So his brothers said to him, “Will you reign over us, or will you govern us?” And they continued further to hate him on account of his dreams and on account of his words.. (Bereishis 37:8)
IN LAST WEEK’S parsha, once Ya’akov overcame the angel of Eisav, there was a “chayn of 36 on the 25th.” Rashi says it. Well, actually, he doesn’t say it quite like that. Rather, Rashi quotes the verse from Hoshea, “He strove with an angel and prevailed over him; he wept—becha—and supplicated him—vayitchanayn lo” (Hoshea 12:5). But you could read “becha” as “b’Chof Heh—on the 25th, “vayitchanayn—there was a chayn,” of “lo—of 36.” An allusion to the 36 candles we would eventually light over the eight days of Chanukah, the holiday of chayn, which begins on the 25th day of Kislev?
And even though Ya’akov did defeat the angel, it was at a cost. The angel was able to damage the back of Ya’akov’s leg, his gid hanashe, which is forbidden to a Jew to this very day. So, unless you can find a butcher willing to remove it for you, you can forget about having a sirloin steak. They usually sell that part of the cow to a gentile.
So he did not leave the battle unscathed. He limped away. But then the verse says, “And the sun rose for him—vayizrach lo—when he passed Penuel…” (Bereishis 32:32). “What shone for him?” asked the Maharil. “‘Lo’ shone for Ya’akov Avinu,” the Maharil answered, that is, the 36 candles of Chanukah, and it healed him. That’s why the Torah soon after says that Ya’akov arrived at Shechem “shalaim—complete.”
Even more far-fetched?
So was the idea of electricity 50 years before its time. And air flight? They thought the Wright brothers were very wrong brothers. But we see now clearly that the problem had never been with the idea of electricity or air flight. It had been the people whose imaginations could not yet grasp the feasibility and inevitability of both, and so it was with many other amazing inventions over the course of thousands of years.
Likewise, if a person thinks that the holiday just happened to stumble into history 36 centuries from Creation, they’ve got the wrong idea. Since Creation Chanukah was a holiday waiting to happen. Does a person’s soul come into being only when a baby is born? The soul was there long before the body it was born into, just waiting for a body of its own to be created so it could have a “vehicle” of its own to express itself.
It’s as if Chanukah was traveling “underground” since Creation, and just finally came to the surface after the Chashmonaim rebelled against the decrees of the Greeks and miraculously defeated their much larger army. It’s as if the soul of Chanukah finally found a body to occupy and make itself known in the world as an independent being.
This makes sense too. The Ohr HaGanuz, the light God made on the first day of Creation and subsequently hidden, is the basis of the holiday of Chanukah. The Talmud Yerushalmi says that it shone for Adam HaRishon in Gan Aiden for 36 hours before being hidden. Somehow through the lighting of the 36 candles of the menorah over the eight days of Chanukah, the learning of the 36 tractates of the Babylonian Talmud, or by hanging around one of the 36 righteous people who access this light daily, we too can access that light again.
Indeed, lighting the menorah may only be a rabbinical mitzvah, but it is one even God Himself fulfills. According to the Zohar, when we light our menorahs, God lights His, except that His doesn’t exactly look like ours. Rather, God’s “menorah” is a high level of supernal light that we do not usually access on our own, but which God causes to flow down to us during Chanukah, resulting in a tremendous influx of divrei Torah.
Why 36 centuries late? The truth is, we see that Torah was “accepted” in stages. We received both the Written and Oral Law at Mt. Sinai, but only willingly accepted the written portion. We had to be “coerced” into accepting the oral portion of Torah, and only willingly accepted it during the time of the Purim miracle. But after that, what else was there to accept of Torah?
Surprisingly, the answer to that question is in this week’s parsha, or at least it begins to be answered. That answer will be finalized in the coming parshios, especially by the end of Sefer Bereishis. It has to do with the resolution of the conflict that occurs between Yosef and his brothers, which is clearly far more profound than just sibling rivalry, and which resurfaces again during the time of Chanukah.
Kabbalah explains that the brothers corresponded to Torah Sh’b’ksav, the Written Law, and that Yosef corresponded to Torah Sh’b’al Peh, the Oral Law. One would think that two portions of Torah should complement one another, not fight each other. But if they truly complemented each other, then why would the Hellenists accept the Written Law and not the Oral Law as well, and everyone else who has done the same until this day?
That’s easy. Though the Torah mentions all 613 mitzvos, it does not detail them, especially the mitzvah of Shabbos. There are 39 creative activities forbidden on Shabbos, and a myriad of details to go with them. That’s part of the Oral Law, not the Written Law, making Shabbos far more restricting than people interested in being part of the gentile world want to accept. The Written Torah only alludes to many mitzvos. The Oral Law details them exactly.
Furthermore, the Written Law is exactly that, written. It is hard to deny its tradition when so many earlier versions exist and say the same thing. But the Oral Law is a tradition passed down from generation to generation, its veracity based upon the accuracy of the people transmitting and interpreting it. What if they erred?
That’s an important question, a vital one in the time of the Chashmonaim. At the time of Purim, prophets still were around. At the time of Chanukah, the Roman exile was only beginning, and it would last a long time, spread the Jewish people out like never before, and impose incredible hardships on the nation, especially as Christianity and Islam began to take control over the world. How could Torah survive in such a spiritual void?
Only with the help of God. It wasn’t important that everyone had such direct Divine intervention in their lives, but it was important that the Torah leaders did. Without Ruach HaKodesh, Divine Inspiration, the Oral Law, and then the Written Law, would not stand the test of time. They are eternal and would always continue, but the people who learned them would become less and less, until none existed at all.
Furthermore, if the people stopped believing that their leaders had such help from Heaven, then they would stop believing in them and the Torah they passed down to the next generation. That too would spell spiritual and then physical doom for the Jewish people because, as the Talmud states, the world depends upon the Jewish people’s acceptance of and living by Torah. And with prophecy long gone and redemption seemingly far off, that would have become the inevitable end of the Jewish nation.
So what did God do? With Yosef and his brothers, He created a scenario that seemed as if God was not involved in history, allowing Yosef’s brothers to sell him and create family pandemonium. In the time of Mattisyahu Kohen Gadol, it was the Greeks who were able to seemingly act with impunity, giving the impression that God had abandoned His people.
Then came the revelation: “I am Yosef!” and the brothers reeled from having so badly misread the situation for 22 years. They had assumed that God had left history in their hands, and they made decisions that they thought move it in the direction they saw fit. Instead, they saw Yosef and the fulfillment of his dreams, and realized that God had been there all along, using them as pawns to move history as He saw fit.
When the Chashmonaim defeated the Greeks against all odds, this was tantamount to Yosef’s revelation. It was God saying to the nation: Even in this time of intense hester panim when it looks as if I am nowhere to be found, I am as close as ever, guiding and supporting your leaders so that they in turn can protect and guide you. As long as you know this, Torah will survive even in the darkest parts of exile.
Not only this, as the Pri Tzaddik explains, it is the Oral Law that fosters and feeds a close relationship with God. It is not only the key to properly understanding the Written Law, but it is how we allow God to emanate His light into the world through us. It is the Oral Law that turns us into a conduit for the Ohr HaGanuz, which is the basis of the Oral Law, as the Midrash Tanchuma explains.
God Himself gave the Written Torah at Mt. Sinai, so there was no disputing its authenticity. The prophets proved themselves to have a direct connection with God during Purim time, and that gave the Oral Law the same status as the Written Law in the eyes of the people who lived at that time. But it was the clear hand of God in the military victory, and then the miracle of the oil, at a time when there was no prophecy that showed that God is with the transmitters of the Oral Law even during non-prophetic era.
From that point on, it has been a matter of each individual Jew making a point of learning this for him- or herself. The tools we need to stay linked to both the Written and Oral Laws at this time are there, put in place back at the time of the first Chanukah. Every year we light the menorah we are being reminded of this, and inspired to enhance our relationship to both parts of Torah, and God as a result.
As the Zohar says, God and His Torah are really one. So, when we unify both parts of Torah and make them one, we contribute to the oneness of God’s Name as well. That is the entire purpose of the Jewish people as a nation, and especially during the darkness of exile. This is what we are supposed to be thinking about when we light our menorahs and access the Hidden Light of Creation.