Chanukah 5778 – Part VI: V’Al HaMilchamos?

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The Al HaNissim prayer that we recite offers our thanks to the Ribono Shel Olam for the momentous miracles that He wrought in ensuring Jewish survival. In that addition that we recite on Chanukah, and in Haneros Halalu that immediately follows the bracha over the Chanukah lights, among the things that we are thankful for are “the miracles, the salvation, the mighty deeds, the victories, and the wars” which God performed for the Jewish people “in those days, at this time.” It is completely understandable why we thank Hashem for the first four of the five things listed in this tefilah. There are miracles around us each and every day, but the nissim that we offer thanks for were giant, explicit miracles that do not happen with great frequency. The salvation which we are thankful for follows suit to any time that Klal Yisrael has been in danger, yet was rescued by the Mighty Hand of God before calamity struck the entire nation. The mighty deeds help us get to where we are today. The victories gave us the power and the courage to forge ahead even after the threat and adrenaline have subsided. It doesn’t require much more pondering about why these four in particular require praise from us. But why on earth would we thank Hashem for the wars? What is the purpose? Wouldn’t it have been better had the scenario never escalated so dramatically and the reality that we would need a war at all not have come to be?

Rav Avraham Schorr explains that while it does seem a bit askew to thank God for the battles themselves, they are nevertheless important to recognize. Winning these wars ushered tremendous sense of renewal to the Jewish people.  He compares these wars to the wars that we wage against our yetzer hara. Our evil inclination is constantly seeking to lure into dulling our intellect and making poor decisions. The fight against our yetzer hara can be overwhelming, but Rav Schorr explains that it can also conjure up a strong amount of hischadshus into our midst. Furthermore, when one is in a dangerous state, where they do not know if the outcome of their situation will be positive, one will be gripped with a tremendous amount of fear. The Jewish people were trying to maintain their sense of normal religious life when the Yevanim decided that this was beyond the pale. The wars waged force us to rely on the Almighty for guidance and assistance. We thank God for this war not only because it was the vessel for the nissim v’niflaos, but because it brought us as a nation closer to Him. The hischadshus that Rav Schorr talks about was able to recharge the batteries of the Chashmonaim. That feeling when a Diaspora Jew gets when they traverse the ancient, sacred streets of Eretz Yisrael is how the Maccabim felt as they ferociously tried to restore order to the Temple.

Rabbi Shalom Noach Berezovsky, at that time head of the Slonimer yeshiva in Jerusalem, spoke to his students about Chanukah. This message, which was later recorded in the letters and writings of Nesivos Shalom, was given in December of 1973, in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur war. He writes that the miracle of Chanukah rendered each and every Jew, at the time of the war itself through today, as a briah chadasha, an entirely new being. He explains that we recite in Hallel the verse from Tehillim (118:5) “Min hameitzar karasi Kah, anani bamerchav Kah. From the straits I called God; God answered me with a vast expanse.” This vast expanse, the merchav, is a broader picture. Hashem responds to us with merchav, which Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks translates as “setting us free.” When we are at our lowest point, one where we cannot imagine arising from, Hakadosh Baruch Hu answers our call with by bringing us close. Yet, the knowledge of a greater plan doesn’t mean that the pain dissipates immediately, or even at all. Nesivos Shalom concludes that the word “merchav” in gematria is equal to “ner.” The pains of war are the meitzar, the difficult places. The “broader picture” is brought about through the Chanukah lights. It would’ve been no less miraculous had the Chashmonaim defeated the Yevanim, and found enough oil to last them until more was able to be procured. Yet, as the Jews were still reveling in their military triumph, they were stopped in their tracks with the situation of the oil for the Menorah. The miracles continued after the oil they found lasted exceedingly longer than anyone could’ve imagined. The wars brought us the miracles. The miracles brought us closer to Hashem. The closeness to God brings us to light the Chanukiah as a reminder that even in the meitzar or life, there is always a merchav.

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