Rabbi Guy Tal: The dual spirit of Hanukkah in our days

Rabbi Guy Tal

by Rabbi Guy Tal

(AJNews) – The grandeur of the Maccabees infuses the magnificent days of Hanukkah. These tales continue to inspire generations of Jews, embodying the miraculous dual nature of this beautiful holiday – the victory of the few and the weak, and the miracle of the little curse of oil. In our mind’s eye, we envision those holy priests emerging from the temple, armed with swords and faith, fighting for the freedom of their people. Additionally, the power of Divinity is revealed through the overt miracle of the unceasing flame of burning oil. In dark days of exile, hardship, and suffering, in the heart of the gloomiest days of winter, Hanukkah became a source of light and hope.

Now, we have returned to our ancient beloved land, and the valor of the Maccabees is rediscovered in the battle fields and in the heroisms of the underground resistance (“Machtarot” – לוחמי המתחרות), the Israel Defense Forces and the other security forces, as well as the determination and dedication of the pioneers and the rest of the Jewish people. Once again, Israel has regained its independence and the Maccabean spirit lives within us. The overt miracle, breaking the laws of nature, is yet to be witnessed, but we believe it will come in due time, as the prophet has promised: “I will show him wondrous deeds, as in the days when you sallied forth from the land of Egypt.” (Micha 7:15). Very soon in our days, we hope and pray to see the lights burning in the courtyards of G-d’s sacred temple, witnessing the restoration of worship in G-d’s Holy Beit Mikdash in Jerusalem.

Yet, like every Jewish holiday, we celebrate not only the past but also the present. The spiritual power that led to the Exodus from Egypt is renewed each year on the 15th of Nissan, as we gather around the Passover table, internalizing the value of the creation of the Jewish people and the essence of freedom. Each year, on Rosh Hashanah, we are reborn with renewed powers for creation and progress, given to us because we were all made in the image of G-d, He, who created the entirety and gave us that power. The same principle goes for other holidays and festivals.

Similarly, on Hanukkah, the spirit of the Maccabees is rekindled, and we draw from the energy that appeared in the world at that moment. This energy divides into two, just as the miracle is twofold, with values doubled. Two that are one, “G-d has spoken once, twice have I heard this.” (Psalms 62:12), connected and bound to each other.

The miracle of victory instills in the nation the spirit of “Gevura” – strength and heroism. After years of long exile where bravery manifested in the miraculous ability to survive, starting anew after another destruction and persecution, and the victory of existence and life emerging from difficulties and hate, our time has come to display the “Gevura” in the strength of battle and the defeat of the enemy. For too long, we allowed our enemies to harm us with our honest and relentless persecution after peace, but when the time comes, the old blessing of our ancient father emerges again: “Yehuda is a lion’s whelp: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as a lioness; who shall rouse him up? (Genesis 49:9) and as the psalmist has declared “I have pursued my enemies, and overtaken them: neither did I turn back till they were consumed” (Psalms 18:38).

The miracle of the oil pot reveals in the world the energy of “Tahara”, purity. What does purity mean? Our great teacher, Maimonides, explained: “It is a clear and apparent matter that the concepts of purity and impurity are Scriptural decrees and they are not matters determined by a person’s understanding and they are included in the category of “chukim” (Divine decrees without explanation). Similarly, immersion in a mikveh to ascend from impurity is included in the category of chukim, because impurity is not mud or filth that can be washed away with water…”

Although it is a Scriptural decree, there is an allusion involved: One who focuses his heart on purifying himself becomes purified once he immerses, even though there was no change in his body. Similarly, one who focuses his heart on purifying his soul from the impurities of the soul, which are wicked thoughts and bad character traits, becomes purified when he resolves within his heart to distance himself from such counsel and immerse his soul in the waters of knowledge. As Ezekiel 36:25 states: “I will pour over you pure water and you will be purified from all your impurities and from all your false deities, I will purify you.” “

The spirit of purity blows in the world during the days of Hanukkah, and we receive from it a fresh and purified energy, cleansing ourselves from wicked thoughts, bad character traits,  lowly inclinations, discord, and baseless hatred, reconnecting to our essence and our values.

And the Tahara gives us the Gevura.  Strength and heroism come from our faith in the righteousness of our path, which becomes clear as crystal when the “Tahara” overlaps us. Then we can overcome our enemies with one hand and build ourselves, our state, and our redemption with the other, like in the days of Nehemiah: “They who built the wall, and they who bore burdens, loaded themselves in such a way that with one of his hands each laboured in the work, and with the other hand he held a weapon (Nehemiah 4:11).”

May it be that in these Hanukkah days, we will witness great salvations and redemptions and the spirit of strength and purity will prevail over us and all of Israel. Amen.

Rabbi Guy Tal is the spiritual leader and Rabbi at Beth Israel Congregation in Edmonton. 

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