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Great Chanukah Torah [Can be read while eating latkes]


Chanukah:A Broken Heart

Before leaving the city of Shchem, Yaakov Avinu told his sons: “Discard the alien gods that are in your midst; cleanse yourselves and change your clothes”. Which avoda zara was in their midst? Rashi explains this to refer to avoda zara that was taken from the people of Shchem along with the spoils. When the sons of Yaakov plundered the city they also took avoda zara, possibly without even being aware that these were items used for idolatry.

Similarly, a man at war is permitted to take a woman from amongst the enemy captives and marry her on condition that she first undergoes a process which includes removing her clothing of captivity. The Chizkuni explains that the woman worshipped idols in these clothing and he compares this to Yaakov’s commanding his sons: “change your clothes” also within the context of removing idolatry.

These sources may serve as a justification for the custom amongst Chassidim to cherish a tzadik’s garment, wearing it on special occasions to increase the kedusha at these auspicious moments. I once attended a chuppa at which the chosson was wearing a strange, old kappota which someone said had belonged to a famous tzaddik. A rav standing nearby commented disparagingly about Chassidim making tzaddikim’s clothing into avoda zara. It was then that I quoted the above Chizkuni inferring that if idol worship “sticks” to the idol worshipper’s clothing, how much more so the kedusha of the tzaddik involved in the holy service of Hashem must stick to his clothing.

Yaakov’s sons fulfilled their father’s command: “They gave Yaakov all the alien gods that were in their possession… and Yaakov buried them…”

In Al-Hanisim we say ופנו את היכלך וטהרו את מקדשך .Why did the Beis Hamikdash require purification? Which impurity called for eradication? The gemara explains that the Greeks, upon capturing Yerushalayim, entered the Beis Hamikdash and used the mizbeach for avoda zara rendering it prohibited for use in the Beis Hamikdash. The gemara asks how this was possible since we know that one cannot effect a prohibition on property that does not belong to him and after all the mizbeach belonged to the Jewish People and not the Greeks! The gemara answers by citing a pasuk from Yechezkel: "ובאו פריצים וחללוה" “and lawless people came into it and profaned it”. Rashi explains that when the idolaters entered the Heichal, all the keilim inside lost their kedusha, enabling the Greeks to acquire them. Once the mizbeach was in the Greek’s possession they were capable of transforming it into avoda zara. How then were the Chashmonaim going to purify the mizbeach? Could it be broken by a Goy and then be rebuilt? After all we know that if a Goy breaks his avoda zara, he is demonstrating distaste for it, implying that he no longer believes in it and therefore his act of breaking it nullifies its status of avoda zara. The gemara rejects this option because the mizbeach must be built with whole stones and not broken ones. Then the gemara suggests breaking the mizbeach to nullify the avoda zara and then smoothing the broken edges to ensure that each stone would be whole. The gemara rejects this also, because the Torah commands us “…an alter of stones; you shall not raise iron upon them”. So the only solution was to bury the stones of the mizbeach and find new ones, which is exactly what the Chashmonaim did. Whole smooth stones were to be found in the rivers so when the Chashmonaim came to rebuild the mizbeach, it was no simple matter. First they had to dive underwater to find stones which would be appropriate in size and shape and then the stones had to be brought to Yerushalayim. All this had to be accomplished as swiftly as possible lest the korbanos be delayed any longer. This entire, most miraculous process is encompassed in the phrase ופינו את היכלך וטיהרו את מקדשך a prerequisite for the more well-known miracle of והדליקו נרות בחצרות קדשך.

We too must go to great lengths to purify ourselves. Each and every one of us has some hidden impurity. Sometimes it is so well hidden that it goes unnoticed. Any thought, desire or action that contradicts the will of Hashem must be removed from the “heichal” of our hearts. Chazal refer to the Yetzer Hara as a fly that sits in the cracks of one’s heart. It seeps down through the cracks and settles deep down inside a Jew’s heart. Yaakov Avinu wished to ascend to Beis-El, but he sensed that something was amiss. His sons had intended to destroy the city of Shchem and all its impurity, but some of this impurity clung to them. Just as Yaakov’s sons only detected the avoda zara once they searched for it, so too the evil within us will surface only if we search for it.

The days of Chanuka are days of light and kedusha during which all neshamos, even the lowest of them, can achieve higher spiritual heights. We should take advantage of this special time of year!

I was told by the Pnei Menachem זצוק"ל [the Gerrer Rebbe] that as a child he received a book of mishalim (parables) from his father, Rav Avraham Mordechai of Ger זי"ע. The book related only the meshalim themselves and the reader was left to figure out the nimshalim. From time to time his father would inquire which of the stories he had read and what lesson he had gleaned from it. One of the meshalim told of a Poritz whose daughter was soon to be wed. The upcoming wedding was the talk of his estate as the preparations intensified. Everyone planned to attend the wedding and of course to bring a gift. There was a Jew on this estate who was faced with a terrible dilemma. He couldn’t afford to bring the Poritz an expensive gift, yet by bringing anything too simple he might be insulting the Poritz and risking his life! After pondering his situation for a while, the Jew found a brilliant solution. He entered an expensive store and asked if perhaps they had a broken set of dishes and if so to please wrap it up in the nicest wrapping paper. The storekeeper was surprised at this peculiar request but did indeed have a broken set of dishes and wrapped it up for the Jew. The Jew hoped that the Poritz would assume that the Jew had purchased an exquisite set of dishes which had broken on the way home from the wedding. He was feeling quite triumphant with his clever ruse until the following day when he was summoned by the Poritz, yelled at and thrown into prison for the tremendous chutzpa of bringing a broken set of dishes – each broken piece wrapped individually!

The Pnei Menachem asked his father for the moral of this story and this is what his father explained. When Dovid Hamelech commends a broken heart, he is referring to a truly broken heart, genuinely contrite and seeking Hashem’s closeness not a preplanned broken heart, where each piece is individually wrapped. Only a truly broken heart loves Hashem.

Let us all use these special days of Chanukah to search our hearts and cleanse them, bringing us closer to Hashem. There is one specific spiritual malady which I would like to address, namely the radio. We are exposed to the culture of the nations by whom we are surrounded and it filters into our lives more than we realize. We have grown accustomed to hearing things on the radio which should repulse us but no longer do. We listen to the news and occasionally to the music broadcasted before and after the news, forgetting that our young innocent children are also listening. We are allowing a foreign culture to seep into our own homes.

The Greeks intended to darken the hearts and eyes of the Jews. They weren’t trying to destroy our bodies, they were even willing to leave the physical structure of the Beis Hamikdash intact. They were waging a war of a different nature, aiming to conquer our souls by corrupting us with their culture. Let us not be defeated and in the merit of our spiritual preparations may we grow closer to Hashem with the help of the glowing lights of Chanuka.

This article was translated by a woman who is too modest to allow me to mention her name. But suffice it to say that when she is not translating and learning she takes exceptionally good care of my children and personifies the middos of our foremothers [and Four Mothers]!!

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About me

  • I'm Rabbi Ally Ehrman
  • From Old City Jerusalem, Israel
  • I am a Rebbe in Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh.
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