Staying Power

(Torah Portion Miketz) Staying Power

Queen Esther risked her life to save the Jews from Haman’s decree of genocide by entering to plead before King Achashvairosh without being summoned. Before entering, she and the Jewish people fasted and prayed for three days to evoke G-d’s mercy. As Esther made her way towards the king, she felt a Divine spirit accompanying her. However, the Divine spirit left her when she passed through a room filled with idols.

She became frightened and immediately recited Psalm 22 that states, “My G-d, my G-d, why have you abandoned me.” The Divine spirit then returned to her.

This particular chapter of the Psalms is attributed to Queen Esther.

This Psalm begins with the words, “For the conductor of the strengthening of the dawn.”

The Talmud asks, “Why is Esther compared to the dawn?” The Talmud answers, because Esther/Purim is the last great miracle (that will happen before the Redemption), just as dawn heralds the end of the darkness of night.

A quick review of history will show that the story of Purim occurred while the Jews were exiled in Persia between the destruction of the first Temple and the rebuilding of the second Temple.

The Talmud therefore asks, “How can we call the miracle of Purim the last before the Redemption when the miracle of Chanukah transpired over two hundred years later during the era of the second Temple?”

The Talmud resolves this by explaining that the miracle of Purim differs from the Chanukah miracle because the Purim miracle was written in a scroll – Megillas Esther, whereas Chanukah, although it was a great miracle, was not committed to be written and read from a scroll. As we all know from our observance of Chanukah, there is a Mitzvah to kindle the Menorah to commemorate the pure oil that lasted for an additional seven days, and to offer praise to the Almighty including our victory at battle over the Greeks. However there is no scroll that is read.

If there is no scroll detailing the miracle of Chanukah how was the knowledge of this miracle preserved for over two thousand years?

The answer is that the Talmud – our Oral Tradition – states that a year after the Chanukah miracle, the Rabbis of the Great Assembly of Sages, with the power invested by the Torah, established the Holiday of Chanukah. They established the Halachos – laws – of how, when, and where to kindle the Menorah and formulated its blessings. Once the Holiday was established as a part of Jewish law, it shared the same miracle of endurance and survival as the Jewish People.

Chanukah is living proof to the vitality, power and energy of our Rabbincal laws, traditions and injunctions by the fact that it is universally observed by all Jews.
The Chanukah miracle occurred at a time when the Greeks ruled over Israel. They vehemently, violently, and relentlessly tried to halt all Jewish identity, observance, study and scholarship. The Greek’s occupation of Israel differed from their Babylonian predecessors. The Babylonians destroyed the Temple and killed multitudes of Jews. The Greeks on the other hand occupied the Temple, ransacked it, and turned it into a place of pagan worship. The Greeks were more interested in destroying the Jews spiritually by converting them to embrace their decadent and unsacred lifestyle of self indulgence, rather than destroying them physically.

Reb Tzodok Hakohain o.b.m. observes that under the Greek occupation, the Sages were forced to translate the Written Torah into Greek (Septuagint). The Greeks so to speak acquired some amount of connection to the Written Torah. However, the Oral Tradition, which is our deeply imbedded belief in the laws that were passed orally – through a direct transmission beginning with our leader Moshe, and then from teacher to teacher – was something that the Greeks had no connection to and wished to eradicate from the Jews.

Whenever the Jews are pressed and boxed into a corner, our identity and true essence emerges. Thus it is no surprise that after the Macabees regained the Temple during the Chanukah miracle, a proliferation of Torah study and scholarship emerged which eventually led to putting the Oral Law into writing, in a concise Mishna form and then into a more expansive Talmud structure; a compelling response to the Greek ideology.

By observing the holiday of Chanukah, which was mandated by our Sages, we demonstrate that we have the power, command and ability to counteract and offset any type of persuasion, pressure and influence that is counter to our beliefs. Our endurance is through our loyalty to our Torah, our traditions and our rock solid beliefs.

Wishing you a restful, peaceful and inspirational Shabbos! Happy Chanukah!!
Rabbi Dovid and Malki Saks