First Shabbos of Chanukah
Zechariah 2:14 - 4:7
"Chanuka" means dedication. The festival that we call Chanuka is really the fourth Chanuka. The first Chanuka dedication was in the desert when Moshe dedicated the Mishkan - the Tent of Meeting.
The second was the dedication of the First Beis Hamikdash (Holy Temple). The third Chanuka is the subject of our Haftorah. It refers to the times of the Second Beis Hamikdash and the inauguration of the Menorah at the time of Yehoshua the Kohen Gadol, and the nation's leader, Zerubavel, who is referred to in "Maoz Tsur," the traditional Chanuka song.
After a small band of Jews had beaten the might of Greece, one small flask of oil for the Menorah was discovered in the Holy Temple. One small flask, not defiled by the Greeks.
That flask contained enough oil to last just one day. But it burned and burned for eight days. To commemorate that miracle we kindle the lights of Chanuka for eight days.
But if you think about it, really we should only light the lights for seven days, because that first day the lights burned completely naturally. After all, there was enough oil for one day! So why do we light candles for eight nights since one of those nights was no miracle at all?
One answer is that the eighth candle is to remind us of a miracle that is constantly with us. The problem is that a lot of the time we don't see it as a miracle at all. We don't call it a miracle. We call it nature.
In this week's Haftorah, Zechariah is shown a vision of a menorah made entirely of gold, complete with a reservoir, tubes to bring it oil, and two olive trees to bear olives. A complete self-supporting system.
The symbolism is that Hashem provides a system which supports us continuously. However, we have to open our eyes to see where that support is coming from. And that's the reason we light the eighth candle. To remind ourselves that "Mother Nature" has a "Father."
There is a certain timeless quality to that simple catchy tune of Ma'oz Tzur, sung by Jews worldwide after lighting the menorah. What about the words? What deep message is hidden in these six cryptic verses?
The first and last verses of Ma'oz Tzur express our longing for the rebuilding of the Temple. The middle four verses speak of the exiles to which the Jewish people have been subjected - Egypt, Babylon, Medio-Persia, and Greece - and of their joyous endings. At the Pesach Seder we do not sing about Chanukah and on Purim we don't mention Egypt. Why is Chanukah the time to learn about Jewish history?
Another puzzle: Chanukah celebrates the one small jar of oil that miraculously burned for eight days. Surely everyone has heard of Judah the Maccabee and his mighty army; why do we not celebrate the military victory?
In the haftarah for the Shabbat of Chanukah, the Prophet Zechariah's vision flickers between the attempt to rebuild the Second Temple, and the euphoria that will accompany the rebuilding of the third Temple in the future. Then Zechariah sees a seven-branched menorah, above which is a large oil container with seven pipes feeding olive oil to each of the seven lamps of the menorah. Zechariah is told that this menorah is a message to Zerubavel, who was instrumental in rebuilding the second Temple: "Not by strength or by might," says G-d, "but with my spirit."
Consider the shape of the menorah, seven lights branching forth from a central stem. The word menorah can also be read as "m'nurah" - from the fire. The menorah shows how light spreads forth from the "fire" of Torah and illuminates the world. If we learn to trace everything back to its Divine source, then G-d will channel His benevolence upon us from above, just as Zechariah's menorah was fueled from above. On Chanukah we sing about all the exiles, for all those exiles could end only when the Jewish People learned the lesson of the menorah. And when we take this message to heart, then our final exile too will end, and the crown will be returned to its former glory.
Second Shabbos of Chanukah
Melachim I 17:40 - 50
The highlight of Jewish history was the building of the First Temple by King Solomon. The Temple bridged the gap between Heaven and earth, allowing us to feel and almost see G-d's presence. All that remains from those glorious days of Temple, prophecy and revelation is one wall of the Temple Courtyard. What is there to guide us through this spiritual eclipse?
The Haftarah describes the construction of the ornate Temple Vessels, according to King Solomon's orders. King Solomon also ordered the construction of ten Menorahs, and had five of them placed on either side of the original Menorah made by Moshe. The five Menorahs on each side represent the "Five Chanukahs" - the five Temple dedications that took place throughout history. It appears that these five Chanukahs all take root in the Torah given to Moshe (represented by the central Menorah).
The Torah was given in the desert, far away from the site of the Temple. The Torah is not dependent on the Temple. On the contrary - the rebuilding of the Temple depends on us upholding and "living" the Torah. In the nearly 2,000 years since the destruction of the Temple, the Torah's contents have not changed, but the presentation has. The first major change was the writing down of the Oral Law, the Mishna and Talmud. Then the commentaries of the early authorities, and the codes of Jewish law - Maimonides, Shulchan Aruch, etc. Most recently - quality Torah literature in English, even via the Internet. This "user-friendly" presentation of Torah hides much of its depth and essence. However, G-d's guidebook for life can and must be understood by everyone. Anything that is firmly rooted in Moshe's Sinaiatic Torah will illuminate the spiritual darkness of exile.
Sources: Maharal, Exodus 23, Talmud Chagiga, Leviticus 26, Rabbi S.R. Hirsch