If you are a frequent visitor to Shirat Miriam, then you already know that the main miracle of Chanukah was an internal one. Over the eight days of Chanukah, we have the ability to tap into this same miracle and all of the light it revealed. In the process, we enable the triumph of freedom over oppression, of the soul over gross physicality, of light over the forces of darkness– not just within ourselves, but in the world at large.
What is the Light of Chanukah?
Our Sages teach that Greeks were the physical manifestation of spiritual impurity. Their breach of the Beis HaMikdash and the subsequent destruction and defilment of all that it contained was a temporary triumph of evil over good. And yet, for all of their efforts, there was one space where they just couldn’t reach– that small hidden jar of oil.
From this very space, one of the greatest miracles to ever occur in the history of the Jewish people was born. The Chashmonaim and the Jews who joined them choose to step up to a battle that seemed lost before it began and to serve Hashem with everything they had– even if that everything was inadequate on so many levels.
There were still many battles left to fight as the Kohanim rushed to light their insufficient portion of oil on their improvised menorah in the midst of the Beis HaMikdash that had been so thoroughly defiled and that now stood empty of the Divine Presence.
It’s well-known that in the first half an hour after lighting the menorah on Chanukah, the special orh haganuz, the hidden light of creation, shines through the candles.
This is a gift that Hashem has given us in order to come to the recognition that this same orh haganuz is realy hidden inside our very selves. It’s the pure Divine light that each of us has inside, the Pintele Yid that can never be extinguished. It’s the spark of kadusha that retains its purity even when we stray from the path and fall into the deepest pit:
“My G-d, the neshema that You gave me is pure…”
When we light the menorah and say Hallel or fulfill any of the customs of these eight days, our goal is to recognize and accept that this inner light exists… to believe and trust not only in Hashem’s love for us and desire to give us good, but in our ability to receive it…
At the same time we awknowledge our own internal battles of good versus evil.
We remember that for the Jews under Greek rule, Hashem’s Hand may have inititally been hidden, yet great miracles were performed, not because they merited them, but because they were willing to step up to the fight in the first place… to break free from the idoluatrous rule and its influence, no matter how improbable their victory seemed.
And, we must remember that the same is true for each of us today… When we have the desire and courage to step up to our internal battles– the ones that seem lost before they’ve begun– we open the very doors to the miraculous in our personal lives.
Connecting to Our Inner Light and Enlightening the World
So, taking the time to gaze at the Chanukah candles and absorb their light during that first half an hour after kindling them, is not a mere intellectual exercise nor habitual ritual. It’s a gift with a profound purpose.
Realize also that our personal effort to connect to the light of Chanukah has a unfathomable impact not just on ourselves, but on the world at large.
Let me explain…
One of the most fundamental teachings of the Torah is that our actions have astonishing significance and impact on the whole of creation– from the highest spiritual planes to the lowest levels of physicality. In reality all of the events that occur in the physical world are a direct result of our own actions.
Due to our limited perspective and knowledge, we may not always be able to make the connection between what we do and what happens in the world, but the effect is nevertheless there.
When we are following the correct path meant for us as defined in the Torah, then the world functions as it should. But if we instead stray from that path, then things go wrong— sometimes very wrong– in the world. (See Ramchal, Da’as Tevunos, p. 101)
Now, let’s go a bit deeper…
In his Introduction to the Zohar (65-67), Baal HaSulam gives us the following insight:
In every aspect of creation, there is an internal (פנימיות) quality and an external (חיצונית) one. In regards to the world at large, the Jewish people are considered “internal,” while the seventy non-Jewish nations are considered “external.”
Likewise, in every person, there is the inner “Jew,” the hidden point of kedusha and spiritual potential, the soul and its yearning; and there is the external “seventy nations” represented by the physical body which is drawn after earthly pleasures. Both of these qualities exert their own, opposing influence on a person.
When we strive to elevate and honor our “inner Jew,” that is, our spiritual needs and longings, more than the “nations of the world,” our desire for inceasant physical gratification, then over time the “nations of the world” within a person aligns itself more and more with the internal soul.
And… the more we use our physical desires for the service of the internal soul (like, for example, when we eat an elaborate meal and wear nice clothes in honor of Shabbos) the more we influence the internal and external aspects of the entire world. Thus, the Jewish people become elevated more and more, and the nations of the world, the external, will realize the importance of the Jewish people.
However, when the opposite occurs, when we consider the external “nations of the world” within us to be more important than the “Jew” within us, then:
“The stranger who is among you will arise above you, higher and higher, while you will descend lower and lower.” 1
Our desire for external pleasure can ascend higher and higher, so much so that it can drown out the internal call from within– the “still, small voice”2 — for kedusha, tahara, and spiritual growth. As a result, the “Jew” within us will descend lower and lower.
These actions will in turn cause the nations of the world to ascend higher and higher, and overcome the Jewish Nation and lower them to the ground, G-d forbid.
Connecting to the Inner Light of Healing and Repair on Chanukah
Now let’s go even deeper…
But, there is more to add to this dynamic that can offer a sense of empowerment and hope in these days when confusion, darkness, and the daily pressures of life may seem unbearable.
I recently stumbled on an article written several years ago that sheds further light on the dynamic that is very clearly playing itself out today in the world at large. (Here is a link if you’d like to read the full text.)
My summary of the relevant section is as follows:
Galus is not only characterized by the fallen status of the Jewish Nation among the nations of the world, it is filled with tremendous physical pain, suffering and the deaths of millions of Jews at the hands of oppressive and brutal nations.
Though many may prefer to stay (comfortably) stuck in the argument of numbers, the reality is our world is defined by wars, insurgencies and other forms of human conflict and oppression that generally result in the massive (and tragic) loss of life. The course of world and regional history as well as human development has and continues to be driven by a cascade of conflict, conquest, and the mad pursuit of power.
This trend doesn’t match the reality for the average person, however. Most people want peace. They just want to go about living their lives. They want to enjoy their homes and families, go to work and benefit from the fruits of their labor. They do not spend their days dreaming and hoping for conflict. They also don’t want to put their lives and those of their loved ones at risk.
What’s going on here?
The truth is in every generation you will always find a small group of people who hold the wealth and power of nations, and they use it to manipulate the masses for their own personal benefit and base desires. Their intentions, however, are not made public. Instead, they plot amongst themselves in secret behind closed doors. This has been the way of the world throughout human history as is clear to anyone who seriously delves into the topic.
This secret “elite” group are the evil ones that Dovid HaMelech mentions in several chapters of tehillim. For instance:
לָ֭מָּה רָגְשׁ֣וּ גוֹיִ֑ם וּ֝לְאֻמִּ֗ים יֶהְגּוּ־רִֽיק
Why are the nations in an uproar?
And why do the masses mutter in vain?
In other words, what has stirred up the masses to express anger and outrage?
יִ֥תְיַצְּב֨וּ מַלְכֵי־אֶ֗רֶץ וְרוֹזְנִ֥ים נֽוֹסְדוּ־יָ֑חַד
The kings of the earth stand up,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against Hashem, and against His anointed
Just as a Jew and even the Jewish nation as a whole has both an internal and external quality, so too do the nations of the world.
The outrage of the masses is the external quality. The internal is the plotting of kings and ministers in secret chambers. These rulers can thus be likened to the internal “soul” that rules over the people who represent the external “body.”
The Torah teaches us that all the peoples of the world are blessed through Avraham and his offspring the Jewish nation.3 However, this blessing depends upon the the Jewish nation doing the will of Hashem. Whenever the Jewish people allow the soul to rule over the body– when the physical world is used to serve the higher will of Hashem and His Torah, as mentioned above— then this blessing flows properly to the nations of the world. The desire of the masses for a peace is thus fulfilled while the evil desires of the powerful few are held in check.
However, when Jewish people do not follow Torah, and physical desires drown out the yearning of the soul, then the power is given over to the evil ruling few.
This dynamic plays out within the story of Chanukah itself.
Shortly after the wicked ruler Antiochus ascended to the throne in 175 BCE, the position of Kohen Gadol became corrupted with the forced removal of Onias III, a descendant of the righteous Tzadok HaKohen.
The Kohen Gadol held the holiest position within the Jewish people. Not only did this High Priest perform the service of the Bais Hamikdash, he was an influential spiritual leader and role model.
Onias was removed from his position by his Hellenized brother, Jason, who promised Antiochus that he would increase Jewish tax revenues in return for the “favor.” From that point on, men unsuited to this most sacred role routinely “bought” the position of Kohen Gadol from the government.
And from that point on, Antiochus, the wicked Hellenistic king of the Seleucid Empire was empowered to began his unrelenting attack on his Jewish subjects.
Antiochus may have referred to himself as Epiphanes, “The Manifestation of God,” but those around him preferred to call him Epimanes, “The Mad One,” due to his odd and unpredictable behavior. Antiochus was a hedonist to the extreme and embodied the worst faults of both the Greek and Roman cultures. He was vain, eccentric, with a love of display, and seemingly consumed by an overwhelming desire to be noticed. He also learned how to captivate the masses with outward amiability while in his heart he hid an uncompromising contempt for his fellow men.4
The Jewish way of life and ideals represented not only a threat to his power, but to his whole lifestyle.
His goal was to break the Jewish spirit so that the Jewish body would be given free reign. Only then could he hope to retain his power.
And he succeeded until the Jewish spirit was renewed through Maccabean Revolt and the subsequent actions of the Priestly family of Chashmonaim. As a result, Hashem not only delivered us from the hands of our oppressors, we actually achieved dominion over them, and thus the world was restored to its natural spiritual order.
An aspect of this same potential for the repair and restoration of the world exists every time even a single Jew connects to his or her internal light through the fulfillment of a mitzvah. On Chanukah, however, this effect is magnified.
When we sit in front of the Chanukah candles, with the intent to absorb their hidden light, we elevate and restore our own soul to its rightful place. We can repair our connection to the physical, reconnect to a deep yearning for kedusha and tahara, and strengthen our personal connection to Hashem. In the process, we will contribute to the revival and restoration of the internal soul of the world, allowing us to break the forces of darkness and actualize the promise of peace– for Jews and Non-jews alike.
- Devarim 28:43
- Melachim I 19:9-12
- Genesis 12:3 “… all of the families shall be blessed through [literally “in”] you
- Source: https://bmcr.brynmawr.edu/2008/2008.09.28/