This lends weight to the urgency of ensuring that each and every Jew purchase a letter in one of the Sifrei Torah — thus ensuring that they are included among those “who is found written in the book” — and therefore “shall be saved.”
R. Saadaya Gaon writes on this verse that: “‘everyone who is found written in the book’ these are the tzaddikim (righteous people), as it is written: ‘And He wrote in the book of remembrance before Him.’” Since “all Your people are righteous,” the phrase “all those who are found written in the book” — righteous people, refers to all Jews. But to reveal and effect anew the concept of “written in the book,” every Jew should purchase a letter in the Sefer Torah. For, as explained above, ‘the book’ in its simple meaning refers to the Sefer Torah.
This emphasizes the great importance of having every Jew purchase a letter in a Sefer Torah, and hence the importance of publicizing the above verse to all. May it be G-d’s will that efforts in this direction be increased many-fold, until all Jews have a letter, and thus “your people will be saved, all those who are found written in the book.” Although there is more than one Sefer Torah, they are all united, and all Jews are thus written in “the book.” Through our efforts and service during the exile (particularly in this area), we merit to have the true and complete redemption through our righteous Mashiach, with kindness and mercy, speedily in our times.
4. In parshas Mikeitz we learn of the famine that was prevalent in all lands, and Yosef’s position as viceroy of Egypt, in charge of all foodstuffs (stored from the ‘seven years of plenty’ that preceded these ‘seven years of famine’). Ch. 41 verse 56 states: “The famine was over all the earth; and Yosef opened all the storehouses and he sold (“vayishbor”) to Egypt.” On the words “And he sold” Rashi comments: “the word ‘shever’ [the root of the word ‘vayishbor’] denotes ‘selling’ and denotes ‘buying.’ Here [in this particular verse] it is used in the sense of ‘selling;’ but in the passage (43:2) ‘Buy (‘shivru’) us a little food, it [the word ‘shivru’] denotes buying. And do not say that it is used only in reference to grain, for regarding milk and wine we find (Yeshayah 55:1) ‘Come, buy (‘shivru’) without money and without price, wine and milk.’”
There are several perplexing points in this Rashi. Rashi, in bringing proofs or passages as examples of similar usage, usually quotes those nearest to the verse under discussion. In this case, Rashi quotes a verse from Ch. 43:2 (“Buy (‘shivru’) us a little food”), when in the verse immediately following ours (i.e. Ch. 41 verse 57) we find an example of a word with the root shever. It states “All the earth came to Yosef to buy (‘lishbor’).” We see from this verse that ‘shever’ means to buy. Why then does Rashi quote from a verse several chapters later?
Some commentaries explain that Rashi prefers to quote from the later chapter because it states “buy (‘shivru’) us a little food.” Rashi on our verse explains that the word ‘shever’ is used not only in connection to grain, but also to other foods. Hence he quotes from the verse in Ch. 43 which states “buy us a little food,” and not “a little corn” [as in Ch. 42, verse 31, for Yaakov’s instructions to his sons were to buy any type of food, not necessarily grain.
However, questions still remain. If Rashi’s intention in quoting from this verse specifically was because it uses the word ‘shever’ in connection to food, there are other verses which do so which precede this verse. In Ch. 42 it states (verse 7) “to buy (‘lishbor’) food”, and (verse 10) “your11your servants have come to buy (‘lishbor’) food.” Why then quote a verse from Ch. 43?
Indeed, why is it necessary at all to have a quote including the word ‘food’ specifically? Surely from the context of the entire passage of our verse it is self-understood that it is referring to ‘food.’ At the beginning of the passage it states (41:48): “He gathered all the food... and stored the food in the cities, the food of the field... he stored in the city.” Hence, when in our verse it states “Yosef opened up the storehouses and he sold to Egypt” it is obvious that it is referring to the food stored in the cities (quoted above). Why then is it necessary for Rashi to quote a verse which uses the word ‘shever’ in association with ‘food’?
Also puzzling is the continuation of Rashi that “Do not say that it is used only in reference to grain, for regarding milk and wine we find ‘Come, buy without money and without price, wine and milk. What difference does it make to our verse that the word ‘shever’ applies also to wine and milk?
Moreover, nowhere in these verses do we find the word ‘shever’ used in connection with ‘grain.’ We find ‘bread’ and ‘food,’ but not ‘grain.’ Why then does Rashi say “Do not say it is used only in reference to grain”?
The explanation of all the above: Rashi’s commentary is directed to the student who has learned Scripture until this verse. When such a student learning our verse reaches the word “vayishbor,” he tries to remember if he has come across a similar word earlier in his studies. In Ch. 19, verse 9 it states: “They drew near to break (‘lishbor’) (‘1ishbor) the door.” Naturally, a student will then think that in our case, the word ‘vayishbor’ in our verse means Yosef “broke the famine in Egypt.”
A similar usage of this is found in Psalms (104:11): “the wild animals quench (‘yishboru’) their thirst,” meaning they break or quench their thirst. obviously, in such a case it cannot mean to buy or sell. Why then does Rashi interpret ‘Vayishbor’ in our verse to mean ‘buying’ or ‘selling’ and not the breaking of the famine?
But Rashi cannot do so, “for regarding wine and milk we find ‘Come, buy (‘shivru’) without money and without price wine and milk.”‘ In this verse, the word ‘shivru’ cannot mean to break (one’s thirst), for one quenches one’s thirst with water, and not with wine or milk. It must mean to ‘buy,’ and hence Rashi concludes that in our verse it also means to buy. Therefore Rashi says “The word ‘shever’ denotes ‘selling’ and denotes ‘buying.’
However, all is not clear. Why does Rashi interpret ‘shever’ to mean ‘buying’ and ‘selling,’ — when he could have interpreted it to mean ‘do business.’ This includes both buying and selling, and our verse would then read “Yosef did business with Egypt” (selling grain). The advantage in interpreted it thus and not as ‘buying’ and ‘selling’ is that ‘business’ is a general term embracing both these concepts; whereas to interpret one word to mean two contradictory meanings — ‘buying’ and ‘selling’ — is more difficult.
To prove that ‘shever’ cannot mean I do business,’ Rashi specifically quotes the verse from Ch. 43 and not any preceding verses. That verse states “Buy (‘shivru’) us a little food.” Yaakov’s command to acquire “a little food” eliminates any possibility that ‘shivru’ here can mean ‘do business.’ When one does business, one endeavors to do as much as possible. Hence, it must mean to buy — Yaakov told his sons to go to Egypt to buy (not ‘do business’) a little food, since all their food had been eaten. He asked them not to stay long in Egypt (a prerequisite of doing business) but to hurry back to him. Hence Rashi quotes this verse specifically as a proof that ‘shever’ does not mean to ‘do business.’
But a question still remains. Since the famine affected everything, where did they get things (besides grain) during the famine. To answer this question, Rashi explains that “regarding wine and milk we find ‘Come, buy...”‘ That is, they could also have bought wine, milk etc. Nevertheless, Scripture itself mentions only grain (and not other foods), for grain, from which bread is made, is the main staple of a person’s diet.
This is the reason why Rashi says the word ‘grain’ and not ‘food’ or ‘bread.’ For had he used the word ‘food’ it could mean all types of produce, and the only type of food mentioned specifically in Scripture is grain. Hence the use of the word ‘grain’ by Rashi.
- (Back to text) The emphasis here is on “Your Torah,” for the Greeks did not object to Torah study per se, as an intellectual discipline, but to the idea that Torah is from G-d. Nevertheless, Chanukah is associated with the general idea of Torah study.
- (Back to text) Our Sages said that one must “exile yourself to a place of Torah,” and to toil in Torah study. For Torah study is similar to oil, and just as oil is produced by crushing olives, so too Torah is attained through toil and effort.