THE UNWRITTENESS OF CHANUKAH
From Pachad Yitzchak by Rav Yitzchak Hutner
We now that there are some parts of Torah that were meant to be written down, and others that were specifically not intended to be written down. This idea extents beyond the Torah itself. The gemara in Yoma 29 compares Esther to the daybreak - just as the daybreak is the end of the night, so too was Esther the end of the miracles performed by Hashem for his people (at least open, chronicled miracles). The gemara then asks what about Chanukah, which came several hundred years later? The gemara answers that Chanukah does not count, since the gemara is only speaking of those that were supposed to be written down. It would seem at first glance that this phrase should not apply, as it literally refers to the Torah itself, something that does not include Chanukah. However, perhaps we can suggest that what is meant is that the Torah that relate to the miracle of Chanukah was not meant to be written down, since the chronicles of this miracle did not make it into the canon. Nevertheless, since the metaphor of night and daybreak is used with regard to miracles, we can claim that the idea of "not being written" extends from the Torah relating to the miracle to the event of the miracle itself.
We learn from Hoshea 8:12 ("the many teachings I wrote for him have become a stranger...") that the writing down of the Oral Torah could lead to its become estranged from the Jewish people. The gemara in Gittin 60 relates that in the future, all nations will write down the Torah for themselves, and if the Oral Torah were to be written they will write that as well. As such, the Jews will no longer be the sole possessors of this Torah and will thus be through of as "strangers" to it. This idea can help us understand what the Sages say when they claim that Hashem's covenant with the Jews is based solely on the Oral Torah. Any covenant contains, explicitly or implicitly, a notion of exclusivity, shutting out those who are not party to the treaty. The prohibition of writing down the Oral Law serves in this capacity for the covenant between Hashem and the Jews.
A further emphasis of this point can been seen in the daily Birchot HaTorah. There we say that Hashem chose us, and then that He gave us the Torah. TheGR"A points out that these refer to two separate events by the giving of the Torah. On the second day of Sivan, Hashem chose the Jewish people, stating "And you shall be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Four days later, he gave the Jews the Torah. Nevertheless, it was the choosing done on the second of Sivan that constituted the covenant. Insofar as that covenant included the prohibition of writing down the Oral Torah, we can claim that this prohibition preceded all other prohibitions in the Torah, as well as the giving of the Torah itself. It is a part of the covenant more than it relates to individual details of the Torah.
Even now that the Oral Torah has been written down, its essence has not disappeared. The Mishna is not always written in the most concise fashion, and the gemara often explains Mishna by stating that a line is missing or that there is no order to the Mishna or some similar explanation. The point of this is that even once the Oral Torah has been written down, it still needs to rely on the Oral Tradition to help explain it. Had the orality of the Oral Torah been merely one more detailed law, then once it was allowed to be written down it would have been written down in as clear a fashion as possible - the leniency would have been a total one. However, since the orality is part and parcel of the covenantal aspect of the Oral Law, even when written down some preservation of the orally transmitted nature of the Oral Torah had to persevere.
This distinction between principle of the covenantal aspect of Torah on the one hand, and particular laws on the other can be found as well in the laws of giving over one's life. In this regard we have two sets of laws: in a general situation, one must sin rather than be killed, unless one is asked to perform idolatry, adultery, or murder. However, during a time when the ruling nation enacts specifically anti-Jewish laws, a Jew must allow himself to be killed, even over a matter as insignificant as a shoelace. When we are dealing with a normal case and normal laws, then we can give measurements - this sin one must violate to save his life, but this other sin is so severe than one must be killed rather than perform it. However, a time of decrees against the Jews is a more serious situation. In such a situation we are focused not on specific actions, but on our entire being as Jews, and thus on our covenant with Hashem. Thus, every single action that we perform, no matter how minor, reflects on this larger picture and thus becomes something for which we must sacrifice our lives.
We now return to our starting point, namely that the miracle of Chanukah was not meant to be written down. The Chashmonaim risked their lives not for the will of Hashem as it is manifested in the laws of the Torah, but rather for the will of Hashem as it is manifested in the singularity of the Jewish people as his covenantal partner. It is thus extremely fitting that Chanukah was not meant to be written down, as the not-writtenness of the miracle is the "action" that gives it its unique nature. Even in the gemara, there is no tractate about Chanukah, but rather a few pages that come up as a digression of another topic. The victory over the Greek attempt to destroy our culture and, more importantly, our tradition is commemorated via a holiday that survives through an oral transmission.
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