Happy Chanukah. May the lights of the holiday illuminate the darkness of our era.
As we go through the Tisha B’av sequence, I am reminded of the Rabbinic commandment not to study Torah on the Ninth of Av, except for the gloomy sections of Torah (and today’s Sefer Aggadah sequence certainly qualifies as gloomy!) In the same way we have the minhag not to study Torah on Nittelnacht – the evening which is celebrated by our Gentile friends which begins with sundown on December 24th. This extremely sad section of Sefer Aggadah discusses the agony of the Fathers in heaven at the destruction of the Temple. The Torah and the letters of the alphabet come forward to testify against Israel, but Avraham silences them by reminding them of how holy Israel holds the Torah and the letters that comprise it.
While Israel must take responsibility for her role in the destruction of the Temple, in the end, the ultimate agent in the destruction of the Temples took place at the hands of the foreigners. We are reminded at this time of year just how seductive the way of foreigners can be – the seductive materialism of Nittelnacht, with its pretty decorations and happy wrappings and merry little jingles. This is the time at which Israel feels most at exile. This year, with the tragic events of Mumbai where Islamic terrorists singled the local Chabad house for murder of Jews studying Talmud, the growing danger pozed by Hamas extremists in Gaza as they restart their program of random terror, and the shock of Bernard Madoff’s fraud (of which Jewish charities bore the brunt of the loss), and fueled by background of the increasingly grim situation in Afganistan and Pakistan and the fear of our increasingly deteriorating economy.
At this time, we can feel the pain of loss – of which perhaps a primal exemplar was the loss of the Temple – especially acutely.
And yet, it is also Chanukah, the festival at which we consider Hashem’s miracle: that after the Maccabeans defeated the far mightier Greek-Syrian forces of Antiochus, that a day’s worth of oil was allowed to burn for eight days. For me, the real miracle of Chanukah is that Jews even cared – because, after all the laws of purity are suspended during wartime. They did not need to use kosher oil in the Menorah, and yet they did. And this extra effort, this effort to perfect the mitzvah, was rewarded by light from Above.
In the same way, at the dark juncture, let us rededicate ourselves to performing more mitzvah, and thus to repay the faith that Avraham, Yitzchak, Yakov, and Moshe Rabbeinu showed when they wailed before the Holy One and defended Israel.