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Not Confined to Rationalism

Prepared by Rabbi Shraga Dovid Homnick.

Chanukah, the Gemara tells us, is a celebration of the discovery of a single jug of oil which ultimately burned miraculously for eight days, after the Greeks had rendered all other oil impure, presumably with the intent of bringing the avoda to a halt. Yet their actions are somewhat perplexing, since the more reasonable thing from their perspective would have been to simply pour the oil out. Attempting instead to create halachic problems was of dubious usefulness, since it still may have been permissible to use the oil in its impure state.

Rational Submission

In truth, however, their goal was “l’hashkicham torasecha,” to wage war against Torah, specifically targeting its spiritual component. The Rebbe Rayatz famously stressed that the Greeks were not offended by the Torah as an intellectual pursuit or by mitzvos as sensible instructions, but rather by “torasecha,” the notion that the Torah was divine, and by “chukei retzonecha,” obeying Hashem’s suprarational Will.

The Rebbe adds that even chukim were deemed acceptable by the Yevanim, and they only objected to “chukei retzonecha.” This is because there are rational grounds for observing commands for which we know no explanation. If a child has received consistently sound guidance from a superior in the past, and he is then faced with advice which he cannot comprehend, he will conclude, if he is sufficiently precocious, that the logical thing to do is to consider the track record and the limits of his own intellect, and obey. Likewise, even the laws of para aduma can be practiced on a rational basis in view of the fact that Hashem and the Torah are so great, and we should expect not to grasp everything.

Unadulterated Faith

The Greeks, the then champions of rationality, were similarly comfortable with mitzvos which possess a logical foundation, or even with observing chukim on the grounds that some things are beyond our purview, but they were very disturbed by the desire to simply act on Hashem’s Will, and took offense at the notion that spirituality and holiness are latent within Torah and mitzvos.

They therefore deliberately took action to render the oil in the beis ha’mikdash impure, as if to say: If the Jews wish to kindle the menorah, to illuminate the world with their wisdom, we’ll allow it, even if we believe our intellectual tradition to be superior, but to do so with ‘pure’ oil? To suggest that holiness is a factor? The concept of the divine is anathema to us! The aim therefore wasn’t to pour the oil out and make lighting the menorah impossible, but rather to extinguish its holiness.

It was this assault which triggered the Jewish response of mesiras nefesh, expressing our unadulterated faith in Hashem’s Will, “chukei retzonecha,” and this is the significance of the discovery of the jug of oil with the seal of the Kohen Gadol which represents the Jewish core which had been awakened. But what was truly miraculous was that it burned for eight days – the Jewish essence was channeled through the intellectual and emotional faculties into practicality.

Extending the One to Seven More

The Midrash comments regarding “az yashir” that “az” is comprised of aleph, one, and zayin, seven, and the aleph ‘rides’ upon the zayin. Seven represents worldliness, as exemplified in the pattern of seven which repeats itself throughout the universe, while one represents Hashem’s presence. The aleph alone is representative of a Jew who is roused to mesiras nefesh when challenged or who is inspired on Yom Kippur, but whose daily life is otherwise disconnected from this reality. The ultimate accomplishment is for the aleph to permeate the zayin, which is what happened when the jug of oil associated with mesiras nefesh burned for an additional seven days.

This is incidentally akin to what was discussed last week about how the Alter Rebbe succeeded in channeling ‘a great G-d inside a small book,’ because fitting the emuna introduced by the Baal Shem Tov into a Chabad framework is an excellent example of bringing the aleph within the zayin.

For further learning see ד"ה ת"ר מצות נר חנוכה תשל"ח