Each special day of the calendar contains a hidden dimension, and
therefore offers us its own gift. We are instructed 2to “ask and inquire” about the halachos – the laws - of
each day as they occur. Primarily, this means to ready ourselves to do
whatever the mitzvos linked to that particular the day require of us. It
also includes, however, our asking and inquiring from Hashem to prepare
ourselves attitudinally to the halichos, the special ways and paths of the
approaching event, and to understand their course through our neshamos.
Where are they designed to take us? How do we ready ourselves for the
journey? We must ask Hashem for guidance as to how we should come in to
the holiday, and with what changes we can expect to emerge from it.
Chanukah and Purim are the completion of the set of seven rabbinic
mitzvos. 3Added to the 613 mitzvos of
the Torah, they form keser 4
(numerically: 620), or “crown.” Sensing the bitter and lengthy exile that
Bnei Yisrael would face after the Temple’s destruction, Chazal provided
these two days to accompany them in this terrible journey. Each year,
these days would sustain us through our difficulties by shining upon us a
light of emunah and bitachon.
Emunah and bitachon brought about our salvation at the founding events of
each of these holidays. We awaited the implementation of a decree to
physically destroy us at the time of the first Purim. The decree had been
written and then sealed with the seal of the King of Kings. Any hope of
survival at the time exceeded the ordinary and natural. We found emunah
and bitachon which were beyond the ordinary. From it we drew our
salvation. The same was true of Chanukah, where our spiritual existence
was threatened, and where once again we found emunah and bitachon where
they could not have been expected to survive. From that belief and trust,
we drew down the miracle from its Heavenly source.
Our custom, says the Magen Avraham 5is
to repeat the last verse (orech yamim asb’eihu) when we recite Yoshev
B’seiser. 6As the Tashbetz points out,
the repetition brings the word total to 130, which equals haKohanim. This
chapter of Tehilim was part of the arsenal of the Hashmonaim Kohanim.
They went out to battle with it. It speaks of great trust in Hashem
without mentioning any merit on our part. It offers no bargaining chip to
Hashem, and yet exudes confidence in Him. “My G-d – I will trust in Him!”
The power of bitachon knows no limits.
Ironically, in one regard Chanukah and Purim surpass the accomplishment of
the Exodus from Egypt. There, drawing upon emunah alone, we were freed
from the hand of our oppressor. At the time of Purim, however, we turned
the tables on our enemies. Not only did we escape the designs of our
oppressors, but we achieved dominion over them. 7At Chanukah as well, we reestablished political independence
for almost the next two hundred years. 8In both of these cases, adding bitachon on to emunah made the
difference. In the final analysis, Torah and good deeds bring certain
powers into play. Prayer adds other powers. Perched on top of both of
them are emunah and bitachon, which provide access to the most potent of
powers Hashem sends our way. At times, we can feel that the power of our
tefilah is blunted, that various adversarial forces block the
effectiveness of our prayers. These forces have no power, however, against
bitachon. At such times, emunah and bitachon accomplish what prayer cannot.
Esther, entering the room that housed the royal collection of idols, felt
the Shechinah leave her. 9 Her
reaction was to cry out to Hashem. “My G-d, my G-d! Why have You deserted
me?” 10The next few verses 11speak of her frustration as her prayers of
both day and night prove ineffective. She then shifts to a stance of
bitachon, and finds renewed confidence. Where prayer does not work,
bitachon still produces results.
The Gemara emphasizes that it was not until the anniversary of the event
that Chanukah was designated as a permanent observance. Why did Chazal
wait a full year after, rather than act at the time the miracle occurred?
The seforim hakedoshim explain that Chazal had to determine whether the
ohr, the special Divine illumination that accompanied the nes, would be a
recurring one, or whether it was limited to the time the event occurred.
When they felt the ohr the following year, they knew that it would be a
yearly event, and the holiday became a permanent feature.
The original ohr did not shine in a vacuum. It was drawn down from its
source through the bitachon of the Kohanim who waged the battle against
the Syrian-Greeks. It follows that the ohr that revisits us each year
must be drawn to us through our bitachon.
This explains why the Gemara left us with three different levels of
observing Chanukah: a basic level, mehadrin, and mehadrin min hamehadrin.
Chazal offer us no parallel in any other mitzvah! All of us perform every
other mitzvah according to a single set of expectations and demands. We
can understand, though, that Chanukah must be exceptional. Since its all-
important ohr becomes available to us only through our emunah and
bitachon, there cannot be a single level of observance. Emunah and
bitachon are infinitely nuanced and textured. They are found in us on so
many different levels; those differences are marked by different ways of
fulfilling the mitzvah of lighting.
Many are accustomed to reciting Yoshev B’seiser 12 after lighting the Chanukah lights. The seforim hakedoshim
see this as a function of the halachic requirement of placing the menorah
within ten tefachim of the ground. This lowest stratum of activity is seen
in kabbalah as the province of the chitzonim. In other words, the darker
spiritual forces are banished to the least elevated provinces of life. We
place the Chanukah lights specifically there, to indicate that its ohr can
penetrate areas furthest removed from kedushah. The attendant danger is
that these forces of anti-kedushah can do much damage on their home turf.
We therefore recite Yoshev B’seiser, one of whose themes is surviving the
encounter with unforeseen, lurking dangers. Its other theme is equally
appropriate – we are saved from these hazards only through bitachon in
From where did the bitachon of the Chashmonaim come? The Torah says13 “You are children to Hashem.” Just as
the Torah is eternal and immutable, so is this statement. We never cease
to be Hashem’s precious children. As the Bais Avrohom points out, a king
can show favor to a son for different reasons. If the son is particularly
capable and accomplished, his father the king will take pleasure in his
conduct, and show favor to him. It is likely that the king will show even
more favor, however, to a seriously impaired child, whose desperate
straits awaken the compassion of his father. This child has no
accomplishment or trait that would endear him to an unrelated objective
party. Parents, however, do not give up on their children, and are moved
by their helplessness.
Emunah is credited as the reason for our redemption from Egypt. Bnei
Yisrael found themselves without merit, but they maintained their emunah
in their position as Hashem’s children. Thus, they knew they could rely on
His mercy even when they found themselves with no positive attributes. The
very same reaction supported our salvation in the victory of the
Chashmonaim. As we say in Al Hanism, “afterwards, your children came to
the Kodesh Kodashim of Your holy House.” Recognizing themselves as
Hashem’s children provided them with the bitachon that was answered by
Hashem granting them victory.
The Zohar invokes the pasuk “He relates the end from the beginning” 14 in commenting about “keser malchus,” the
organic connection between the first of the sefiros (keser) and the last
(malchus). Keser, in the final analysis, depends on emunah, the summation
of all Torah and mitzvos. The “beginning” is the first of the Ten
Commandments, which is emunah. Ironically, so is the “end,” which is
Chanukah, the last of the seven rabbinic mitzvos. Chanukah completes the
Crown. The journey that begins with the realization that “I am Hashem
your G-d” ends in the display of the consequences of that relationship at
Chanukah – showcasing the love He has for his children. Pesach may be the
Rosh Hashanah, i.e. the most important day on the calendar for evidencing
emunah. Similarly, Chanukah and Purim are the Rosh Hashanah for bitachon.
Chazal fixed Chanukah for us to draw renewed bitachon each year from the
ohr that lit our lives in days of old, and in our time.
1Based on Nesivos Shalom, Chanukah, pgs.16-21 2 See Megilah 4A 3 There are, of course, hundreds of rabbinic fences and
proscriptions. There are only seven affirmative obligations, requiring us
to act in a particular way. They include mitzvos such as most berachos,
eruvin, and havdalah. 4 Literally, crown, but also an allusion to the uppermost
element in the hierarchy of the sefiros. 5 295 6 Tehilim 91 7 Esther 9:1 8 Rambam, Chanukah, 3:1 9 Megilah 15B 10 Tehilim 22:2 11 Tehilim 22:3,5 12 Tehilim 91 13 Devarim 14:1 14 Yeshaya 46:10