Chanukah 5777 Part III – Igniting the Flames, Illuminating Our Souls.

I’d venture to say that when most Jews think of Chanukah, their eyes light up. After all, is one of the most jubilant times on the Jewish calendar, complete with eight nights of presents and a tremendous amount of culinary delicacies. However, while we revel in the festival of lights, it’s important to remind ourselves that this is time during the year that could’ve ended much differently.
Let’s travel back to the time of the Chashmonaim and try to make sense of what was going on. Klal Yisrael were being attacked by the Greeks, who cared significantly more about eviscerating their connection with the Almighty than they did about killing them. We recite in Al HaNissim “LeHashkicham Torasecha, Lehaaviram mechukei retzonecha” that Yavan tried to uproot the ways of torah and mitzvot that permeated Jewish life. The Temple, the glorious edifice where our nation came and served God, had been defiled. Only through the ferocious fight of a small band of Jews did the battle ultimately cease, and against all odds, they won. This military battle ushered in a great era of reaffirming Klal Yisrael’s connection to Hashem, yet it all could’ve never even happened had the Chashmonaim not been staunch in their effort to reestablish the Temple for ritual use. 
When tragedy befalls the collective nation, even when good is brought about because of it, there are those who seek to find the harbinger for this event. This is not a contemporary phenomenon, yet an idea that is present at Chanukah time as well. The Bach (Orach Chaim 670:4) comments that the reason that the Greeks were successful militarily in their conquest of Bnai Yisrael was because the latter had become lax in their spiritual observance of Hashem’s commandments. The real miracle, maintains the Bach, is not that there was one pure jug of olive oil to be found in the carnage that was left in the Beis Hamikdash, nor was it the fact that this oil kept the Menorah lit for eight days. The true miracle was that the Jewish people did teshuvah and began observing mitzvot again with great fervor.
The comments of the Bach rattle me greatly. There aren’t the musings of a modern-day rabbi who people consider to be an outlier. He’s an individual whose commentary on the Tur is printed right next to the text! The fact that the Jews endured such decrees and damage from Antiochus was because of their laxity in regard to ruchnius is so frustrating to me. There are so many ways that a Jew can have a strong connection to Hashem. 
The Jewish people have 613 mitzvot, yet we know that in reality, there are offshoots of those original commandments and we have even more mitzvot than that. Why so many? What’s the point of having so many mitzvot? If we’re to keep them all, wouldn’t it be better for us if we only had a few mitzvot to adhere to? The Rambam, in his Peirush HaMishnayos at the end of Maseches Makkos, brings up a very poignant idea. If there were only a small handful of mitzvot that were given to the Jewish people, there would be a tremendous amount of pressure to strictly keep them all (think Adam and Chava in Gan Eden in regard to the Etz HaDaas). If we were to transgress one of those commandments, we’d be frustrated and dejected while at the same time, not following the word of God. By having so many mitzvot, even the most nefarious of characters is bound to do a keep some of them. At the same time, we can’t stress about not being able to do all of the mitzvot as no individual is able to complete all of them! There are mitzvot specifically designed for men, women, Kohanim, Leviim, bechorim, those living in the land of Israel, and others. Not even the most pious of figures can do every one of them. There is something here for everyone, an area of mitzvot where everyone can excel. 
Rabbi Avraham Ausband, Rosh Yeshiva of the Yeshiva of the Telshe Alumni in Riverdale writes that when Klal Yisrael returns to a time of the year when the Jews of old merited a significant spiritual energy, we too are able to capture that power for ourselves today. The Jews at that time could’ve seen their brethren be victorious in a war they weren’t supposed to win as mere luck. They could’ve been downtrodden about their lot of being persecuted. They could’ve ran away completely from any semblance of shmiras hamitzvos. Yet, they did just the opposite, and ran toward the chance to reaffirm their kesher with the Ribono Shel Olam. Just as the Jews rededicated themselves to mitzvah observance, may we be zoche to do the same, and use this time of tremendous historical nissim to bring about salvation in lives as well. 


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