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By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein | Series: | Level:

The motifs of Chanukah and Shabbos are so different, that they seem to talk past one another. But every Chanukah has its Shabbos. When we probe more deeply, we will find that not only do the two not grate on each other, but work synergistically to afford a unique opportunity for personal growth.

Detecting the apparent conflict is easy. On a number of levels, Chanukah and Shabbos aim at very different goals. Shabbos aims at more elevated precincts, while Chanukah concerns itself with more pedestrian ones.

Kabbalistically, Shabbos aims at the top of the list of the sefiros. Reishis Chochmah teaches that its ohr derives from the highest three sefiros; Be’er Mayim Chaim explains that because of the ethereal origins of Shabbos’ ohr, all forces of tumah melt in its presence. Chanukah, on the other hand, is assumed by the seforim ha-kedoshim to relate specifically to hod, the lowest of all the individual sefiros, if we take yesod and malchus as collective ones.

In our zemiros for Shabbos, we say, “Gladden them with binyan shalem, a complete structure; make them shine in the light of Your countenance.” Some see the “complete structure” in the sense of what we explained above. When Shabbos adds the rarified ohr of the three highest sefiros to what is ordinarily accessible from the other seven, the structure of the sefiros is fully potentiated.

We could suggest a different interpretation, one in which the tension between Shabbos and Chanukah is resolved. The “complete structure” is available specifically on Shabbos Chanukah, because Shabbos addresses the highest sefiros while Chanukah successfully takes Hashem’s ohr to much lower places. On the day that they overlap and fuse, all of the sefiros, the entire set of them, are addressed at once by Hashem’s ohr.

Chazal imposed rigid requirements for the oils and wicks we may use for the mitzvah of Shabbos lights. Those that did not produce a clean, constant flame or take well to the wick may not be used. They treated Shabbos Chanukah as an exception. Even oils and wicks that do not burn well may be used. On one level, this reflects the halachic reality that it is prohibited to make use of the Chanukah lights, and people will therefore not forget themselves and adjust a poorly-burning flame. At the same time, this halachah alludes to the idea of the “complete structure” of Shabbos Chanukah. Unlike other Shabbosos of the year, Shabbos Chanukah’s reach and appeal are universal. Some people remain unmoved and untouched by the message of the ordinary Shabbos. Chanukah, however, casts its light to the nethermost realms, below ten tefachim. It attracts even those people who are like the imperfect oils and wicks, who are effectively banished from participating in an ordinary Shabbos, those to whom the light of Shabbos does not take well. These people respond to Chanukah, and have a place at this one Shabbos that falls within her.

“How beautiful and how pleasant are you, O love, with delights.” Chazal see in this the beauty of a doorway framed with mitzvos. On the right is a mezuzah, and the Chanukah menorah on the left. If our approach is correct, there may be room in this image for another matched set as well: a house with a ner Shabbos illuminating the inside, and set above ten tefachim, while the outside is lit up by the menorah, set below ten tefachim.

This set is an inclusive one, because the implications of a menorah that shines outside the house is that it acts as a beacon to those who find no place within the walls and limitations of kedushah. They, too, are part of the Divine purpose for this holiday, just as the menorah is set below ten tefachim, recalling the spiritual poverty of the people at the time of the first Chanukah. Hashem does not wish to see souls pushed aside. Although generally the Shechinah never descended below ten tefachim, at Chanukah He reaches out not only to the generally faithful, but even those who think they have bottomed out in their relationship with Jewish life.

The “complete structure” of Shabbos Chanukah incorporates as well the two poles in practical service of Hashem. Some serve Hashem primarily through an avodah that is upward- reaching, above ten tefachim. They serve Hashem chiefly with their minds and hearts. Others direct their gaze to the ten tefachim below. Acutely conscious of their lusts and desires, of where their yetzer hora might take them, they weary themselves resisting its wiles and temptations, and then taking the offensive to extirpate the evil entirely. There is beauty in both of these approaches, but what makes the structure complete is combining the two, of an avodah that leaves behind no part of Man’s own structure.

Indeed, the very names of the eponymous forefather of our people bear out the notion of the complete structure of Man. On the one hand, he is called – like our nation as a whole – Yisrael. The word can be treated as an anagram for li rosh, to me is the quality of being the chief and head. But he never ceased being Yaakov as well, a name that derives from akev, the heel, or lowest part of the body. These names need not imply a tension so much as defining the limits of the complete body of the Jewish people: serving Hashem from top to bottom, and losing nothing in between.

Aseres Ha-dibros begin with what seems to be the ultimate single restatement of Jewish belief: I am Hashem your G-d Who took you out of Egypt. Seeing this verse as a single call to belief, however, is a mistake. It is actually two calls. It sets forth two very different requirements of bedrock Jewish faith. It touches upon our core emunah regarding Hashem, as the Creator and continued Guide of all Creation. But by linking “I am Hashem!” to our exodus from Egypt, it evokes another key belief: the relationship of HKBH with every individual Jew, owing to his membership in the Jewish people. Not only did Hashem forge us into a people, but He did so from within the context of an Egypt, where we had become mired in the tumah of the host culture, and had little to show for ourselves spiritually.

These two aspects are combined and repeated each year on Shabbos Chanukah. Shabbos testifies to Hashem as Creator. Chanukah demonstrates the relationship Hashem has with His people, standing by them even when they have disappointed Him through their sin.

Shabbos Chanukah thus affords us an opportunity to experience the binyan shalem, the completed structure of the tikun of all ten sefiros, of avodah with all parts of our being, and emunah in both of its significant manifestations.

Text Copyright © 2008 by Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein and