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Ask the Rabbi - 257

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4 December 1999; Issue #257

What the Elephants?


Ceil Carey wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

I work in the youth services department of a library and in a child's book we see an elephant used as a symbol of Chanukah but no explanation. Could you explain the symbolism of an elephant in the celebration of Chanukah? Thank you so much.

Dear Ceil Carey,

According to the Book of Maccabees, the ancient Greek armies came against Israel with fearsome armored elephants. It is known from other historical sources as well that the Greeks used elephants in warfare. They were the ancient tanks!

Who Commanded it?


Avner Stein from Tampa, Florida wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

I thought that blessings having "asher kidshanu b'mitzvotav v'tzivanu" [that G-d sanctified us with his commandments, and commanded us"] are reserved for ones that originate in the Torah. Yet the first blessing for lighting the chanukia also contains this phrase even though the holiday isn't in the Torah. Is this an exception?

Dear Avner Stein,

Lighting Chanukah candles is not one of the 613 mitzvot of the Torah. Rather, it is a Rabbinic mitzvah that was enacted by the Sages of the Sanhedrin (Supreme Torah Court) during the Second Temple period. Yet, the blessing we say when we light the Chanukah candles — "v'tzivanu l'hadlik ner shel Chanukah" —means that Hashem commanded us to light them! How can we say that G-d commanded us to perform a Rabbinic mitzvah? The answer is this: One of the 613 mitzvot in the Torah is the commandment to obey the Sanhedrin (Deuteronomy 17:11), and since the Sages enacted the lighting of Chanukah candles, therefore lighting the candles indeed becomes like a commandment from the Torah.

We say a similar blessing for other Rabbinic commandments as well, such as lighting Shabbat candles Friday afternoon and reading the Scroll of Esther on Purim. Both of these are not commanded in the Torah; yet in the blessing we say that G-d commanded these things, because G-d commands us to listen to the Sages who instituted them.

I Had a Little Dreidle


Caren from Indianapolis, Indiana wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

How does the dreidle (four-sided spinning top) fit in with the story of Chanukah? My theory is that since Jews were not allow to congregate, but they were allowed to play Greek games, they pretended to play this game while they planned their next move. Am I even close?

Dear Caren,

Close but no dreidle! The ancient Greeks forbade studying the Torah, so the people would gather together in secret. If the Greeks interrupted them, they would pull out the dreidels and pretend that they had gathered to gamble.

For deeper meanings of the dreidel, see "The Secret of the Dreidel" at the Ohr Somayach Web Site.



Alan Litchman from Brooklyn, New York wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

Do the words Chanukah and Chinuch (education) have the same root? If so, what is the connection?

Dear Alan Litchman,

Yes, these words are connected. Chanukah means inauguration, as Chanukah celebrates the "Chanukat Hamizbe'ach," the re-inauguration of the altar by the Maccabees after its defilement.

Chinuch is an expression indicating the beginning of something. Thus, it means inauguration, but it also means education, which begins and initiates a person in the way that it is hoped that he will follow. As King Solomon wrote, "Chanoch l'na'ar al pi darko — teach a child according to his way...."

Chanukah when read as two words (chanu kaf-hey) means "they encamped on the 25th," indicating that that the Maccabees were victorious in battle and rested from their enemies on the 25th of Kislev.


  • Rashi, Tractate Shavuot 15a



Jechezkel Frank from Holland wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

Did our Sages exercise at all? How could the Maccabeans be so strong and know about warfare without practicing and working out? Of course this was one of the miracles which happened on Chanukah, but is there more we can say about this? Are there any sources about rabbis who knew how to sport or exercise? Or sources about the importance of exercising?

Dear Jechezkel Frank,

In the Chanukah prayers, we say that G-d delivered the "strong into the hands of the weak." So it is clear that the Maccabees were "weak." In fact they had no military training, since the only people who did not go to war were priests, and the Maccabees were all priests.

This is not to say that they weren't healthy and vital. Maimonides writes: "Having a healthy and complete body is following in the ways of G-d, as it is impossible to understand and to perceive the knowledge of the Creator when one is sick; therefore people must distance themselves from things that are destructive to the body, and conduct themselves in ways that are strengthening and therapeutic."

Maimonides highly recommends exercise as part of his overall prescription for health. He even ranks it higher than proper diet, saying that, "anyone who exercises and engages in a lot of physical activity, doesn't overeat and maintains regularity, sickness will not come upon him, and his strength will increase, even if he eats unhealthy foods."


  • Maimonides, Hilchot Deot 4:1, 2, 15

Yiddle Riddle


Last week we asked:

How many times did Joshua's troops encircle the city of Jericho?


13. Joshua was commanded to encircle the city once a day for 6 days, and on the seventh day to encircle it 7 times.

(Joshua 6:3,4)

The Public Domain
Comments, quibbles, and reactions concerning previous "Ask-the-Rabbi" features.


Re: Gather Round the Chanukah Fire (Ask the Rabbi # 218 ):

Last year an Ohrnet reader asked about the validity of a menorah, the arms of which are arranged in circular fashion. It's interesting to note that there is an opinion, recorded in the classic rabbinic literature, which maintains that the Menorah in the Tabernacle in the desert (and in the Temple in Jerusalem) was in just such a shape, "like a crown."

This opinion is found in Midrash ha-Gadol, as well as the Midrash Me'ohr Ha'afelah, both cited by Rabbi Yoseph Kapach in his edition of Maimonides' Commentary on the Mishnah, Tractate Menachot 3:7 n. 57* (p. 78).

(Rashi Simon, London, England)

Re: Unkosher Kritters (Ask the Rabbi # 256 ):

Regarding the question posed regarding the scuba diver who wondered if it was "kosher" to wear his shirt with pictures of lobsters on it, I would like to add that there exists in fact a custom of not wearing clothing with non kosher animals drawn in it. Some people are strict about this especially in regard to children's clothes, because they believe the first images a child has are very important in his spiritual development. That's why many people adorn a baby's room with religious articles or pictures of rabbis, and don't let them wear or be surrounded by objects with non kosher animals engraved in them.

(DF), Sao Paulo, Brazil

Re: Talking Turkey (Ask the Rabbi # 255 ):

Two comments regarding Thanksgiving: Us non-Americans will never understand how religious Jews in the U.S. celebrate a "non-Jewish" festival.

I have heard that the custom of eating turkey on Thanksgiving is a Jewish one. The Hebrew word for turkey is "Hodu." And how does one thank G-d? By saying "Hodu la'Shem ki tov...."

(Dani Wassner), Jerusalem,
State of Israel Ministry of Industry and Trade Publications and Economic Information)

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