Chanukah 5778 – Part I: The Light of Torah

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The holiday of Chanukah is a time to usher in a renewed spirit and energy to Torah study. We recite in Al HaNissim that the Greeks sought to cause the Jewish people to forget their Torah knowledge and have them veer from the will of the Ribono Shel Olam. There’s often a common misconception associated with the Chanukah in reference to outlook of the oppressors of the Jews. Namely, the Greeks did not wish for the wholesale eradication of the entire people like other tyrannical leaders or regimes. Rather, they sought to uproot any connection that Klal Yisrael had to the Torah and Hashem. Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski notes that the Jews would’ve been allowed to freely live as they pleased so long as they severed all ties they had with the Almighty. The war was a result of not willing to accept this ultimatum. As the military victory was a colossal triumph for the Chashmoniam, this was not a typical war that comes to mind, one for physical endurance: it was one of spiritual survival. Through the defeat of the Greeks, we as a people were able to continue living a life according the same statutes that they sought to destroy.

Thus, we have a mandate of increasing our ruchnius on Chanukah. We have eight days of mitzvos, additions to our daily tefilah, and an increased call to learn Torah. Rabbi Gavriel Zinner, in the introduction to his encyclopedic work Nitei Gavriel, underscores the importance limud haTorah being particularly relevant to learning while the flames are lit. Moreover, the quality of our learning will increase greatly, and we have the ability to better understand the meaning of the volumes we are poring over. He supports this idea from the Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Alter (founder of the Ger Chassidic dynasty, also known as the Chiddushei HaRim), who writes that this notion stems from the verse in Mishlei (6:23) “ki ner mitzvah v’Torah or” that a mitzvah is a candle and the Torah is light. Rav Zinner notes that through the “neros of mitzvah,” i.e. the Chanukah lights, we will be zoche to “Torah or,” a tremendous illumination of theTorah.

The Nitei Gavriel buttresses this idea with a statement of Rabbi Yisroel Hopstein, universally known as the Kozhnitzer Maggid. The Maggid explains that immediately after one davens, they should engage in Torah study, specifically in the areas that seem confusing, contradictory, and difficult for them to understand. This is because in our prayers say that “You graciously endow mankind with wisdom, and teach mortals insight.” We specifically thank God for giving us wisdom, and we finish this blessing by asking for more Divine assistance in this area. How could we not employ that which we have just asked for?

Through the “neros of mitzvah” we will bring about “Torah or.”

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