By Yochanan Gordon
Chazal say that all holidays will be nullified in the Messianic era, with the exception of Chanukah and Purim. As such, it seems that Chanukah, like Purim, is an eternal yom tov that is universally relatable. To that end, while we are commemorating a holiday whose origins date back to the Second Temple era, we can learn a thing or two with regard to contemporary issues if we stare deeply enough through the candles that flicker before our eyes, and pick up on the story they are relating.
When we think of Chanukah, a number of things come to mind. Of course, there’s the story of the military victory led by Mattisyahu, who took on the entire Greek army and was victorious. There is the tiny flask of oil that miraculously lasted for eight days despite only being enough for one. There is the Talmudic dispute between Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel with regard to the precise order in which the candles are kindled — in ascending or descending order — which introduces two other concepts that we are accustomed to hearing people expound upon during this eight-day holiday: the parei ha’chag, which we are familiar with from Sukkos, and the concept of growing in matters of holiness, which is Beis Hillel’s rationale behind the opinion of lighting in ascending order.
Many areas of Torah intersect with Chanukah as they do with other yomim tovim, which is all part of the eternity of Torah. But what struck me as a novelty, if I can call it that, were the words of the Bas Ayin, Rav Avrohom Dov of Avrutch, a disciple of the Berditchever who later moved to Safed, whose commentary on Chanukah sheds light on a contemporary and worldly issue such as the migrant caravan crisis.
But first, let’s bring up to date anyone reading who may be unfamiliar with the issue under discussion. In what seems like an unending encounter that our president is having with Mexico, a group of Hondurans and others from Central America began an organized march towards the U.S. border intent on crossing into the U.S. and applying for asylum. The group, which in its genesis had 1,500 to 2,000 members, has grown, according to some reports, to as large as 14,000. The concern, of course, is the inevitability of people with criminal backgrounds looking to exploit American freedom and not just to make a life for themselves and their families.
Chazal tell us that our forefathers fulfilled the entire Torah before it was given. Now, this doesn’t mean that the Avos put on the same tefillin, daily, that we do. In fact the Midrash states that we were given tefillin in the merit of the work Yaakov performed with the maklos, rods, while pasturing the sheep in the house of Lavan. So it seems that the Avos effected the spiritual counterpart of the Torah’s mitzvos with specific activities that they did, despite it not being the same action that we perform.
Along these lines, the Maggid of Mezeritch writes that the first significance we find, in the Torah, to the 25th day of the month is by the Akeidah, when Avraham told Yishmael and Eliezer to stand at a distance with the donkey while he and Yitzchak go bow. The words of the verse there are: “Shvu lachem po im ha’chamor, v’ani v’ha’na’ar nelchah ad koh,” with the word “koh” spelled kaf-hei, yielding the numerical value of 25.
However, there is an inference to Chanukah even earlier, at the beginning of the Torah, where the verse states: “And the earth was tohu va’vohu and darkness on the face of the abyss…” The words up until here in the verse are a description of the primordial world in which confusion and chaos reigned. Similarly, the kabbalistic texts talk about a period of tohu in which G-d created worlds and destroyed them before giving way to this rectified form of existence called tikkun, or rectification. Much of what we are trying to accomplish as a way of preparing for the Messianic era is the synthesis of these two realities, where we can integrate the spiritually elevated lights of tohu into our everyday vessels of tikkun. These two terms, tohu and tikkun, are discussed in Chassidic texts with the terms sovev and me’malei, which refer to the G-dly light that envelops all of the worlds and those which pervade reality.
A manifestation of this G-dly, spiritual concept is accomplished through inviting guests, which the Avrutcher writes represents the ingathering of all external aspects and internalizing them. This, too, is seen in the act of bringing converts into the nation.
This is really what is at play in the opening verse in the Torah when it talks about darkness upon the face of the abyss. The Torah then follows with the solution to that pre-created reality, which is: “Vayomer Elokim yehi ohr, vayehi ohr.” The light introduced into creation, which Rashi immediately tells us was hidden, is experienced by us all during these eight days of Chanukah in the candles that we kindle nightly for eight nights.
A little further on in the parashah, the verse states, “Eileh toldos ha’shamayim v’ha’aretz b’hibar’am.” The Bas Ayin writes that the roshei teivos of the words “toldos ha’shamayim v’ha’aretz” are the letters of the word “tohu,” and the word “b’hibar’am” has same letters as “b’Avraham,” which possesses the same numerical value as the word “ner,” referring, of course, to the Chanukah neiros.
We see this same dynamic in motion in Sukkos as well, by fulfilling the mitzvah of dalet minim in the sukkah, which the Baal Hatanya rules, is the most preferred manner of fulfilling the mitzvah, which connects Chanukah and Sukkos and the reason that we invoke the parei ha’chag in our discussion regarding the correct manner to light the candles.
Furthermore, he writes that G-d’s visit to Avraham at the entrance of his tent, in the heat of the day, is also a reference to Chanukah, where the preferred placement of the menorah is at the doorway to one’s home, spilling out into the public domain. But even with regard to this, there is a stipulation that is done as long as there is no clear and present danger involved. The Gemara states that during a time of danger it’s enough to just place it on one’s table in order to fulfill the mitzvah.
This is precisely the issue at play here with regard to the migrant caravan of central Americans intent on crossing our peaceful borders to exploit the freedoms of peace-loving Americans who want to enjoy their rights as legal citizens of this great country.
If allowing foreigners into this country will result in a spike in crime and bring down the quality of life of Americans whose ancestors came here legally and have been here for generations, we need to do whatever we can to keep them on their side of the border. That would be akin to “Im b’sha’as ha’sakanah meiniach al shulchano v’dayoi” — during a time of danger it’s enough to just place the menorah on one’s table. If, however, we would be able to influence these foreigners to adopt the American way of life and increase the ideals of peace, democracy, and capitalism to the wider world, then it would be incumbent upon us to do that.
The ohr ha’ganuz we are currently experiencing sheds light on all areas of life — globally and personally. We need to, as the Friediker Lubavitcher Rebbe used to say, sit and listen to the message that the lights are conveying to us. A Lichtegen Chanukah to all.