The following is based on the Sfas Emes. Feel free to print this out and read it over Shabbos Kodesh, just please not during Tefilos!
All of the various constructs of time that we experience work based on a unified Kabalistic formula called ‘Ratzo V’Shov’ – ‘Going and Coming’. ‘Coming’ is a reference to gaining energy while ‘Going’ means to expend it. This means that all time-systems, from the smallest all the way to the grandest, grow in a rising crescendo to their peak and then descend from there to a point of total powerlessness.
In the most microcosmic sense this is a person’s breath. When breathing in, my chest expands and pushes out until a point where it simply can’t contain any more. But then comes the moment of where I exhale and all of that vitalizing oxygen rushes out until I’m empty.
The day begins with sunrise. The sun creeps out without making too much of a presence. The dew of the previous night is not yet evaporated. There is no beaming heat. But all of that changes as we make our way to mid-day. Now we can barely be outside. I can feel the sun’s influence on the back of my neck. Only to be followed by another descent into sunset, and then towards the absolute darkness of midnight.
This applies to the week as well. The Kabalists teach that the light of Shabbos Kodesh already beings to enter the world on Tuesday night. The spiritual build-up reaches its climax on Shabbos itself and the universe makes it way down from there.
And during the month this manifests in how the moon waxes and wanes. We constantly experience how the moon’s presence pulsates from full until new and then back again.
And so too within the year’s seasons. In the summer the sun rises early and sets late. There is simply more light in the world. But as we make our way into the heart of winter the opposite occurs. The sun makes it’s way out up significantly later and comes down again before we can barely manage to enjoy the few, cloud-concealed rays that it does emit.
And on the grandest scale this is the life of a human being. From a powerless infant until a full-grown adult and then back down to a point where once again instead of being providers – we become dependant on our care-givers.
All of these systems are parables for one another. The peak of the inhale is the sun at noon, the week during Shabbos, the month during the full moon, the year during the summer and a person at their personal height. The end of the exhale is synonymous with the sunset, end of the week, new moon, heart of the winter and the end of life as a whole.
In the cycle of the year we are currently experiencing the most lifeless segment. We have the absolutely shortest days of the year. We are in the final days of the month where the moon is barely visible. And it specifically right now, in this dark and numb portion of the year that God said it’s divinely ordained that we have Chanukah. Seriously? Right now?
Let’s learn about a Machlokes in the Gemara. We know that our custom is to begin with one candle and add one each night until the climactic eighth night. This is the opinion of Beis Hillel. But Beis Shamai famously disagrees. They are of the opinion that we should begin with eight and remove out each night as to end off the holiday with one final candle.
Why do Beis Hillel maintain their position? Because of a universal concept called Ma’alin BaKodesh V’Ain Moridin – In areas of holiness we always seek to increase and grow as opposed to descend. Based on this principle, it’s only logical to go up each night.
And Beis Shamai? Where are they coming from? The Gemara tells us they want to learn the laws of light Chanukah-candles from “Parei HaChag” which is a reference to the seventy sacrifices brought on Suco; each corresponding to one of the seventy nations of the world. The Gemara in Perek HaChalil explains that with these Korbanos the Goyim have a once-a-year opportunity to receive spiritual cleansing from the Beis HaMikdash. And how are these sacrifices brought? On the first day thirteen offerings are brought. On the second, twelve. And so on and so forth until all seventy Korbanos are offered. Just as Parei HaChag descends, so too Neiros Chanukah.
I understand Beis Hillel. There is a universal concept that applies here just like anywhere else. Ma’alin BaKodesh. Great. But what in the world is Beis Shamai driving at? Why would I see a comparison between Parei HaChag and Nerios Chanukah? What common denominator links these two events as to allow me to theorize about learning Halachos from on to the other?
Perhaps by analyzing two more Halachos we’ll be able to answer our questions. The Gemara states that it is prohibited to receive any benefit from the light of the candles. This is not merely going on mundane activity like using the light to see my food or count pocket-change. I am disallowed from using the light even for a Dvar-Mitzvah – a holy activity such as learning or checking for Shatnez.
Why? The Ran explains that we learn the Halachos of the Chanukah Menorah from the Menorah in the Beis HaMikdash. Just as the Menorah in the temple was not allowed to be used for anything – including a Dvar Mitzvah. So too, each person’s own Menorah can’t be used for anything – including a Dvar Mitzvah.
Based on this, the Sfas Emes reaches a beautiful conclusion. If the Halachic realities surrounding the Chanukah Menorah in my window draw from the Halachic life of the Menorah in the Beis HaMikdash it must be that their light is one in the same. The light of my private Menorah is a microcosmic representation of the Beis HaMikdash’s light. And this translates into a very dramatic and perspective-shifting insight into the inner-workings of Neiros Chanukah: I can transport the light of the Beis HaMikdash to anywhere that my Menorah is lit. In Tallahassee, Indonesia, The Ivory Coast and the North Pole: If there is a Jew lighting the Menorah, then the Beis HaMikdash is there.
One final concept: The Gemara in a number of places says that “L’Olam Lo Yarda Shechina L’Mata Me’Asarah” The Divine Presence never descends below Ten Tefachim (slightly less than the height of an average table). Ah, but the Halachah states the ideal placement of the Chanukah Menorah is below Ten Tefachim. Why? All of the Sfarim say together that through lighting Chanukah candles in this space I can draw the Divine Presence into a place that it would otherwise not go. “L’Olam Lo Yarda Shechina L’Mata Me’Asarah” – except for during Chanukah.
Amazing. Between these two Halachos we gain a terrific insight into the goal of the Menorah. When we light Chanukah candles we have the ability to draw the Spiritual Aura of the Beis HaMikdash and Shechinah into places that are normally off limits. On Chanukah I can elicit the most profound levels of holiness in the darkest, farthest, most spiritually inactivated corners of the world – and my heart.
Perhaos now the opinion of Beis Shamai in better understood. We explained that the experience of Parei HaChag is the rare moment where the nations of the world receive the purifying effects of the Beis HaMikdash’s holiness. This is exactly what Neiros Chanukah seeks to achieve! The Korbanos of Sucos are the one time that the nations of the world can make there way inside the Beis HaMikdash to achieve purity. This same concept applies but perhaps in an even more accentuated form by Neiros Chanukah. For instead of allowing the nations of the world into the Beis HaMikdash – we bring the light of the Beis HaMikdash to them. The far corners the exile come alive.
And now we can answer our very first question as well. Why is it that Chanukah is placed at the darkest, coldest part of the year? Because we need Chanukah’s unique ability to descend to the lowest places and enliven them so that we can make it back into the light.
Souls chilled by the ‘winter’ that is our exile. Hearts exhausted as if at the end of a long day. The feeble-bodied and tired-minded. Chanukah brings the invigorating light of the Beis HaMikdash to them. L’Mata Me’Asarah. Parei HaChag. The darkest time of year.
The light of the Menorah envelops me in a spiritual reality of stimulation. Kindling them and absorbing their glow affects my soul and imbues it with wellsprings of inspiration that are merely waiting to be tapped into. Treasuries worth of inner-strength and courage come down to awaken the darkest most dormant levels of my being. With the proper mind-state I can walk away from Chanukah with the vesseles necessary to carry through the most difficult times.
We should be Zocheh.