Chanukah – The Power Given to Man
“The main reason for the decree against the Jewish people was because the Kohanim became lazy in their service.” – Bach, Tur Shulchan Aruch 670
Almost every yom tov has a festive meal associated with it; Chanukah does not. The Bach explains that Chazal established these days as a time of “praise and thanksgiving,” purely a spiritual celebration without the normal physical festivities mixed in.
He explains that HASHEM sent the Yivanim because the Kohanim were lackadaisical in their service in the Bais HaMikdash. The solution came about when the Jewish people showed a willingness to sacrifice their lives to bring back the Avodah. HASHEM then saved them through the Chashmonayim who were Kohanim. Since the underlying problem was purely spiritual (the way in which the Kohanim performed in the Bais HaMikdash), and the cure was spiritual (the willingness of the Jewish people to sacrifice for it), Chazal felt it fitting to institute days of spiritual celebration, of “singing Hallel and thanksgiving.”
This Bach is very difficult to understand for two reasons. The first is that while the original decrees of the Yivanim were against Shabbos, Rosh Chodesh and milah, it certainly didn’t stop there. Within a short time of Antiochus’ armies entering our cities, any vestige of Jewish practice was outlawed. Any form of Torah learning, any mitzvah a Jew performed, was punished by death. The Ramban in Chumash explains to us that if it weren’t for the Chashmonayim, Torah would have been forgotten from Yisrael – the result being the end of the Jewish people and the demise of mankind. Is it possible that this severe a consequence could be brought about by something as insignificant as the Kohanim being lazy in the Avodah?
What makes this even more difficult to understand is that there were other problems within the Jewish nation that seem far more serious. Amongst our rank and file were many Misyavnim – Hellenist Jews – who wished to be more Greek than the Greeks. They viewed the Greek/Syrian culture as progressive and adopted it as their way of life. But even more threatening was that they did everything in their power to advance the Greek ways into the Jewish nation, in direct battle against Torah values. These individuals were so committed to idol worship and foreign beliefs that according to some, they opened the gates of Yerushalayim to welcome in their savior, the “great” king Antiochus.
Since the issue that we are dealing with is the existence of the Jewish nation, and the presence of so many enemies within our own people seems such an obvious cause, how can the Bach say that the cause of the decree was the Kohanim being lazy in the Avodah?
The answer to this question can best be understood from a different perspective.
A city devoid of people
There is city in Europe that currently has a population of — zero. No one lives there. Not a soul. Amazingly, it is a modern city, adorned with highways, factories, school buildings. . . The only thing missing is people. The name of the city is Chernobyl, and the reason it is desolate is that in 1986, it became the site of the worst nuclear accident in history.
On April 28th of that year, the nuclear power plant became unstable. Radiation began leaking out, and despite the best effort of international teams of experts, the entire area quickly became uninhabitable. A 19-mile area surrounding the city had to be evacuated and is still considered a death zone. The Ukraine Ministry of Health estimates that well over 125,000 people have died from radiation exposure from that single incident.
Yet if you look at pictures of the city, nothing is unusual. The streets are nicely laid out, the telephone poles are neatly arranged along each street, and the school yards are all bedecked with swings and slides. The only thing absent is any living creature. Because, exposure to the amount of radiation still present, is lethal.
Modern man has discovered that there are powerful forces in nature, forces that can power neighborhoods, forces that when released can blow up entire cities. Yet the human eye doesn’t see them. The unschooled mind isn’t even aware of them. When looking at a rock, you and I see an inert object, but a scientist sees mostly hollow space with electrons spinning around in high velocity orbits, particles in constant motion.
Chazal tell us that no particle of physicality exists without a spiritual counterpart keeping it in existence. While the human eye sees rocks, stones and trees, underneath the surface are powerful spiritual elements keeping the physical in existence. Those underpinnings need a constant infusion of energy. When HASHEM put man into this world, He made him the steward of Creation. Everything is dependent upon him. If man uses the world for its intended purpose, it is energized and given the power to exist. If man uses the world inappropriately, he robs existence of its energy force.
The Medrash teaches that when HASHEM created Adom, He showed him the beauty of Gan Eden and said, “Pay attention that you don’t destroy My world.” The keys of Creation were given to man. While man cannot crush stones with his bare hands, the spiritual maintenance of everything physical was put into his control so that all of Creation is dependent upon him.
Bais Ha’Mikdash – Energy source of Creation
This seems to be the answer to the Bach. There are certain powerhouses that HASHEM created to nourish the planet. One such dynamo was the Bais HaMikdash: a powerful, nuclear reactor surging forth spiritual energy to all of Creation. However, for the system to work, it must be used properly. If the Kohanim were lazy with the Avodah, they couldn’t have possibly understood the gravity of their actions. They failed to understand the underpinnings of all of Creation, and they weren’t operating the power generator properly. Because of that, the Jewish nation itself didn’t function on the level it should have. The result was that some became so weakened that they joined the enemy, and the situation was so desperate that it potentially spelled the doom of mankind. The spiritual nourishment of all of Creation was lacking.
This concept is very applicable to us in two areas. The first is that much to our despair, there still is no Bais HaMikdash in our days. However, there are still power plants providing the spiritual energy for all of Creation today: our yeshivas. While to the unschooled eye they may appear as mere buildings with regular people sitting over Gemaras, they are actually nuclear dynamos pumping out high dosages of spiritual energy. If we had eyes with which to see, we would witness the constant flow of high levels of spiritual energy – the power source of all of Creation. And so for our good, as well as for the good of the world, it is incumbent upon us to do everything in our power to maintain these sources of spiritual power.
The second area is far more personal. The Nefesh HaChaim teaches us that each individual is a maintainer of worlds. HASHEM created many, many upper worlds, and each Jew is the spiritual power source for some of those worlds. While my eye may not see the results of my actions, part of the upper worlds either thrives or is weakened by my actions. And so we must treat ourselves and the consequences of our deeds with all the respect due to a maintainer of worlds.
As long as we remain locked in our physical bodies, we will never perceive the true impact of our actions. However, when we read Chazal describing the effect of the Kohanim not fulfilling the Avodah properly, we get a glimpse into the effects of our actions and the power given to man.
For more on this topic please listen to Shmuz #155 – Chanukah – Flexidox Judaism