Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Spirit of the Law--Chanukah part 1

The Spirit of the Law

Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, Laws of Chanukah 139:1-4

1) “…One should give an abundance of charity on Chanukah because these days are propitious for rectifying blemishes on one’s soul through charity, especially if one gives to poor people who learn Torah.”

Through giving charity, it is possible for a person to break his unhealthy desire for money. This avariciousness, which has the power when unchecked to overwhelm a person completely, is actually symbolized by the ancient Greeks. We can see this alluded to in the verse, “Tavati b’yavein metzulah”—“I have sunk into a deep mire.”[1] The word yavein (the mire of the lust for money) can also be read Yavan (Greece).[2] Although this world is full of many beautiful things, as soon as a person places a coin or his hand in front of his eye, he isn’t able to see anything at all. Similarly, if a person’s entire existence is focused on pursuing money or ego-driven pleasure, he cannot see the light of spirituality and holiness.[3]

In addition, giving charity draws down the light of Providence upon the giver, and it happens middah k’neged middah—measure for measure. The giver demonstrates his trust in Hashem to provide for his needs despite the fact that he is sharing some of his material wealth. This reliance on Providence draws the light of Providence down upon the giver. This is one way to understand the significance of the light of the menorah—it represents the light of Providence. Especially when things are dark and we cannot fathom the ways of Hashem, the illumination of Providence lights up the darkness. The miracle of the menorah fills us with the vision that especially when things are difficult, during the depth of a spiritual winter, Hashem is always right here with each and every one of us.[4]

2) “We do not fast on Chanukah…”

The Mekor Chaim, zt”l, explains that the main purpose in fasting is to overcome one’s base physical nature, since this is the source of all evil. On Chanukah, however, the negative within us is subdued when we are open to receive the spiritual illumination that descends. Since the negativity inside of us has already been mitigated, there is no point in fasting. If, on the other hand, a person is not open to the illumination of Chanukah, then fasting is a waste of time in any case. As Rebbe Nachman, zt”l, explains, such fasting could be compared to carefully scrubbing a torn sack. Although it may get clean, the holes will remain and prevent its proper use.[5] If one wishes to achieve holiness during Chanukah, he will accomplish far more by focusing on the supernal influx that flows down during those precious days. Reb Nosson, zt”l, writes that the days of Chanukah (and Purim) were established to strengthen those who are so spiritually ill that they lack the energy to accomplish anything at all. Similarly, during the long winter of our exile we sometimes feel that we are making no progress spiritually. Through the light of Chanukah, Hashem shines into each of us individually to help us understand that we should not give up trying because everything we do is precious in the eyes of the Creator. This is one reason why the custom among Ashkenazim is for everyone to light their own menorahs—because the light shines into us all. At the root of the concept, this certainly includes women and girls. The Chasam Sofer zt”l, explains why it is that we do not find that in our time women and girls light for themselves. When the sages originally made the enactment to light, it included women. Since the original mitzvah was to light outside, however, no woman tried to do this mitzvah l’mehadrin; it was not considered befitting honor of a woman to go out in the early evening. Even in our time when most people light indoors, the custom has remained the same.[6] The Maharshal and the Elya Rabba explain the reason differently. Since most get married and the original enactment was for a man and his wife to light one candle, there is no reason for a girl under the age of bas mitzvah to light, since eventually she will not need to light. It was never customary for girls to light for themselves between the age of bas mitzvah and marriage, since they tended to marry young in any case. Even though in our times many women marry later than they used to, the custom hasn’t changed.[7]

3) “Although it is permitted to perform work on Chanukah, the custom is that women do no work while the candles are lit (that is, the minimum obligation of time—half an hour)… The reason why women in particular are strict about this is because of the decrees of the Greeks specifically about women… Also, the miracle of redemption happened through a woman…”

The Mekor Chaim, zt”l, explains why the Greeks enacted decrees specifically against women, and why the miracle of redemption happened specifically through a woman.

We find in the Zohar Hakadosh that the kingship of Antiochus represents the concept of orlah, the foreskin, which is cut away during circumcision. The orlah acts as a filter that prevents a man from grasping holiness. For this reason, a Jewish man who maintains his foreskin and does not submit to circumcision is liable to the Divine punishment of kares. His orlah keeps him powerfully tied to worldly pleasure that lacks a connection to the Source.[8]

This is why the Greeks forbade circumcision, the observance of Shabbos, and the declaration of the new month. These three mitzvos are diametrically opposed to the concept of orlah. Shabbos is the opposite of orlah because on Shabbos we delight in worldly pleasures for the sake of heaven. The truth is that there is no mitzvah to overeat on Shabbos, as the Shelah Hakadosh writes. However, the Arizal explains that even if a person overindulges on Shabbos, the food is still elevated to the Source. Rosh Chodesh is also the opposite of orlah since it is a time of arousal to the spiritual renewal found in sincere repentance. This is the opposite of the orlah’s power to blind a person from the holiness that is to be discovered within the physical world. And circumcision itself is, of course, the complete eradication of the orlah.

The Jewish woman represents the Shechinah, the Divine presence, which is the opposite of the orlah and its deadening effect on one’s spiritual existence. This is why it is only through marriage that a man can come to true completion. The orlah is a blemish that distances one from completion. This is why the Greeks made decrees to destroy the sanctity of Jewish marriage (the removal of the possibility of privacy), and this is also why the miracle was specifically through a woman. Yehudis subdued those who represent the klippah of orlah just as marriage to a G-d-fearing woman subdues this force of negativity within a man. Jewish marriage is how one comes to overcome the seemingly grossly material reality that we live in by discovering the true spiritual identity of all that is material. Reb Nosson explains further that as long as a Jewish man is connected spiritually through marriage to a Jewish woman, it is clear that he will not fall completely![9]



[1] Tehillim 69:3

[2] Likutei Halachos, Hilchos Aveidah U’metziah 3:8

[3] Likutei Moharan I:133

[4] Likutei Halachos, Hilchos Shluchim 3

[5] Likutei Moharan I:17

[6] Chiddushei Shabbos 21b

[7] Maharshal 85; Elya Rabba 671:2, end of subsection 3.

[8] Mekor Chaim 670:1

[9] Likutei Halachos, Hilchos Bechor Beheimah Tehorah 4:26

4 comments:

Like the post said...

Great post and great blog. Just found it and left inspired. Keep it up.

yehudis said...

Thanks for the encouraging words!

Anonymous said...

Yehudis:

Thank you so much for this piece. I've had difficult times and have needed to find a way to unlock and receive the spiritual gifts available to us now. I will be back.

yasher koach and chanukah sameach!

yehudis said...

Dear anonymous,
It was actually Micha, my husband, who authored the Chanukah post; I just edit his work. Thank you so much for the comment--when we know that we are giving chizuk, it makes it feel like the effort is really worthwhile.