Each and every holiday, Rav Yitzchok Hutner writes, has a specific message or theme at its core. It is a message that is unique to that holiday, and to truly appreciate the holiday, that unique attribute need be explored. Chanukah, historically speaking, was the last holiday to be established. With the establishment of Chanukah as a holiday, the roots of all the holidays became firmly implanted in Jewish life, and the messages they were to impart were completed. Obviously, the placement of Chanukah as the final holiday teaches us something. This lesson we carried with us as a nation from the time the holiday was established and forward. What is it about Chanukah that is so significant?
The Greeks, in the days of the Chanukah story, were not interested in the physical decimation of the nation of Israel. They were interested in the decimation of the Jewish religion, a spiritual decimation of the nation of Israel. Adherence to the precepts of the Torah was a punishable offence. The study of Torah could easily result in a death sentence. However, this grey cloud had a silver lining, one which had a deep and long-lasting effect.
The study of Torah is central to the life of the nation of Israel. It is of such importance that the squandering of time, the simple loss of opportunity to study Torah, is a sin. However, Rav Hutner points out there are situations where the loss of Torah study actually results in greater perpetuation of Torah study. We find an example of this dichotomy by the breaking of the Luchos, the tablets upon which the Ten Commandments were inscribed. On one hand, we find that G-d “praised,” so to speak, the breaking of the Luchos by Moshe (Shabbos 87a). On the other hand, we find that the Talmud states that if it was not for the breaking of the Luchos, Torah would have never been forgotten by the nation of Israel (Eruvin 54a). How is it that Moshe could been praised for an action that allowed Torah to be forgotten for eternity?
The forgetting of Torah necessitates Torah study to recapture that which was lost. A simple reminder if often not enough to relearn that which was forgotten. Time must be spent and effort expended to retrieve that which cannot be found. Therefore, the loss of Torah information actually results in a net gain of Torah study. Although the Luchos were destroyed and Torah was allowed to be forgotten, G-d thanked Moshe for his action, as now much more time would be devoted to the retrieval of that which was lost, the study of Torah thereby increasing in magnitude.
The Greeks attempted to eradicate Torah from the world. They forced many in the nation of Israel to suspend any involvement in Torah study. The oppression was severe, and physical and spiritual tolls were exacted. However, what the Greeks never anticipated was that their wide-scale suppression of Torah study would actually result in an even greater devotion of time and energy to Torah study. The darkness of the oppression led to an even brighter light illuminating the spirit of the nation of Israel, a light that we recall when we allow the light of the Menorah, placed prominently in our windows, for all to see, to illuminate our homes.
Chanukah was the last holiday because it sent us a message that we need to recall during our time of exile. Specifically, Chanukah demonstrated that spiritual suppression can result in spiritual growth. The loss of Torah study can most definitely result in wide-spread growth and disseminating of Torah, on scales never previously imaginable. Generally, the story of Chanukah demonstrates that the gloom of exile and oppression can and will eventually result in splendorous bliss. As the Chanukah prayer of Al HaNissim states, G-d “gave the mighty to the hands of the week, many into the hands of the few… the wicked into the hands of the righteous.” This happened on Chanukah, and it will happen again, may it be speedily, in our days.
Check out all of the posts on Chanukah. Head over to http://www.torah.org/learning/yomtov/ to access the YomTov Page. Then click on the icon for the holiday of your choice.
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