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Chanukkah – The true manner of Mitzvah observance

As we know – and couldn’t possibly forget, reminded by the kid’s projects brought home every day for three weeks straight – there are two Rabbinically prescribed Holidays that we celebrate every year: Chanukkah and Purim. Chanukkah, on account of the miracles that Hashem did for the Bnai Yisroel during and after their highly improbable victory over the advancing Greek armies. Purim is celebrated because of the wonderful miracles that Hashem brought for the Jews leading up to, and during, the miraculous events and triumphs over evil incarnate and the Persian rabble. We are given explicit instructions that both celebrations are to be exemplified in a manner of Pirsumey Nisa – Publicizing the miracles, however, there are noticeable differences in how these “public displays” are to be carried out. On Purim, the Megillas Esther is read in a public outburst of Heavenly gratitude, Mitzvah observance, ear-splitting Hamans and, in many Yeshivos, at least an extra hour of keeping the already riled up kids in line. Whereas on Chanukkah, davening is generally a little bit longer but if you make good time, you could still catch the 7:05 bus. On Purim, a grandiose Seudah is in order, replete with dancing bunnies – I mean Bochurim! – lots and lots and lots AND LOTS of alcoholic beverages and the always unfortunate “Deserted Dessert”, where there isn’t usually anyone left standing at that point of the meal! Oh, and did I mention the alcoholic beverages!! While on Chanukkah, once you’re finished with all the Bubby’s Chanukkah parties, Tante Zeldy’s extravaganza, the Father and son Melaveh Malka and your best friend’s Birthday/Chanukas Habayis/Chanukkah get together, you won’t want to be without your Tums and Pepto Bismal, while considering buying stock in Clearasil on behalf of the kids. The Purim parade, kids walking in the streets wearing anything from a costume of Yasser Arafat to a banana(?), and blaring music from every passing car, is accepted on Purim, while on Chanukkah, although the Menorah is lit by the window facing out for all to see, it’s still generally done indoors with a small lighting ceremony. Why is it then, that on this Yom Tov, when we are instructed to broadcast the great miracles that Hashem has done, we tone things down and accomplish this in a quieter, more gentler manner?

To answer this question, first we must examine and understand the depths of the miracles that were performed. The Gemara in Shabbos tells us that from the two miracles that occurred – the stunning victory of the Chashmonaim in war and the incredible, almost magical flask of oil that kept the Menorah burning for eight days straight – the victorious war is considered a “hidden miracle” that people might consider a case of military, strategic genius on the part of the Chashmonean generals defeating a vastly larger and mightier foe – akin to the Israeli victory during the six day war – while the magical oil is viewed as a “revealed miracle”, one that defied nature and logic and was clearly shown to be an act of G-d, with no doubt about it. However, after a second glance, there is more here than meets the eye (so what else is new!). Did you know, that in the final, decisive battle of the long drawn out war, the Greek army numbered over 100,000 soldiers, armed to the teeth and trained for war, whereas the compilation of rag-tag footmen and guerilla warriors that were persuaded by the Maccabees (not the Israeli basketball team) to fight for their land and way of life amounted to a grand total of maybe 8,000 men? In today’s day and age, this wouldn’t be considered heroism – it would be considered suicide! Kind of like Saddam Hussein and his “elite” Revolutionary Guards fighting against the might and sheer numbers of the combined allied forces, although, in that case, Saddam didn’t have G-d on his side! And that’s exactly the point. How can any rational and sane individual look at the outcome of such a lop-sided war, 100,000 against 8,000,  and not see the incredible “Hand of Hashem”? If you can find me a more “revealed miracle” than that, I’d like to see it, although a case can be made for the Chicago Cubs making the playoffs this year!

On the other hand, the miracle of the oil lasting for 8 straight days, was not just a publicly glorified act, rather it, too, contained elements of hidden secrecy. The Gemarah describes for us that the flask of oil that was found, was sealed with the special seal of the Kohen Gadol – somewhat like a Presidential seal but with some sort of validity! And the question is asked: where do we ever find that any kind of oil, flask or not, was sealed with this special seal? However, relates the Sefas Emes, the true story emerges. Many hundreds of years before the story of Chanukkah, a container of oil was found which was totally unusual in content – anytime oil was poured from it, it immediately and miraculously replenished itself as if nothing was ever poured! Can you imagine what a dramatic reduction we could be having on future utility bills, were we to possess something of this sort! Some say this was the very same flask that Yaakov Avinu endangered himself over; while running away from his wicked brother, Esav, he retraced his steps and went back across the river alone to retrieve this particular flask. The people who found it, immediately brought it to the attention of the Kohen Gadol who recognized it’s importance, realizing that G-d had created this flask for a purpose, and he had it sealed with his own special seal. This wondrous jar was found after the Jews reclaimed their Bais Hamikdash and used the oil in it to burn for the full eight days. After the eighth day, new, pure oil was created and this flask ceased to refill itself. This was the hidden aspect of the miracle.

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On Chanukkah, Hashem teaches us from his miracles of Niglah and Nistar, that in everything he does, he mixes elements of his glory and greatness, with humility and modesty. Although, the miraculous military victory was largely a quiet miracle, small elements of G-dly signs were clearly there. And the miracle of the burning oil, a Heavenly revelation for all to see, did not lack in it’s measure of concealment and secrecy. This then, is what we can garner regarding the manner in which Hashem, himself, controls and runs the world. On the one hand, he will allow glorious signs of his greatness to show forth by way of open miracles in order to instill Kiddush Shem Shomayim – glorification of his Heavenly name and increasing awareness of his sovereignty, into the world. However, as a way of complementing this, Hashem infused the world – his world – with nature, which is a manner by which he controls everything, but in a quieter more unobtrusive way. From this we learn the incredible modesty and humbleness of the Holy one blessed be he.

So, what can we learn and take from this Yom Tov of Chanukkah – aside from mounds of wrapping paper, toys that’ll never work because we’re too lazy to buy batteries and how can we forget ….. the heartburn? The lessons of Chanukkah are obvious. The Bnai Yisroel are charged with serving their creator in the identical manner in which he controls the world. A person who publicly performs Mitzvos is thereby glorifying Hashem’s name, for all who see him will add honor and respect to Heaven. However, he must complement these acts with those of concealed modesty and clandestine humility, for in order to fully serve Hashem, there cannot be one without the other. For this reason, we light our Menorah in full view of the public as a way of raising up Hashem’s honor in the world, although, we don’t go outside but rather stay inside by the window, or for some, in the doorway (all those whose singed drapes and shades have seen better days!) to maintain the element of modesty that is needed for a Mitzvah. We daven Hallel with all the fervor, intensity and, depending on whose davening for the Amud, all the Gerrer marches, we can muster to elevate and publicize Hashem’s eminence but we tone things down by not reading from a Megillah – can you imagine the effect of Megillah Laining for eight days straight on the Ba’al Koreh’s voice and the people’s patience?!

This Chanukkah, let’s keep in mind our purpose in life and strive to accomplish all we can through a tapestry of modest exaltation and unpretentious acclamation of Hashem’s grandeur and splendor. While we light the Menorah, stuff another Latke down our throats so Bubby shouldn’t feel bad, or even tap our shoes to the (off-key) tune of the Chazzan’s Gerrer march, remember, it’s all for the sake of a Mitzvah and the rewards are great if done properly.


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