Chanukah 5778 – Part VIII: Zos Chanukah: Your Nation, Your Children

Zos Chanukah. We will light no more candles this Chanukah. One of the most powerful parts of the High Holiday season is Neilah, the last tefillah we recite on Yom HaKippurim. One may think that since it’s the final prayer with special petitions for atonement, saying it may be a technicality as our fate has already been sealed so close to the end of the holy day. This idea could not be any further from the truth. It’s powerful exactly because it’s our last opportunity to make our plea. On Shabbos, many consider shaleshudis to be a mere stopgap between the end of Mincha and the beginning of Motzei Shabbos Maariv. This, too, is wholly inaccurate. Any NCSYer can tell you that as Shabbos fades, our connection to it grows stronger. The mere time itself becomes more powerful, more significant. This notion is similarly true when it comes to Zos Chanukah, as some Chassidic masters point out that the final day of Chanukah has an exalted spiritual status the likes of Rosh Hashannah or Yom Kippur. As Chanukah wanes away, there is still time to be inspired.

Rabbi Moshe Shapiro, the recently departed Torah giant from Israel, notes an intriguing insight about Al HaNissim. The text states twice in reference to the Jewish people that they are “Your nation,” God’s nation. The Greeks “rose up against Your people Israel,” and “effected a great deliverance and redemption for Your people Israel.” Yet at the end of the prayer, different nomenclature is employed in regard to Hashem’s nation. “Then Your children entered the shrine of Your House…” It’s not a drastic deviation, but it is nonetheless a deviation from the previous terminology. What does this change in the language of the text mean?

Rabbi Shapiro writes that it’s poignant that only after the war was over and the Chashmonaim triumphantly returned to the Beis HaMikdash are they referred to as “Vanecha,” Your (God’s) children. In the wake of the Jews ascending up to the Temple, clearing the debris, and striving to begin the Avodah anew, they referred to not as God’s nation or people, but His children. Not before the salvation.

I think a possible explanation for this is that in the aftermath of the battle, it wasn’t necessarily certain that the Chashmonaim would be so scrupulous in restarting the Temple service. While they were no doubt ecstatic from their military victory, there also had to have been casualties of war and other damage that could’ve been attended to. It would’ve been completely understandable for that to have been the predominant concern, but it wasn’t. Getting the Menorah back up and running and making the Temple fit for use again was what was more important at that time.

It’s reminiscent of a story told about Rabbi Chaim Berlin (like the yeshiva), who was the son of the Netziv of Volozhin. Rav Chaim was a rabbi in Moscow in the late 1800’s, and due to a life-and-death matter, he would be forced to spend Yom Kippur away from his kehillah. He arrived at shul for Kol Nidre and found it completely empty. Not one person showed up. Rav Chaim was upset, and finally davened to himself. He awoke the next morning and entered the synagogue, and yet again, not a soul in sight. Around mincha time, suddenly, throngs of men covered in dirt converged upon the synagogue. Their petitions and tears were the most intense that Rav Chaim had ever encountered. He finally managed to ask one of the men what had happened and why they had showed up so late and so filthy. The man recognized the rabbi immediately and told him that a few hours before Yom Kippur, the Russian army stormed into town and rounded up every adult male to report for forced labor. They had no choice but to work, to dig ditches. The man began to weep and explained that only now were they able to get away from their aggressors and they ran to shul. At this point, Rav Chaim was crying as well. He addressed the crowd and told them about two neighbors who were arguing over a chicken that each claimed belonged to him. The beis din decided to tie the chicken’s feet together and place it in between the two houses. When its feet were untied, they would watch and see where the bird would walk, and thus it would be discernible to whom the chicken belonged. At this point, Rav Chaim turned his eyes toward Heaven and cried “Hashem, look at what children You have! When their feet are tied together, they have no choice but to go and work. But the moment their feet are untied, where did they go? To the theaters? To the shops? No! They come straight to you! They didn’t go home and rest a little or even tidy up. They came immediately back to You! This is where they instinctively turn!”

Ki Anu Vanecha, V’Ata Avinu. Klal Yisrael are referred to as Hashem’s children in Al HaNissim not when they engage in war, but when they rededicate the Temple.  Let us take stock of today, Zos Chanukah, and use what’s left of this lofty period of holy reflection and rededicating ourselves to the “Torasecha” and “Chukei Retzonecha” that the Yevanim tried so hard to dismantle.

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