Chanuka as the Inauguration of Galut

  • Rav Moshe Taragin

 

            The Midrash (Bamidbar Rabba 13:2) portrays an intriguing decision by God to artificially delay the induction of the Mishkan.  Practically speaking, construction of the Mishkan was completed on the twenty-fifth of Kislev (having transpired over a two-month period since Yom Kippur).  Naturally, the inauguration ceremonies should have occurred on this date, when Chanuka begins, but God determined that the inauguration of the Mishkan should be delayed until Nissan. However, the Midrash elaborates (Yalkut Melakhim 184), God assured the month of Kislev that a future induction would occur during this period: the rededication of the Mikdash during the miracles of Chanuka, a millennium later.  This Midrash evokes several fascinating issues, none more captivating than the notion that God deferred the original induction ceremony from Kislev, only to replace it with the subsequent historical Chanuka ceremonies.  Evidently, this delay connotes more than just a scheduling matter.

 

            Perhaps this delay can best be understood by way of examining a different "deferment."  Parashat Emor lists a comprehensive system of mo’adim (Vayikra 23:1-44), each holiday having its own ritual, pageant of korbanot and encounter with God in the Mikdash.  Even regarding Rosh Hashana, which appears to be the holiday least tethered to the Mikdash, the Torah alludes to certain unique experiential facets that are realized only in the Mikdash. 

 

            Having enumerated a complete list, the Torah (Vayikra 24:1-4) repeats a section already mentioned (Shemot 27:20-21): the laws of the menora and its oil.  Aside from the question of redundancy, the issue of relevance must be raised.  What correlation does the section of menora have with the preceding section of mo’adim?  Chazal decipher this passage as a coded reference to the miracle of Chanuka.  Just as the rabbinical holiday of Purim is alluded to in several places in the Torah (see Megilla 7a, Chullin 139b), so is Chanuka referenced indirectly by this mention of the menora of the Mikdash within the portion dealing with holidays. 

 

            Assessing and accepting this statement of Chazal invites an interesting question.  Why does the Torah allude to Chanuka AFTER the list of mo’adim has been completed?  If the Torah intended to refer to an additional rabbinic holiday, it should have incorporated the reference WITHIN the enumeration of the mo’adim, not AFTERWARDS.  As if to reinforce the segregation of Chanuka, the Torah summarizes the section of the mo'adim with the familiar verse of "Va-yedaber Moshe et mo'adei Hashem el Benei Yisra'el," and only subsequently implants the Chanuka reference.  The rabbinical nature or status of the holiday is evidenced by the veiled, rather than explicit, mention.  However, the placement of this reference SUBSEQUENT to the laws of the mo’adim is still striking. 

 

            Perhaps the textual segregation reflects a more structural disparity.  Biblical holidays punctuate the experience of historical and national redemption.  The respective historical events of each holiday represent milestones in our redemptive journey.  Each launched a chapter of the redemptive experience. 

 

            By contrast, Chanuka occurs on the eve of the great Diaspora, immediately prior to the ultimate expulsion of the Jewish nation from its homeland and the pillaging of its Mikdash.  It occurs after the conclusion of the prophetic era as the pages of redemption begin to close.  It reinvigorates a nation on the "bubble of history," about to embark on a terrible and glorious journey.  It plants the quality of mesirut nefesh, of absolute dedication and commitment, in the collective heart of the Jewish nation, a mesirut nefesh that accounts for our survival throughout the hardships of 2000 years of lacking a national identity.  Its energy fuels the golden era of Talmudic activity, in which several generations of rabbis formulated the great Oral Torah, which has ensured our survival for the past 2000 years.  This process was driven by human intellect, realized within the parameters of a divine system – but not through prophecy.  The sages were brilliant and devoted masters of the divine system, but they did not enjoy prophecy, nor did they employ it in weaving the Talmudic fabric.  Listing Chanuka AFTER the conclusion of the laws of the mo’adim is a metaphoric method of highlighting its very different experiential function, as well as its very different moment in history.  AFTER the mo’adim conclude and AFTER the redemptive history that the mo’adim underscore ceases, the events of Chanuka occur, and the reference to Chanuka through the description of the menora is made. 

 

            Presumably, for very similar reasons, the miracles of Chanuka were not canonized within Scripture, unlike the story of Purim.  As the events of Chanuka occurred after the prophetic era had terminated, its story is not prophetic and is indeed incompatible with the prophetic spirit of Tanakh.  The true yield of Chanuka's saga is the great body of the Talmud, which flowered in the shadow of the Chashmona'im and their heroism.  Instead of reflecting a stage in prophetic revelation, it serves as a celebration of the Oral Law and its sustaining power throughout two millennia of non-prophetic history. 

 

            Perhaps a similar theme helps decode the meaning of the midrashim mentioned earlier.  The inauguration of the Mishkan heralded the full redemption of the Jewish nation — and by extension, of humanity itself.  As the Ramban explains (Introduction to Shemot), the "Book of Redemption" — as he refers to Shemot — culminates with the descent of God's presence into the human realm and into the house that human hands had crafted.  True redemption can be achieved only by this rendezvous between man and God.  It caps months of frenzied and rapturous love between God and His delivered nation, and ushers in the golden era of history - an era which lasts less than a year and is terminated by the debacle of the meragelim.  Though practical construction of the Mishkan concludes in Kislev, there is only one suitable month within which to schedule the inauguration of redemptive history: Nissan, the month that originally initiated the process, the "Rosh Ha-shana of ge'ula." 

 

            God delays the inauguration of the Mishkan from Kislev to Nissan to ensure that the induction of redemption would occur within the first month of redemption.  He "reminds" Kislev that it will play a pivotal role in Jewish history - not in redemptive history, but in our survival as a nation.  As exile begins to loom, a final miracle had to occur to energize the nation and lend it the confidence to survive the harsh road ahead.  One might claim that the miracle of Chanuka was the last stop on the road to exile, the final moment in which God performed a national miracle reminiscent of its days of glory.  Kislev is eminently suited for this dedication of galut and its unique history.  Located at the commencement of winter, it launches the winter of Jewish history and the desperate commitment that was demanded.  Each stage of Jewish history is unveiled by a dedication of the Mikdash; the redemptive period commences during the month of Nissan, while the Diaspora era begins in Kislev.

 

            In the final halakha (2:18) of Hilkhot Megilla, the Rambam describes the eternal nature of Purim.  Despite his belief that the prophetic books of Nakh will be voided in the Messianic era, he asserts a timeless relevance for the story of Purim.  The Ra'avad takes issue with his sweeping disqualification of Nakh and suggests that though Scripture will retain its moral relevance, it will no longer be recited in public: only Megillat Esther will be recited in public during annual Purim celebrations.  Despite the Ra'avad's disagreement with the Rambam's annulling of Nakh, he still acknowledges a unique status for Megillat Ester.  Evidently, Purim's themes outlast history and warrant attention even in the Messianic era.  Purim reminded the Jewish nation that despite their continued moral deterioration during the Temple era, and despite their expulsion from the land of Israel, God had not forsaken them, nor had He exchanged them for a different people.  The miracle effectively launched the return of Ezra and Nechemia to Israel and expressed the permanence of our election. 

 

            In many ways, Chanuka's implication is more sober.  It ignores the experience of redemption and takes no notice of the issue of our election and its implications for the land of Israel and the Mikdash.  Soon after the miracle of Chanuka, the land would be conquered and the Mikdash compromised.  The miracles do not occur amidst the backdrop of exile or on the doorstep of return; instead, the miracles spotlight the capacity of our tradition to fend off hostile efforts to overpower its ideals.  Chanuka serves as a premonition of the long galut in which the Jewish ideal would constantly be challenged by ever-evolving systems.  Only through our capacity for mesirut nefesh have we been able to fend off these attacks and sustain the integrity of our tradition.  The genesis of this mass mesirut nefesh occurred during the drama of Chanuka.