By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein | Series: | Level:

Song of Dedication 1

Forced to pick a single event that provided the impetus for declaring the holiday of Chanukah, most of us would point to the miracle of the lights. Indeed, the miracle of the oil that would not give out is an inescapable theme of Chanukah.

A different event, however, emerges in our literature in close competition. Surprisingly, it is this runner-up in the contest for significance that pulls ahead in the race for providing the name of the holiday. The miracle of the oil did not give Chanukah its name. The word “Chanukah” puts the other theme, that of dedication – or more accurately rededication – front and center. Why should this be?

Following the advice of Maseches Soferim 2we are accustomed to adding Mizmor Shir Chanukas Ha- bayis Le-Dovid 3to the Chanukah davening. We don’t readily understand to which “house” Dovid refers. Some see it as the first Bais Ha-mikdosh. The sundry ailments and near-fatal incidents that Dovid refers to would then mean the exile and travail that preceded its construction. This is problematic. The first Bais Ha-mikdosh did not arrive on the heels of a period of great difficulty. Others see Dovid himself as the house; he speaks in appreciation of the restoration of his health and physical integrity. This is also difficult. Tanach does not mention Dovid struggling with a period of ill-health from which he recovered.

More likely is it that Dovid composed this prayer for every Jew who emerges from a period of pain and affliction, ready to rebuild the edifice of his spiritual core on the ruins of his former existence. The spiritual uncertainty of his old self is met with a psalm of rededication.

Chazal did not immediately establish Chanukah as a permanent holiday. They waited a year, to see if the ohr that graced the original event would return. When it did, they realized that the event had lasting significance. They named the holiday after the rededication, however, not after the ohr. They understood that the function of the ohr was to provide light after an episode of complete despair. Hashem had shown them that even in such bleak times, a small flask of purity remains, with which to light the future. Chanukah became the time in which a Jew could confidently expect to rebuild his shattered inner house of spirituality. Mizmor Shir expresses the certainty that there are no grounds for absolute despair; at every moment of apparent abandonment by HKBH, one should not hesitate to call upon Hashem for help.

We can attach the composition of Mizmor Shir to a specific incident in Dovid’s life. He wrote it in reaction to the episode with Batsheva, which itself is shrouded in difficulty. On the one hand, Chazal affirm that one who says that Dovid sinned is mistaken; 4 on the other, they see Dovid as having become leprous as a result of his crime, and members of Sanhedrin shunning him for half a year. 5

There is no contradiction. Dovid committed no vile wrong in an absolute sense. Relative to who he was, and what spiritual level he occupied, however, his actions reflected a shortcoming. He gives clear expression to this in the next psalm after Mizmor Shir: “I have sinned to You alone.” 6In other words, Dovid’s actions were not sinful in an absolute sense; they should not be perceived as sinful to others They were not perfectly congruent with what he knew to be Hashem’s Will, however, and in that sense they were an affront to Him alone.

There is a parallel in a story about the Kadosh Me-Lublin, who once faced a difficult challenge. In fighting his inner battle, he overlooked an actual halachic objection. Not having that available, only one argument saved him from making the wrong choice. He resolved not to act without first determining that his conduct would bring pleasure, kivayachol, to Hashem. Dovid meant the same. His sin was only to Hashem, in the sense that his actions did not bring pleasure to Him.

Chazal 7question the entire premise of Mizmor Shir, which in its simple meaning speaks of the dedication of a house, which they take to mean the Bais Ha-Mikdosh. How could Dovid speak of its dedication, when it was not built in his lifetime? While Dovid conceived of the project, it fell to his son to bring the plan to fruition. This, they say, is largely irrelevant. Dovid planned the construction of the Bais Ha-Mikdosh, and would have seen it through to completion, were it not for circumstances beyond his control. He is credited with its construction for the intent alone. We can find an allusion in this to our primary theme. Mizmor Shir has universal application beyond the life of Dovid, and its message is aimed at every Jew whose inner spiritual house totters on the brink of oblivion. It is a song of triumph for the Jew who has done the necessary repairs and improvements. It can be sung even by one who has longed for the changes, planned and designed them, even if he is not successful in translating them into reality.

Dovid is the symbol of Messianic redemption. It is specifically he among the Seven Shepherds 8whose line was chosen to produce Moshiach. We give voice to this each month at kiddush levanah when we proclaim that Dovid, king of Israel, is alive and enduring. From his earliest days, he experienced serial tragedies and challenges. In his childhood he was derided and rejected by his brothers. Shaul believed that he was plotting against his life, and pursued him with his forces. Becoming king, after slowly and painfully consolidating his hold on the throne, did not end his hardship. He endured the rebellion of sons, and the disloyalty of trusted friends. Yet none of these incidents broke him. To the contrary, each served as a rung upon which he ascended higher until he became the living and enduring king of Israel. Each challenge and concealment of Hashem’s presence from him was transformative. (So it is with his people. Chazal say, “Whoever is not treated to hester panim is not from Bnei Yisrael. 9 ) Dovid treated each transformation as a chanukas ha-bayis, as a rededication of his spiritual structure. He greeted each with the song of Mizmor Shir, seeing himself as a new, revitalized being, ready to continue propelling himself higher.

Bais Avraham points out a few other curiosities. The first letters of the first three words of Mizmor Shir Chanukas Ha-bayis coincide with the first letters of milah, shabbos, and chodesh – the three practices specifically prohibited by the Syrian-Greeks. The first letters of the first four words spell out “simchah.” This is no coincidence.

The three practices share a single quality. They reinforce the bond and connection between a Jew and his Creator. Milah symbolizes the quest for individual kedushah, of curtailing and controlling our biological urges. Shabbos brings an individual and his Maker together, sharing closeness each week. Chodesh, the incorporation of the waxing and waning of the moon in our calendar, symbolic of the irrepressible continuity of our People, is an expression of our dogged emunah.

The three work in concert with each other. Each element reinforces the others, and is reinforced by them. Kedushah has direct bearing on emunah. Without keen and penetrating insight into the nature of Divinity, emunah is limited. But lack of kedushah blocks our knowledge of the Divine. We cannot know Him without having something in common with Him. The more we are removed from kedushah, the more we are removed from Him.

The reverse relationship is also true. Our progress towards kedushah is largely determined by the depth of our emunah. The quality and intensity of our emunah enables us to take the difficult steps towards curbing our lower wants and desires.

Kedushah and emunah both change and enhance the quality of our Shabbos experience. At the same time, when Shabbos is used properly, we draw from the ohr of Shabbos and make quantum jumps in our emunah and kedushah.

Chanukah brings all these elements together, strengthening them and thereby increasing our devekus to Hashem. Nothing brings us more joy than an unmistakable feeling of closeness to Him. This, perhaps, is why the Rambam 10calls the days of Chanukah “days of simchah.”

1. Based on Nesivos Shalom, Chanukah, pgs. 32-37
2. Soferim 18:2
3. Tehilim 30
4. Shabbos 56A
5. Yoma 22B
6. Tehilim 51:6
7. Shochar Tov 30
8. The three avos, plus Yosef, Moshe, Aharon, and Dovid, corresponding to the seven lower sefiros
9. Chagigah 5A
10. Chanukah 3:3

Text Copyright © 2008 by Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein and