A Glaring Omission
By Rabbi Yehudah Prero
Have you ever tried to find a detailed discussion of Chanukah in Talmud?
You shouldn't try too hard: it's not there. Yes, a few highlights of the
history and some brief discussion of the Menorah-lighting are mentioned on
a few pages. However, there is no "in-depth" discussion, let alone a
tractate, devoted to Chanukah and the laws applicable on the holiday.
The Talmud (Yoma 29a) discusses another "omission" concerning
Chanukah. "It is written (Tehilim 22), 'For the Conductor, on the Ayeles
HaShachar (brightening of dawn, according to one interpretation).' Rav
Assi said: Why was Esther compared to the dawn? To tell you that just as
the dawn is the end of the whole night, so too is the story of Esther the
end of all the miracles. What about Chanukah? - we refer only to those
included in Scripture."
The story of the miracle of Chanukah, as this passage in the Talmud notes,
is not included in Scriptures, while the story of Purim is, in Megillas
Esther. Chanukah is omitted from discussion in the Talmud, while the
discussion of Purim in contained in an entire tractate. Clearly, there
must be a reason for this stark difference between Chanukah and Purim. Rav
Yehonasan Eybshitz comments that this difference highlights an underlying
historical difference between these two holidays.
In the Talmud (Shabbos 88a), we learn that "Raba said . . . they re-
accepted it (the Torah) in the days of Achashverosh, for it is written (in
Megillas Esther), [the Jews] confirmed, and took upon them [etc.] - they
confirmed (at the time of Purim) what they had accepted long before. (by
Mt. Sinai). The spiritual problem that existed in the days of Mordechai
and Esther was a fundamental one: the Jewish people were lacking in their
faith. People openly flaunted their disdain for the precepts contained in
the Torah and dabbled in idolatry. Upon the threat of physical
annihilation, Mordechai rallied the nation to repent. The people saw the
errors of their ways, repented, and a miraculous turn-around of fortune
occurred. The nation of Israel was saved from the murderous hands of Haman
and his willing minions. The nation, as the Talmud states, then reaccepted
the Torah upon themselves, reaffirming the acceptance of the Torah that
occurred at Mount Sinai.
However, not all was well and good with the spiritual status of the nation
of Israel after the events of Purim. Granted, no one desired any longer to
worship idols. However, a new form of heresy emerged. Groups formed that
denied fundamental Jewish beliefs. Rav Eybshitz explains that at the time
of Chanukah, there were three distinct segments of the populace: the
Perushim - those who faithfully upheld the Torah - both the Written and
Oral Laws; the Tzedukim - those who, although accepting the validity of
the Written Law, disavowed any notion of a World to Come or Resuscitation
of the Dead; and lastly, the Baytusim - those who, although accepting the
validity of the Written Law, denied the validity of the Oral Law. Greek
philosophy had infiltrated the belief system of a segment of the
population, and those who adhered faithfully to the teachings of
generations previous were in the minority.
The Chashmonaim were part of this minority group. They had to battle the
Greeks and their non-believing brethren. As we know, in the end, they were
victorious. The Chashmonaim were able to uphold the honor of the Oral Law.
In fact, the very miracle of the Menorah's oil is an illustration of one
of the precepts of Oral Law: nowhere in the Written Law do we find any
prohibition on lighting the menorah with impure oil. That law is learned
in the Oral Law, and because of the strict adherence to this precept, the
nation of Israel merited the miracle of one flask of oil lasting for eight
days, a miracle we celebrate to this day.
The Oral Law is just that - Oral Law. It was not to be written down. Only
because of dire circumstances did our Sages allow for Mishna and then
Gemora to be transcribed and ordered. Because Chanukah is the holiday that
commemorates the reestablishment of the primacy of the Oral Law, it was
not to be recorded in the Written Law, in Scriptures. Purim, however, was
written in Scriptures as it celebrates the renewed acceptance of the
entire Torah, Written Law primarily. Perhaps, similarly, the amount of
folios dedicated to discussion of these holidays in Talmud is reflective
of this dichotomy. The Oral Law was only meant to be an aid to remembering
the entirety of the Oral Law. All of the Oral Law was not explicitly
stated therein. It was therefore appropriate that the very holiday that
commemorates the Oral Law be kept in that form of transmission to the
greatest degree possible: limited legal and historical discussion is all
that is found in the Talmud. Purim, however, does not carry with it his
same significance, and therefore it is discussed in the Talmud with the
same degree of detail as any other holiday.
Chanukah, as we know, commemorates a victory of the weak over the mighty,
the few over the many, the pure over the impure, the righteous over the
wicked, and the diligent students of the Torah over the wanton. However,
the holiday also celebrates purity - not just of the requisite olive oil
that was needed, but of tradition. The integrity of the Oral Law was
upheld by the Chashmonaim in the face of those who did all they could to
diminish it. Tradition was upheld in the face of philosophical arguments
advocating modernity and change. Chanukah commemorates the strength the
Chashmonaim had, not only on the physical battlefield, but on the
spiritual battlefield as well. It is now up to us to live up to the ideals
for which the Chashmonaim fought, and to safeguard those ideals for
generations to come.
Text Copyright © 2005 by Rabbi Yehudah Prero and Torah.org.
The author has Rabbinic ordination from Mesivta Tifereth Jerusalem, NY.