RAV YITZCHAK HUTNER ON CHANUKAH
Masechet Shabbat begins with a discussion of the forbidden labor of hotza'a (carrying objects from a private domain to a public domain or the reverse). The Maharal notes that the reason for this is that this labor is one that is not forbidden on other holidays, and thus it is unique to Shabbat and is part of its definition. He states that in a general sense a deep understanding of any holiday is through that which is unique to it. With regard to Chanukah, one of its outstanding features is that it was the last holiday to be established in the Jewish calendar. As such, it completed the cycle of dates and times that would last until the end of days. As we say in Maoz Tzur - "az egmor b'shir mizmor chanukat ha-mizbei'ach" - thus I will conclude with a song about the dedication of the altar. In other words, the dedication done by the Hasmoneans would be the final piece in the bridge that would connect Jewish history to the end of days. With Chanukah, the path connecting the past to the future was completed. We will now proceed to explain this idea.
There are four main periods of subjugation to foreign powers in Jewish history, periods that are referred to in the book of Daniel. The Rabbis find a reference to these periods already in the opening verses of the Torah. Genesis 1:2 says that the earth was "tohu va-vohu v'choshech al pnei tehom." They state that "tohu" is Babylon, "vohu" is Media, "choshech," meaning darkness, is Greece, which, as it were, darkened the eyes of the people through their anti-Torah decrees, and "tehom" is Edom, commonly identified with Rome, which is our current state of exile. If we examine our subjugation to Edom in comparison with the previous three, we find that it is most comparable to the period that preceded it, that of the subjugation to Greece. We are told that Yosi ben Yoezer and Yosi ben Yochanan, who were contemporaries during the Hellenistic era, were the first to engage in argument (machloket) over Torah (chronologically, the first recorded argument in the Talmud is between them). Why was this so? Since the Syrian-Greeks had made decrees designed to cause the Jews to forget their Torah, this forgetting led to debates over the truth all the way up to the Sanhedrin itself. This pattern has continued until this day, and all of the arguments over Torah for the past two millennia can trace their roots back to the decrees of the Hellenists. Not even the military victory of the Hasmoneans (temporary as it was) was able to put a stop to this forgetting of Torah and constant debate over the law.
There are times when the nullification of Torah can serve as a strengthening of it. We are told that when Hashem speaks to Moshe about his having broken the first set of tablets He commends him for breaking it. On this episode, the gemara (Eruvin 54) states that had Moshe not broken the tablets, the Torah would never have been forgotten by the Jewish people. Thus, we see that the breaking of the tablets led to both the forgetting and the strengthening of Torah. Further, we are told that three hundred laws were forgotten when Moshe passed away, and knowledge of them was restored only through the pilpul (give-and-take analysis) of Otniel ben Kenaz. The whole process of renewing these laws was a process that came about only through the forgetting of Torah. Even further, all of machloket is based upon the forgetting of Torah, and yet the Sages tell us that even when two people assume completely opposite positions both are still considered to be the words of the Living God. Thus we find that all such argument that leads to the furthering of Torah knowledge is premised on the "strength" of the forgetting of Torah.
However, this concept extends even further. The strength of the Oral Torah stands out more when there is debate than when there is a general consensus of opinions. The idea that both opinions are the word of the Living God includes the fact that even the opinion that "loses," i.e. does not become the accepted law is still part of the Oral Torah. As per the claim of theRamban that the Torah is given by the consent of the scholars of the Jewish people, if the scholars were to convene and to decide that the law was in actuality in accordance with the opinion that had previously been rejected, that opinion would become the practiced law from that day forward. The "battles" of Torah, the constant debate and contention over the truth, is not merely another aspect of Torah, but rather is the very mechanism by which new areas of Torah come to light.
The Sages tell us that even a father and son or a teacher and student who become, as it were, enemies of each other during the course of a fierce debate, do not leave the debate until they once again establish the friendly relationship that existed between them. At first glance, this statement seems to be telling us about the greatness of the loving connection that can be established through Torah, that even those who were previously enemies can be reconciled through their involvement in these "battles." However, once we understand that the battles fought over Torah are a new level of Torah-involvement, above and beyond the mere level of learning Torah, we come to an understanding that this love is based on and grows specifically because of the fact that it is rooted in the arguments that precede it. As the strength of any love is measured by the total combined effort put in both partners, the fact that two people combine to create a new piece of Torah through their debates and battles is the reason that the Sages guarantee that they will emerge with a strong bond between them.
We return now to where we began. The fact that debate has been taking place over Torah and the laws contained in it until today is a fact that began at the time of Greek rule. The salvation at the hands of the Hasmoneans was a victory over the "darkness" of the Greek Empire by producing light out of the darkness itself. Precisely because of the fact that they caused Torah to be forgotten was the Torah able to develop further. While the falls of Babylon and Media served as healings for the Jewish people, the victory over the Greeks served as a bandage made from the wound itself. It is for this very reason that Chanukah was the final element needed in the calendar before the long, drawn-out period of subjugation to the rule of Edom. Only through the darkness of forgetfulness are we able to find the sparks of Torah, and only through that we are able to survive throughout our entire history since the destruction of the Second Temple and the rise of Rome.
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