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The Menorah and The War

In memory of our son Yaakov Yehudah Frimer (ob”m)

Rav Aharon Lichtenstein ob"m ( has noted that the holiday of Chanukah actually focuses on two miracles: the miracle of the Menorah, and the miracle of the war. Yet, these two elements would seem, at first glance, to contradict one another. The Menorah stands inside the Holy Temple, in a place that only the kohanim are permitted to enter. The war, by contrast, was waged by the Hasmoneans outside, in the public thoroughfare. Everyone could participate in it, and it influenced the entire region.

However, there is also an aspect of each of these concepts – Menorah and war - that makes them compatible. As emphasized by the Talmud (Shabbat 22b), the Menorah has relevance for all nations. The candelabra's function was to radiate and illuminate outward, and not only within the holy Sanctuary. "It is a testimony to the people of the world that the Divine Presence rests among the people of Israel." On the other hand, the Hasmoneans, who fought the war outside of the Temple, did so in order to purify the Temple from within. Thus, despite the seeming contradiction, the two phenomena are interdependent and share an essential nexus and connection.

In fact, notes Rav Lichtenstein, severing the two concepts from each other would have carried great danger. It would have been disastrous for each party – priest and warrior - to focus only on his own problems, ignoring those of the other side. It would have been tragic if the kohanim were interested only in purifying the defiled Temple, in finding "pure olive oil", while making no effort to help mold the surrounding culture or connect with those outside of the Temple. Similarly, it would be disastrous if the rest of the nation cared only about external national matters, with no thought for the Temple.

Such divisiveness would be negative and dangerous. In order to create a bridge between the two sides, the Hasmoneans – who understood the problem – took upon themselves the responsibility of political leadership along with their priestly role. Nahmanides (Ramban) criticizes the Hasmoneans for taking this step, since Jewish law indicates that the King of Israel should be a descendant of the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:10). Nevertheless, it seems that the Hasmoneans regarded it as a necessity in light of their situation. They felt that bringing together the priestly and the political, the spiritual and temporal, would lead to an optimal situation amongst the People of Israel. The people would be connected to the Temple - and what it symbolizes - but also be involved in worldly matters in accordance with the guidelines of Torah.

Today, too, we encounter a similar problem in our society. There are those who occupy themselves only with the spirit - with "pure olive oil" - taking no interest in matters of the world including contributing to Jewish culture and art in Israel, or lending assistance in areas that are not "pure". On the other hand, there are others who lean too far towards secular and universal trends and values, abandoning their tradition and severing themselves from the "pure olive oil". They have tried to redefine the State of Israel as a purely secular entity, severed from Torah tradition and values. We are obligated - each of us personally, and also communally - to celebrate both the miracle of the Menorah, and the miracle of the war. We are bidden to engage in both tasks: the development of our inner spiritual selves and the building of Am Yisrael, its culture and its land, in the spirit of the Torah.

Chag Urim sameach to all.



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Thursday, 18 July 2024

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