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Vayeshev 5770

By: Rav Ari Shames

As this week is Chanukah I would like to focus our attention on the holiday instead of the parsha.

We will all gather to light the candles this coming week and immediately following the lighting Ashkenazim have the custom of singing the Maoz Tzur. The song is a review of Jewish history with its ups and downs, and tracks the different enemies that we have had and the salvation that Hashem has provided for us from each and every one of them. (It can easily be summed up by the "famous" summary: "they wanted to kill us, God saved us, let's eat). It is interesting to me that we do not sing this song on any other holiday other than Chanuka, despite the fact that there is only one stanza dealing with the miracle of Chanukah, and there are ones about Pesach and Purim as well.

The answer to this is related to the understanding of the nature of the holiday itself. The Gemara in Shabbat tells us that after the finding of the oil the Rabbis established an eight day "holiday of praise and thanking". Chanukah is different than Pesach and Purim in this respect. The other holidays have some sort of independent identity which may include thanking God for the seasonal miracle, however when it comes to Chanukah the very essence of the day is thanking and praising God. It is a true week of Thanksgiving. Everything we do on Chanukah is focused on this one purpose.

This is the only Rabbinic holiday on which we say Hallel, and as a matter of fact out of the eighteen days a year that a full Hallel is said (in Israel), eight are on Chanukah, outranking even some of Pesach itself!

It is also significant to note that if you are looking for the halachot of the saying of the Hallel in the Rambam you will, surprisingly, find them in Hilchot Chanukah and not in Hilchot Teffila or in the sections dealing with any other of the holidays on which we say Hallel. The Rambam was revolutionary in his division and classification of the halachot. His placement of the halachot is clearly to be seen as intentional and with the purpose of teaching us something. The Rambam chose to place them here to let us know something about the nature of Chanukah as a time dedicated to Hallel.

The organizational system of the Rambam is even more striking when we see that he starts off hilchot Chanukah with the history, moves on to describe the establishment of the holiday and then talks about how many brachot to make while lighting the candles. At this point he "takes a break" and dedicates nine full halachot to the details of saying hallel and only at the start of the next chapter does he pick up with the details of the candles (how many to light, where to light etc..). The halachot of the hallel see to be very much out of place, unless we understand that the message to be that the entire week manifests itself in halel and even the lighting of the candles is to be seen as an expression of hallel.

Small Miracles/ Large Miracles

Chanukah is also unique in the nature of its miracle. The story of the small jug of oil has many important lessons for us. One can imagine the elation upon finding the small jug at the time of the Chashmonaim. Or rather, we can say that one CANNOT imagine the elation at that time. After all, they found a pitiful drop of oil that wasn't worth very much and would be able to last for only one night. What were they to do? Use the oil and then the next day have to explain to everyone that they were once again stuck and the effect of the defilement of the Greeks remained? The national trauma would be relived and be all the more painful. The more rational decision would have been to wait the week needed to produce more pure oil and only then restart the lighting of the Menora, that could be continued uninterrupted in a rejuvenated manner.

However the lesson that we are being taught is to see the "half full side of the jug". The Chashmonaim rejoiced in finding whatever they could and being able to restart the process, however temporary it seemed to be.

What better lesson can there be! We are surrounded by miracles every day of our lives. For the most part they are not very big and dramatic ones. We do not often see the sea split nor do we win the lottery. Our miracles are very different in nature. We are given gifts by God on a regular basis, however we often choose to focus on the other half of the cup.

The Mishna in Pirkei Avot tells us that as one increases his fortune he increases his worries. This is a natural tendency of the human being. If we have very little we don't need to have a fence to protect our possessions. When we have a bit more we need a fence but not an alarm. As our fortune increases we need an alarm, and as it develops even further the steel safe with laser beam motion indicators, armed guards, closed circuit TV, barbed wire and a pack of wild dogs soon become an imperative part of guarding that which we have. It is truly hard to rejoice over what we have been given while trying to look out for its protection and wondering how we are going to deal with implications of the gift that Hashem has given us.

Chanukah teaches us to start by understanding the great gift that we have received and believing in the ability to make it a real treasure. A bit of oil found would not really be exciting at all and there is no reason to think that they were very happy about it. The Divine miracle was "created" by the human element involved.

During Chanukah we should all look around and notice all of the "insignificant" parts of our lives. We need to see all the simple things as potential agents of God in His next miracle! This is the stuff that miracles are made of.

Chanukah Sameach and Shabbat Shalom
Rav Shames


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