Chanukah is upon us once again, and, like every year, it couldn’t come at a more perfect time. Sure, Chanukah 2020 will likely look a bit different than in years past, but even Corona surely can’t touch the essence of a chag that is already so bound with a yearly “stay-at-home order” we are most eager to obey; a time when the glowing candles in the window seem to illuminate the everydayness of our own families in the cozy confines of our own homes, the familiar sounds and smells of this intimate celebration casting the small blessings of life in a whole new light. While each of our chagim have a unique spirit, an inimitable character shaped by the season, the foods, and the mitzvos hayom, I have long felt that the spirit of Chanukah is particularly distinct. There is something about these nights of warmth and togetherness, shielded from the cold darkness of a slumbering world by a cocoon of harmonious voices singing niggunim above the sound of latkes sizzling merrily on the stove; something about the joy of basking in the presence of the Shechinah which – for eight wondrous days – whispers, “I love when you ascend Aliyah L’Regel to My Home, but this time, let Me come to yours”, that is simply indescribable. What a privilege! Ashreinu, mah tov chelkeinu!

In an effort to prepare ourselves for the exalted spiritual energy of this incredible chag and construct the requisite vessels that can contain its great light in a way that will enable the illumination to remain with us long after the final doughnut has been (guiltily) consumed, I would like to share with you a remarkable teaching from the holy B’nei Yissaschar, Rebbe Tzvi Elimelech of Dinov zy”a (1783-1841).

. . .

The tzaddik begins his brilliant and powerful exposition with a number of questions, among them: 1) What is the meaning of the words we say in Al HaNissim, “V’atah amadeta lahem b’eis tzarasam”? While literally translated as, “And You stood up for them in the time of their pain”, it is an infrequent expression that begs explanation. 2) Why is it that the text of Al HaNissim includes a recounting of what the Jewish nation did after their salvation – “V’acharei chein, ba’u banecha” etc., something we do not find by other miracles? 3) Indeed, what is the meaning of this that, unlike other stories of Jewish triumph, the primary miracle of Chanukah, the wonder of the Menorah captured in the words “V’hidliku neiros b’chatzros kodshecha”, had nothing to do with the physical salvation of the Jewish nation that had transpired?

In order to shed light on these points of obscurity, the B’nei Yissaschar introduces a Midrash Tanchumah (quoted by Rashi to Shemos 25:31) which recounts that when Hashem commanded Moshe to make the Menorah, he had trouble imagining what the Menorah was to look like. In response, Hashem showed Moshe a “Menorah shel aish”, a Menorah of fire. Here, too, the tzaddik poses a question. Certainly, Hashem knew that Moshe would only be able to understand what the Menorah was to look like with the help of a visual aide. If so, why go through the trouble of commanding him to create it, only for him not to comprehend? 

Having prepared the canvas, the Chassidic artist begins to paint his spiritual masterpiece.

It is well-known that Hashem created the world with Ten Utterances. But when reading the pesukim, we find only nine occurrences of the words, “Vayomer Elokim”, “And Hashem said.” Where, then, is the Tenth Utterance? Chazal teach that the Tenth Utterance is concealed within the first word in the Torah. This word, “Berieshis”, is referred to as the “Maamar Sasum”, the Hidden Utterance.

As the very first articulative expression of Hashem, the initial revelation of His creative masterplan, the maamar intimated in the word “Bereishis” is lofty to an extent that, from our perspective, it cannot even be considered a communicative expression. Those familiar with the system of the Ten Sefiros, ten spiritual channels by way of which the world was created and which continually refract different facets of Hashem’s unified Light, will find it fairly intuitive that this foundational system aligns with that of the Asarah Maamaros. In this arrangement, the original, Hidden Utterance of “Bereishis” aligns with the Sefirah of Kesser, the very first rung in Hashem’s creative process. Because of the incomprehensibility of many concepts associated with this level such as infinity and existence unfettered by the influence of time and space, the Sefirah of Kesser is referred to as the realm of “Ayin”, “Nothingness”; unknowable obscurity subsumed within Hashem’s Infinite Light. It is this nature of Kesser expressed in the first maamar of Bereishis that precludes its taking the form of all other maamaros, instead manifesting as an Utterance entirely wrapped up into the mystery of “the beginning”, the Maamar Sasum.

Chazal teach that there is a correlation between the construction of the Mishkan and the creation of the world – Betzalel, who oversaw the project was made to know the mystical permutations of Hebrew letters by which heaven and earth were created. (Berachos 55a) Taking his cue from this teaching, the  B’nei Yissaschar adds that the vessels in the Mishkan corresponded to the Ten Utterances, and that it was the Menorah which corresponded to the first of the maamaros, the elevated Maamar Sasum of “Bereishis”. This, explains the tzaddik, is why Hashem presented this particular vessel in such a way that Moshe would have a difficult time understanding it; because the Menorah represented this super-communication of Hashem that transcends human comprehension, Moshe Rabbeinu was unable to grasp its form as communicated through Hashem’s verbal expression.

But what is the utility of the Maamar Sasum embodied in the Menorah? Which step in Hashem’s creative process does the Sefirah of Kesser represent? The tzaddikim explain that the first step in any creative process is the desire to create. It is this desire associated with the loftiest Sefirah of Kesser and the Maamar Sasum to which Chazal refer when they teach, “Yisrael alah b’machshavah techilah”, “The first Thought that arose in Hashem’s Mind was the thought of Am Yisrael” (Bereishis Rabbah 1:4) – it was the prospect of our nation’s existence that motivated Hashem to create the world. (See Likutei Moharan 51) While, world not having yet been created, we did not yet exist, Hashem paradoxically looked into the future to a time when we would perform His will and created the world that would facilitate the actualization of this reality. (In Likutei Moharan Tinyana 12, Rebbe Nachman explains that the Maamar Sasum, the essential love between Hashem and the Jewish nation, represents an energy powerful enough to penetrate even the deepest spiritual darkness. When a Jew falls to the lowest pockets of existence and expresses his angst in a heartfelt, one-word cry, “Ayeh”, “Where is Hashem in this darkness?”, he is able to tap into the lofty light of the Maamar Sasum that continues to shine upon him, even in the depth of his lowliness. This lesson of Rebbe Nachman is very relevant to the B’nei Yissaschar’s teaching.)

After explaining the role of the Maamar Sasum in the creation narrative, the B’nei Yissaschar writes that the story of Chanukah involved a similar dynamic. Just as there was no zechus manifest within existence that could serve as a motivator for creation, so was there no merit available for the tzaddikim of that generation to utilize in attempting to negate the harsh decree. Barred from properly practicing the mitzvos of Hashem, am Yisrael lacked the merit necessary to bring about their salvation. But alas, Hashem’s love for His precious nation far transcends the measure of their worthiness at a given point in time. Just as, prior to the creation of the world, Hashem had looked into the future in a paradoxical act expressed as the Maamar Sasum of “Bereishis”, Hashem looked into the future at the time of the Chanukah story and found the redeeming merits necessary to save am Yisrael in their present dire strait.

Because they understood that their salvation had emerged from this most elevated level of Kesser, Hashem’s incomprehensibly essential love for am Yisrael, the first thing the Chashmonaim did subsequent to their miraculous defeat of the mighty Greek army was to light the Menorah which symbolizes the Maamar Sasum. Indeed, the miracles shown to am Yisrael in the small amount of oil lasting for eight days further reinforced this love.

In light of this powerful revelation, we are able to answer the questions posed at the outset of the discourse.

While the words “v’Atah amadeta lahem” are usually translated as, “And You stood up for them”, they can also be translated as, “And You evaluated them.” It was Hashem’s evaluation of am Yisrael’s essential holiness and His love for them that abides irrespective of the whether or not they deserve it that brought about their salvation.

This idea also enables us to understand why the text of Al HaNissim places an emphasis on “v’acharei chein”, what am Yisrael did after their salvation, as well as why a second miracle involved the Menorah specifically. It was the futuristic Divine foresight of the Sefirah of Kesser to which the Menorah corresponds that took am Yisrael’s future thoughts, words, and actions of holiness – their “v’acharei chein” – into account and saved them in the moment based on their future actions.

At the core of this deep teaching sits a simple, yet earth-shattering idea: Hashem’s relationship with and love for am Yisrael is inherent, intrinsic, unconditional, and beyond understanding. The light and warmth of Chanukah that envelops the Jewish soul at the time of the Menorah lighting communicates this liberating message: no matter how dark or cold the lowly spiritual levels to which a Jew may fall, Hashem’s Divine Optimism, His constant recognition of the ever-present spark within the Jewish soul that is yet destined to become a tremendous torch of holiness, will reach him even there.

Chanukah 2020 comes as the world treads the threshold of an uncertain tomorrow. Looking at the holy lights of the Menorah, this physical representation of the incomprehensible Maamar Sasum, may we merit to catch a reflection of a brighter future – the flourishing of an am Yisrael shining with the complete manifestation of the holiness at their core, the very same holiness cherished by the Infinite One in the vast silence before creation. Wishing you ah freilachin Chanukah!

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R’ Yaakov Klein is the founder of the Lost Princess Initiative, an author, musician, and lecturer devoted to sharing the inner light of Torah through his books, music, and lectures.

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Eric
3 years ago

A wonderful and uplifting message and truly an earth-shattering idea!