Chanukah – Getting Our Hearts Back in It


rav-sorotzkinBased on a shiur by Rav Yitzchak Sorotzkin, Rosh Yeshivas Telz and Mesivta of Lakewood

By Rabbi Eli Glaser, CNWC, CWMC
Director, Soveya

The commentator Bach, in the beginning of the laws of Chanukah, explains why the Greeks were given the opportunity to rule over Klal Yisroel, nullifying the daily sacrifice (Tamid offering), and rendering the oil for the Menorah tamei – unfit for use. He says the Jewish people were lax in their avodas HaShem – in their performance and appreciation of mitzvos. As a result, they lost their simcha and their enthusiasm, especially in the continual, everyday commandments, such as the Korban Tamid and the daily lighting of the Menorah (Ner Tamid). Their observance became rote, their hearts weren’t in it.

Therefore, HaShem responded by removing these particular privileges through the vehicle of the Greek subjugation – measure for measure. CHAZAL (the Rabbis) tell us that the Greeks tried to make the Jews forget the Torah by prohibiting Torah study. They made a seemingly bizarre decree that the Jews should write on the horn of an ox that they have no chailek in HaShem – that they possess no unique and precious relationship with the Creator of the Universe – that they were just like everyone else. The Maharal teaches that the Greeks were reminding the Jews of the sin of worshipping the golden calf. But why was it necessary to bring up an episode that happened many centuries earlier?

When Moshe descended the mountain and saw the transgression of the golden calf, he threw down and broke the Luchos (the two tablets he received from HaShem). This incident instituted the capacity for Torah to be forgotten amongst the Jewish People for future generations. Moshe, after having received atonement for the nation, had to spend another 40 days on top of Har Sinai “relearning” the Torah that was lost and forgotten as a result of this sin.

So, what were the Greeks trying to prove? The Sifrei explains that writing this deflating pronouncement on the horn of an ox was a stark reminder of the distancing of the relationship the Jewish People created between themselves and HaShem just 40 days after receiving the Torah on Har Sinai. This breakdown manifested itself again during the time of Chanukah. The Greeks were attempting to drive a wedge in the connection between Klal Yisroel and the al-Mighty.

The Sifrei comments that there is another commonality between these two tragic episodes -the Jewish People separated themselves from HaShem and spirituality by indulging themselves in physical gratification. We say in the second paragraph of Krias Shema, “And you will eat and be satisfied. Beware, lest your heart be seduced and you turn astray and serve other gods and bow down to them.” If a person engrosses himself in the excesses of this world, says the Sifrei, it takes him away from Torah. “Jeshurun (the Jewish People) became fat and kicked,” (Devarim 32, 15).

Because of indulgent eating and drinking, the Sifrei comments, their hearts were displaced. If we as a nation distance ourselves from HaShem and His Torah, we will incorporate (G-d forbid) false ideologies and improper perspectives as to what is important in life and what values we should prioritize, what pleasures we should pursue. This, concludes the Sifrei, leads to idol worship.

We stuff up our hearts with gashmiyus, preventing it from being able to be filled with ruchniyus. “Open my heart to your Torah, then my soul will pursue Your commandments,” we say at the end of every Shemoneh Esrei. The Vilna Gaon explains that yearning after indulgences of food clogs our arteries – both physically and spiritually. Therefore, he says, we have to ask HaShem to open up our hearts from pursuing our taivos so we can be receptive to HaShem’s Torah and blessings.

The Jews did tshuva at the time of the Chashmonayim by regaining their excitement and chashivus (importance) of mitzvos. Then, the al-Mighty allowed the service of the Menorah and the avodah of the daily offerings to resume in the Bais HaMikdash. The Rabbis instituted the holiday of Chanukah as an expression of “praise and thanks – which is [sincere] service of the heart,” להלל והודאה,שהי עבודה שבלב.

The only required physical action the Rabbis commanded us to take on Chanukah is to kindle a light for eight consecutive nights. The focus of the chag is to praise, to thank and to develop a sincere appreciation in our hearts for the incredible opportunities HaShem has given us through Torah and mitzvos –  transforming rote and mundane routine into excitement and enthusiasm.

When a person’s heart becomes used to extravagant physical pleasures, specifically indulgent eating, it has no feeling for ruchniyus, for Torah or avodas HaShem, warns the prophet Isaiah. There are few things we do more frequently than eat – yet this daily activity has the capacity to either provide us the essential nourishment for a healthy life, or G-d forbid the opportunity to run away with our own desires, causing great physical and spiritual harm.

This was the tikun of Chanukah (the necessary spiritual improvement). That’s why our commemoration is concentrated primarily on service of the heart – for it was the heart that turned back toward HaShem, allowing us to “remember” our learning and regain our connection and conviction with Torah and mitzvos. Let’s keep this in mind as the plethora of jelly donuts and deep-fried latkes permeate our homes and shuls. Let’s ask ourselves if this is truly the way to access the awesome opportunity we have in our hands – to strengthen our connection with HaKadosh Baruchu and illuminate our journey of avodas HaShem through the bright lights of  the holiday of Chanukah.

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