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I taught a class last Friday morning about the lights of Chanuka. The class was based on the brilliant inspirational words of Rabi Zadok HaKohen of Lublin, one of the most seminal thinkers and Torah geniuses of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The greatness of his thoughts leads me to share some of them with you in this humble weekly sheet of mine. The basis of this discussion is the statement <i>haneirot halalu kodesh heim</i> - these lights that we light are holy and sanctified. Why are they holy? Those that explain that it is because the Chanuka lights are a remembrance and symbol of the great menorah and its lights in the Temple nevertheless fail to explain why the Chanuka candles were granted an intrinsic holiness of their own while other remembrances of the Temple - afikoman, the matzo sandwich at the Seder, for example - were only given symbolic status but not made intrinsically holy unto themselves. It is to this problem that Rabi Zadok addresses himself in his words in Pri Tzadik.

The symbols of light and darkness are paramount in Jewish thought and commentary. The rabbis saw darkness as an independent state of being and not merely a situation of the absence of light. As such, Torah, spirituality, human goodness, the goal of imitating God's ways, so to speak, were always represented by the symbol of light, whereas evil, disbelief and cruelty were symbolized by darkness. Thus the Torah is called "light" as is our immortal soul. A world devoid of Torah and moral standards, of relativism and uninhibited behavior and oafish materialism, is dark beyond description. Rabi Zadok points out that there are two sources of light in our world. One is natural light generated by the sun and the stars and reflected by the moon. This light is independent of human creativity and participation. It is literally a light from heaven. The Midrash teaches us that the other source of light in our world is man-made. God inspired original man to rub two pieces of wood one upon another until the friction gave way to actual fire. This happened on the first Saturday night of the world and is the source for our blessing in the weekly Havdala service over a multi-wicked candle that is afire. One source of light is from God. The second source of light is manufactured by human beings. In a great sense one is external - from God and heaven - while the other is internal, a product of man's intellect, creativity, efforts and spirit.

Rabi Zadok compares the Written Torah and the Oral Torah to these two different sources of light. The Written Torah is like the natural light emanating purely from God's creation, so to speak. It cannot be affected by human intervention or correction. It is wholly independent of man's wishes and abilities. When the Jews accepted the Torah at Sinai they did so unconditionally and without any necessity to intellectually deal with its words. However, when the Jews sinned at the Golden calf, they lost their lofty perch and status. The original source of heavenly light would no longer suffice to light the inner darkness of their souls and of the bleak world that they now faced. They now were required to rub two sticks together, to create their own inner fire that would warm their souls. And the means of creating that inner fire now became the Oral Law, the product of generation after generation of Jewish genius, scholarship, study and concentrated effort. It is this inner fire, produced by human toil and sacrifice, which has lit the darkness of the Jewish world for millennia on end.

The holiday of Chanuka is a rabbinic holiday - a holiday of the Oral Law. There is no specific mention made of it anywhere in the written Torah. It is a holiday commemorating the creation of an inner fire by holy people, the children of Aharon, who saved Israel from tyranny and paganism. Thus the candles and lights of Chanuka are intrinsically holy because they are a product of our own self-made fire that burns within our souls. Their holiness stems from human effort and sacrifice. Only humans can consecrate otherwise mundane things and events. The holiness of the Oral Law covers these lights of Chanuka. That is why these small pinpoints of light have illuminated our path throughout time and continue to point to a better future for Israel and all mankind.

Shabat shalom.
Chanuka sameach.

Berel Wein

Rabbi Berel Wein- Jewish historian, author and international lecturer offers a complete selection of CDs, audio tapes, video tapes, DVDs, and books on Jewish history at www.rabbiwein.com.

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