The Holiday of Emunah and Bitachon 1
Each special day of the calendar contains a hidden dimension, and therefore offers us its own gift. We are instructed 2to “ask and inquire” about the halachos – the laws – of each day as they occur. Primarily, this means to ready ourselves to do whatever the mitzvos linked to that particular the day require of us. It also includes, however, our asking and inquiring from Hashem to prepare ourselves attitudinally to the halichos, the special ways and paths of the approaching event, and to understand their course through our neshamos. Where are they designed to take us? How do we ready ourselves for the journey? We must ask Hashem for guidance as to how we should come in to the holiday, and with what changes we can expect to emerge from it.
Chanukah and Purim are the completion of the set of seven rabbinic mitzvos. 3Added to the 613 mitzvos of the Torah, they form keser 4 (numerically: 620), or “crown.” Sensing the bitter and lengthy exile that Bnei Yisrael would face after the Temple’s destruction, Chazal provided these two days to accompany them in this terrible journey. Each year, these days would sustain us through our difficulties by shining upon us a light of emunah and bitachon.
Emunah and bitachon brought about our salvation at the founding events of each of these holidays. We awaited the implementation of a decree to physically destroy us at the time of the first Purim. The decree had been written and then sealed with the seal of the King of Kings. Any hope of survival at the time exceeded the ordinary and natural. We found emunah and bitachon which were beyond the ordinary. From it we drew our salvation. The same was true of Chanukah, where our spiritual existence was threatened, and where once again we found emunah and bitachon where they could not have been expected to survive. From that belief and trust, we drew down the miracle from its Heavenly source.
Our custom, says the Magen Avraham 5is to repeat the last verse (orech yamim asb’eihu) when we recite Yoshev B’seiser. 6As the Tashbetz points out, the repetition brings the word total to 130, which equals haKohanim. This chapter of Tehilim was part of the arsenal of the Hashmonaim Kohanim. They went out to battle with it. It speaks of great trust in Hashem without mentioning any merit on our part. It offers no bargaining chip to Hashem, and yet exudes confidence in Him. “My G-d – I will trust in Him!” The power of bitachon knows no limits.
Ironically, in one regard Chanukah and Purim surpass the accomplishment of the Exodus from Egypt. There, drawing upon emunah alone, we were freed from the hand of our oppressor. At the time of Purim, however, we turned the tables on our enemies. Not only did we escape the designs of our oppressors, but we achieved dominion over them. 7At Chanukah as well, we reestablished political independence for almost the next two hundred years. 8In both of these cases, adding bitachon on to emunah made the difference. In the final analysis, Torah and good deeds bring certain powers into play. Prayer adds other powers. Perched on top of both of them are emunah and bitachon, which provide access to the most potent of powers Hashem sends our way. At times, we can feel that the power of our tefilah is blunted, that various adversarial forces block the effectiveness of our prayers. These forces have no power, however, against bitachon. At such times, emunah and bitachon accomplish what prayer cannot.
Esther, entering the room that housed the royal collection of idols, felt the Shechinah leave her. 9 Her reaction was to cry out to Hashem. “My G-d, my G-d! Why have You deserted me?” 10The next few verses 11speak of her frustration as her prayers of both day and night prove ineffective. She then shifts to a stance of bitachon, and finds renewed confidence. Where prayer does not work, bitachon still produces results.
The Gemara emphasizes that it was not until the anniversary of the event that Chanukah was designated as a permanent observance. Why did Chazal wait a full year after, rather than act at the time the miracle occurred? The seforim hakedoshim explain that Chazal had to determine whether the ohr, the special Divine illumination that accompanied the nes, would be a recurring one, or whether it was limited to the time the event occurred. When they felt the ohr the following year, they knew that it would be a yearly event, and the holiday became a permanent feature.
The original ohr did not shine in a vacuum. It was drawn down from its source through the bitachon of the Kohanim who waged the battle against the Syrian-Greeks. It follows that the ohr that revisits us each year must be drawn to us through our bitachon.
This explains why the Gemara left us with three different levels of observing Chanukah: a basic level, mehadrin, and mehadrin min hamehadrin. Chazal offer us no parallel in any other mitzvah! All of us perform every other mitzvah according to a single set of expectations and demands. We can understand, though, that Chanukah must be exceptional. Since its all- important ohr becomes available to us only through our emunah and bitachon, there cannot be a single level of observance. Emunah and bitachon are infinitely nuanced and textured. They are found in us on so many different levels; those differences are marked by different ways of fulfilling the mitzvah of lighting.
Many are accustomed to reciting Yoshev B’seiser 12 after lighting the Chanukah lights. The seforim hakedoshim see this as a function of the halachic requirement of placing the menorah within ten tefachim of the ground. This lowest stratum of activity is seen in kabbalah as the province of the chitzonim. In other words, the darker spiritual forces are banished to the least elevated provinces of life. We place the Chanukah lights specifically there, to indicate that its ohr can penetrate areas furthest removed from kedushah. The attendant danger is that these forces of anti-kedushah can do much damage on their home turf. We therefore recite Yoshev B’seiser, one of whose themes is surviving the encounter with unforeseen, lurking dangers. Its other theme is equally appropriate – we are saved from these hazards only through bitachon in Hashem’s intervention.
From where did the bitachon of the Chashmonaim come? The Torah says13 “You are children to Hashem.” Just as the Torah is eternal and immutable, so is this statement. We never cease to be Hashem’s precious children. As the Bais Avrohom points out, a king can show favor to a son for different reasons. If the son is particularly capable and accomplished, his father the king will take pleasure in his conduct, and show favor to him. It is likely that the king will show even more favor, however, to a seriously impaired child, whose desperate straits awaken the compassion of his father. This child has no accomplishment or trait that would endear him to an unrelated objective party. Parents, however, do not give up on their children, and are moved by their helplessness.
Emunah is credited as the reason for our redemption from Egypt. Bnei Yisrael found themselves without merit, but they maintained their emunah in their position as Hashem’s children. Thus, they knew they could rely on His mercy even when they found themselves with no positive attributes. The very same reaction supported our salvation in the victory of the Chashmonaim. As we say in Al Hanism, “afterwards, your children came to the Kodesh Kodashim of Your holy House.” Recognizing themselves as Hashem’s children provided them with the bitachon that was answered by Hashem granting them victory.
The Zohar invokes the pasuk “He relates the end from the beginning” 14 in commenting about “keser malchus,” the organic connection between the first of the sefiros (keser) and the last (malchus). Keser, in the final analysis, depends on emunah, the summation of all Torah and mitzvos. The “beginning” is the first of the Ten Commandments, which is emunah. Ironically, so is the “end,” which is Chanukah, the last of the seven rabbinic mitzvos. Chanukah completes the Crown. The journey that begins with the realization that “I am Hashem your G-d” ends in the display of the consequences of that relationship at Chanukah – showcasing the love He has for his children. Pesach may be the Rosh Hashanah, i.e. the most important day on the calendar for evidencing emunah. Similarly, Chanukah and Purim are the Rosh Hashanah for bitachon.
Chazal fixed Chanukah for us to draw renewed bitachon each year from the ohr that lit our lives in days of old, and in our time.
1Based on Nesivos Shalom, Chanukah, pgs.16-21
2 See Megilah 4A
3 There are, of course, hundreds of rabbinic fences and proscriptions. There are only seven affirmative obligations, requiring us to act in a particular way. They include mitzvos such as most berachos, eruvin, and havdalah.
4 Literally, crown, but also an allusion to the uppermost element in the hierarchy of the sefiros.
6 Tehilim 91
7 Esther 9:1
8 Rambam, Chanukah, 3:1
9 Megilah 15B
10 Tehilim 22:2
11 Tehilim 22:3,5
12 Tehilim 91
13 Devarim 14:1
14 Yeshaya 46:10
Text Copyright © 2008 by Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein and Torah.org