Miracle Hyperlink: The Story of Chanukah
FROM THE TORAH
In last week’s Sedra Vayeshev, Joseph shares his self-centered dreams with family, who find them transparent and disconcerting. They contribute to the undermining of family peace and the kidnapping of Joseph by his brothers. They sell him to a caravan which brings him to servitude in Egypt. Later he interprets successfully the dreams of fellow prisoners which foretell their contrasting personal destinies. In this week’s Sedra Miketz, he interprets royal dreams which both foretell and influence the welfare of Egypt, Joseph’s personal future, and the course of both Israelite and world history. Joseph takes advantage of the grandest of opportunities. At the same time he remains anchored in the love of family even under exclusion.
Joseph Arises Over Egypt
“At the end of” (Miketz) two years Pharaoh has a dream, in which he is standing over the Nile. Out of the Nile come seven fat cows, which graze in the reed grass. Then seven gaunt cows come up from the Nile after them and stand beside them. The gaunt cows eat the fat cows. Then Pharaoh awakes.
Pharaoh falls asleep again and has another dream. Seven healthy ears of grain are growing on a single stalk. Then another seven ears of grain, thin and scorched by the east wind, sprout up after them. The thin and scorched ears swallow the seven healthy ears. Then Pharaoh awakes from the second dream.
PHARAOH SEEKS INTERPRETATION
Disturbed, the next morning he summons all of the magicians and sorcerers of Egypt. He relates his dreams to them, but none is able to interpret them. Then the sommelier speaks up: “Today I make mention of my offenses. Pharoah was angry with his servants. He detained me, along with the chief baker, in the house of the chief steward. One night each of us had a dream, each with an interpretation unique to him. We related our dreams to another prisoner, a Hebrew lad who was a servant of the chief steward. He succeeded in interpreting each of our dreams truly: I was restored to my occupation, and the other was impaled.”
PHARAOH SUMMONS JOSEPH
Pharaoh summons Joseph quickly from the dungeon. He is given a haircut and change of clothes, and he is brought to Pharaoh. Pharaoh tells Joseph that he has had a dream, but no one has been able to interpret it. “I have heard,” says Pharaoh, “that when you hear a dream, you can interpret it!” “Not I,” Joseph responds to Pharaoh, “but God will fulfill Pharaoh’s need.”
Pharaoh proceeds to relate his dreams to Joseph. He comments on the gaunt cows, “I have not seen in all the land of Egypt such bad ones as these! Indeed, when the fat cows had been enveloped by the gaunt cows, one could not tell that they had been so ingested, as the gaunt cows appeared as thin as they had been at first! I awoke,” he says, “then I saw the seven ears of grain…” in the second dream; “I told the magicians, but none could provide me an explanation.”
JOSEPH INTERPRETS PHARAOH’S DREAMS
Joseph explains to Pharaoh that what he has dreamt is one and the same: God is telling Pharaoh what He plans to do. The seven fat cows and the seven healthy ears of grain are, as one, seven years: seven years of great plenty are coming for all of the land of Egypt. These will be followed by seven years of overriding famine, represented by the seven gaunt cows and the seven thin ears. Essentially Pharaoh has had the same dream twice in order to confirm that it is God’s established decision and that it will be implemented very soon. So now, let Pharaoh identify a man well-qualified to be placed over the land of Egypt and, with deputies, to regulate the production of food during the years of abundance. Let the grain be collected under the authority of Pharaoh to be stored in the cities. The stores will serve as a reserve for the years of famine so that there will be no shortage in the land during those years.
PHARAOH ELEVATES JOSEPH
Pharaoh says to Joseph: “As God reveals all of this to you, there is none as qualified as you! You shall be over my house. All of my people shall be supplied by your command. Over you only shall be my throne. See, I place you over all of the land of Egypt!” Pharaoh transfers his ring to Joseph’s hand, clothes him in fine linen, and places a chain of gold around his neck. He has Joseph ride in the second chariot, and they announce before him, “Kneel!” “I am Pharaoh,” he says, “and you will have exclusive say over what a man does in all the land of Egypt!” He bestows upon Joseph the Egyptian name of Tsaphenat Paneach (“The god speaks and lives”) and gives him Asenat daughter of Poti Phera, priest of On, for a wife, and Joseph goes out over the land of Egypt. All of this occurs when Joseph is thirty years old.
The land produces abundantly during the seven years of plenty. The food that is produced in the countryside around a city is stored inside it. Joseph collects produce in amounts as great as the sand of the sea, beyond counting. Before the onset of seven years of famine, Joseph’s wife bears him two sons. Joseph names the firstborn Manasseh (“He causes to forget”), as “God has caused me to forget all of my suffering and my father’s house.” He names the second son Ephraim (“Abundant fruitfulness”), as “God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.”
Seven years of plenty in the land of Egypt come to an end. Then begin the seven years of famine, as Joseph predicted, famine in all lands, but there is food stored in the land of Egypt. As the people of Egypt feel the effects of the famine, they cry out to Pharaoh for food. He directs them to Joseph: “Do what he tells you!” When there is famine throughout the entire land of Egypt, Joseph opens the storehouses as the famine grows more severe. All of the world comes to Joseph in Egypt to purchase grain, as the famine grows severe in all of the world.
Joseph Rediscovers His Family
JACOB SENDS HIS SONS TO EGYPT FOR FOOD
When Jacob learns that there is food to be purchased in Egypt, he sends ten of his sons: “Why do you look at each other? Go down there and purchase food for us, that we may live and not die!” Only Benjamin, Joseph’s brother, he does not send, “lest a disaster should befall him.”
So the sons of Israel come among the others as there is famine in the land of Canaan. They encounter Joseph, who rules over the land and dispenses rations for all of the people of the land. They bow before him with their faces to the ground. Joseph recognizes his brothers, but he acts towards them as a stranger and speaks to them roughly. They do not recognize him. “Whence have you come?” he asks. “From the land of Canaan to purchase food,” they reply. Joseph remembers his dreams about them. He accuses them of being spies who have come to discover the country’s secrets. “No!” they protest, “we are honest men, twelve sons of one man; the youngest of us remains with our father, and one is no more.” “Well, on this you will be tested,” says Joseph: “By the life of Pharaoh, you will not leave here unless your youngest brother comes here! Send one of you to retrieve your brother, and the rest of you will be detained. Thereby will we see if your words are true or if you are, as I say, spies!” So he confines them under guard for three days.
JOSEPH SUPPLIES FOOD BUT KEEPS A HOSTAGE FOR BENJAMIN
On the third day Joseph proposes a plan to his brothers, opening with the words, “I fear God.” “If you are honest men, let one of you be confined in your place of detention, and the rest of you, go and bring food to satisfy the hunger of your households, and come back with your youngest brother. Thus will your words be proven true, and you will not die.” They agree to the proposal. They also speak among themselves and tie their current misfortune to their previous mistreatment of their brother: “All of this is happening to us because we witnessed his suffering and his entreaties to us, and we ignored it all.” Says Reuben to his brothers: “Did I not plead with you not to sin against the boy, and you did not listen? Now punishment is being demanded for his blood!”
The brothers do not know that Joseph understands what they are saying, as he keeps an interpreter between them. He moves away from them and weeps. Then he returns to them and speaks with them. He takes Shimon and binds him before their eyes. Joseph orders that their bags be filled with grain, that their money be returned secretly to each man’s sack, and that they be given provision for the journey. Thus it is done, and they carry their rations on their animals as they depart from there.
When they stop for the night, and each man opens his sack to provide fodder for his ass, he sees that his money has been restored. As each one shares his finding with the other brothers, they become distraught, each one trembles, and they wonder, “What is God doing to us?”
THE BROTHERS RETURN TO CANAAN
When they arrive in Canaan, they apprise their father Jacob of the events in Egypt, how “the lord of the land” spoke roughly to them and accused them of being spies. They tell Jacob how they responded and accounted for all twelve of his sons, including the youngest, and how the man demanded that they produce their youngest brother and that he required them in the meantime to leave one of them with him. When they bring to him their youngest brother, the man will release the brother they left behind and they will be free to move about the land.
Then they empty their sacks, and all, including their father, see the money that has been returned. The brothers and their father are afraid. “You have bereaved me,” says Jacob to them, “Joseph is no more, and Shimon is no more, and now you would take Benjamin. It all falls upon me!” Reuben then promises his father that he will take responsibility for Benjamin and bring him back; otherwise, “put my two sons to death!” But Jacob refuses to release Benjamin, “because his brother (Joseph) is dead, and he (Benjamin) alone survives, and if misfortune should befall him on the journey, you will bring my white head down to She’ol in grief.”
JUDAH URGES JACOB TO RELEASE BENJAMIN
In the meantime, the famine is severe, and they finish the rations that they brought from Egypt. Their father tells them to return to Egypt to purchase “a little food.” Judah says to him: “The man warned us, ‘You shall not see my face without your brother with you!’ So if you would allow our brother to come with us, we will go down and procure food for you. But if you do not so allow, then we will not go down because of what the man said.”
“Why have you caused me this evil?” says Israel, “by telling the man that you have another brother!” They claim that they were only responding to the man’s inquiries about their family, specifically as to whether their father is alive and whether they have a brother. “How could we know that he would say, ‘Bring down your brother!’”
Judah urges his father to send the boy with him in order for all of them to survive. He offers himself as surety: “If I do not bring him back to you, then I will be guilty before you for all time. If we had not delayed, we could have returned twice by now!” Israel resigns himself to sending their brother to the man, but he stipulates that the brothers take with them gifts for the man: some balsam, some honey, gum, myrrh, pistachios, and almonds. “Take with you twice the money. Give back the money that was returned in your pouches; perhaps it was a mistake. May God Almighty show you mercy in the presence of the man and release your other brother to you along with Benjamin. As for me, if I am bereaved, I shall have to accept it.”
THE BROTHERS RETURN TO JOSEPH IN EGYPT
Thus equipped, the men go down to Egypt and stand before Joseph. Joseph sees that Benjamin is with them. He orders the steward of his house to bring the men in and slaughter an animal in preparation for dining with them at noon. As the men are brought in to Joseph’s house, they fear being attacked in retribution for the money that returned to them, that they would be seized as slaves and their asses taken. They tell their story to the steward. “We did indeed come down once before to buy food,” and they explain that they have brought back the money that was returned to them and that they have also brought other money to purchase food. “We do not know who put the (original) money back into our pouches!” He seeks to reassure them: “Fear not. Your God and the God of your father put the money in your sacks as a hidden treasure. As for your original money, I have received it,” and he brings Shimon out to them!
When the steward brings the men into Joseph’s house, he gives them water to wash their feet and fodder for their asses. In anticipation of dining with Joseph at noon, they prepare their gifts for him before his arrival. When Joseph arrives, they bring their gifts into his house and bow down to him upon the ground. Joseph asks their welfare and the welfare of “your aged father of whom you spoke, is he yet alive?” and the men assure him that their father is alive and well. Then Joseph looks up and sees Benjamin his brother, the son of his mother: “Is this your youngest brother, about whom you spoke to me? May God be gracious to you, my son!”
Joseph is quickly overcome with feeling towards his brother as he excuses himself and goes into another room to cry. Then he washes his face and regains his composure, to announce the beginning of dinner. He is served separately, they are served as a group by themselves, as are the Egyptians who are dining with him. The Egyptians considered it abhorrent to eat with the Hebrews. In addition, they are seated before him in the order of their seniority, from oldest to youngest, causing them to look at each other in surprise. Portions are served to them from his table—Benjamin’s portion was many times larger than the portions of the others—and they drink with him heartily.
JOSEPH CREATES A PRETEXT
Joseph arranges for his steward to fill the men’s pouches with as much food as they can carry and to return secretly the money of each man into the mouth of his pouch. “And put my silver goblet in the mouth of the pouch of the youngest together with his ration money.” Thus does his steward.
At dawn the next day, the men are sent away with their asses. When they are not yet too far from the city, Joseph dispatches his steward to pursue them. Upon reaching them, he is to ask them: Why have you repaid good with evil? My master drinks from this and uses it for divination. What you have done is wrong!
The steward reaches them and delivers Joseph’s words to them. They respond: “How could you expect that of us? The money which we found in the mouths of our sacks we brought back to you from the land of Canaan! So how could we steal from your master’s house either silver or gold? The one of your servants with whom the goblet is found shall die, and the rest of us shall become slaves to my lord!” He accepts their earnest intent but changes the terms: “The one with whom it is found shall be my slave, while the rest of you shall be deemed innocent!”
The brothers take down their sacks and open them. The sacks are searched, beginning with the sack of the oldest and ending with the sack of the youngest. The goblet is found in the sack of Benjamin. They rend their garments, each man reloads his ass, and they turn back to the city.
Judah and his brothers enter Joseph’s house. He is still there, and they fall upon the ground before him. Joseph says to them: “What have you done? Don’t you know that a man like me engages in divination?!” Judah expresses abject contrition: “God has exposed the sin of your servants. We are your slaves, both we and the one with whom the goblet has been found.” Joseph responds: “Far be it from me to do such a thing. The man with whom the goblet is found shall indeed be my slave. But the rest of you, return in peace to your father!”
Shabbat Rosh Chodesh
The Eternal orders Moses to command the Children of Israel
to present to Him His offering of food,
fire offerings of a pleasing aroma,
each at its appointed time:
On the Sabbath day, along with the regular burnt offering and its libation, a burnt offering of two year-old lambs without blemish, two-tenths of a measure of fine flour mixed with oil as a meal offering, and its libation.
On your New Moons, a burnt offering of two bulls of the herd, one ram, and seven year-old lambs, without blemish. For the meal offering, three-tenths of a measure of fine flour mixed with oil for each bull, two-tenths of a measure of fine flour mixed with oil for the ram, and a tenth of a measure of fine flour mixed with oil for each lamb. Their libations shall be of wine, a half-hin for each bull, a third of a hin for the ram, and a quarter of a hin for each lamb. In addition there shall be a sin offering of a goat and its libation along with the regular offering.
Maftir for Shabbat Chanukah
Sixth Day of Chanukah
DEDICATION OF THE TABERNACLE AND ALTAR
SIXTH DAY OF TRIBAL OFFERINGS
On the day that the altar is anointed,
the chiefs start to present their offerings before it.
But the Eternal tells Moses:
Let the chiefs present their offerings
one day for each chief.
On the sixth day Elyasaf ben Deuel presents his offering as chieftain of the tribe of Gad. The offering consists of 1 silver platter weighing 130 shekels and 1 silver bowl of 70 sacred shekels, both platter and bowl filled with fine flour mixed with oil for a meal offering; 1 gold ladle of 10 sacred shekels, filled with incense; 1 bull of the herd, 1 ram, and 1 year-old lamb, for a burnt offering; 1 goat for a sin offering; and for the peace offering 2 cattle, 5 rams, 5 male goats, and 5 year-old sheep.
FROM THE PROPHETS
Haftarah for Shabbat Chanukah
Eternal Light of the Menorah
Rejoice and be glad, O daughter of Zion,
for I am coming to dwell in your midst,
declares the Eternal!
Many other nations as well
shall attach themselves to the Eternal;
they shall all be My people,
as I dwell in your midst!
The Eternal shall claim Judah
as His portion upon the Holy Land,
and He shall choose Jerusalem again!
Let all be silent before the Eternal,
as He is aroused from His holy habitation.
I am shown Joshua the Kohen Gadol
standing before the angel of the Eternal,
while Satan, to the right of him,
The Eternal defends Joshua
from Satan’s accusation
by calling Joshua,
“A brand rescued from fire!”
(Joshua’s garments were filthy
as he stood before the angel.)
“Remove from him those filthy garments!”—
See, I shall remove from you your iniquity
and clothe you instead with robes—
“Let them place a pure mitre upon his head!”
Now the angel testifies to Joshua
the declaration of the Eternal of Hosts:
“If you walk in My ways and keep My charge,
then you shall rule over My house
and I shall grant you access
among those who stand here.
“Consider well, O Joshua Kohen Gadol,
that your restoration and your associates’
is a harbinger of My servant Tzemach (‘Sprout’)!”
I put before Joshua on a single stone seven eyes;
thus do I engrave it, says the Eternal of Hosts,
and I shall remove the iniquity of that Land
in a single day!
On that day, says the Eternal of Hosts,
you shall invite, everyone his neighbor,
under the vine and under the fig tree.
Now the angel who was speaking to me
awakens me as out of a sleep
and asks me what I see.
I see a Golden Menorah
with a bowl on top of it,
connected by pipes to its seven lamps,
and an olive tree on either side of it.
As I do not understand their purpose,
the angel explains to me
that this is the word of the Eternal to Zerubbavel:
Not by might,
and not by power,
but by My spirit—
says the Eternal of hosts!
Who are you, O mighty mountain,
You shall become a plain,
while he shall bring forth the crowning stone
to jubilations of divine favor!
FROM TALMUD AND MIDRASH
Genesis Rabbah 89:3,4
The Wicked and Their “Gods”
“A dream comes with a multitude of subjects…”
One of the subjects of Pharaoh’s dream, apart from the cows and the ears of grain, was his standing with respect to the Nile. The Nile was regarded in Egypt as divine. Pharaoh also represented himself as divine. So, naturally, he wondered: Who stands over whom: I over my gods, or my gods over me? He was told: You over your gods, and that is what is written: “At the end of two years Pharaoh has a dream, in which he is standing over the Nile” (Genesis 41:1)!
Rabbi Yochanan said: The wicked stand over their gods—“Pharaoh has a dream, in which he is standing over the Nile!” But as for the righteous, their God stands over them, as with Jacob, when he saw the ladder: “Standing over him is the Eternal…” (Genesis 28:13).
Genesis Rabbah 89:4
Dreams of Power
“Pharaoh has a dream” (Genesis 41:1): Why is it worth mentioning that Pharaoh had a dream? Do not all people have dreams? It is worth mentioning because, in the case of a king, a dream that he has involves more than himself, even more than his kingdom, as is shown in the verse, “There was famine in all lands, but in the land of Egypt there was food” (Genesis 41:54)!
Genesis Rabbah 91:6; 92:4
Talmud Menachot 103b
The Foundation of Security
“When Jacob learns
that there is food to be purchased in Egypt,
he sends ten of his sons….
’Go down there and purchase food for us,
that we may live and not die!’”
Why does Jacob say, “Go down?” Because he foresaw that they would be brought low and enslaved in Egypt.
Another interpretation: “Go down” because the Torah considers whoever purchases produce from the market (rather than farming it himself) is in the category of going down.
“The life that you face shall be precarious,
you shall be in fear by night and by day,
and you shall not feel secure in your life.”
Rabbi Chanin has taught: “The life that you face shall be precarious” refers to one who purchases produce from year to year. “You shall be in fear by night and by day” refers to one who purchases produce from week to week. “And you shall not feel secure in your life” refers to one who depends upon the baker. Rashi: For he has no land to sow, and he does not know if he will have money the following year.
“We did indeed come down once before to buy food.”
It was a coming down for us, because in our own Land we were once the sustainers of others, but now we are in need of your support. (Now we are the others who need to be sustained!)
Genesis Rabbah 91:9
The Value of Wisdom
“Joseph orders that their bags be filled with grain,
that their money be returned…
When they stop for the night,
and each man opens his sack…,
he sees his money…
and each says to the other:
‘My money has been returned!’
… and they become distraught….”
When Rabbi Simon bar Zavdi died, Rabbi Il’ah opened his eulogy with these verses:
“Where can wisdom be found?…No one can know its value.
It cannot be found in the land of the living.
The deep says: It is not in me….
Gold cannot replace it, no amount of silver can be paid as its price….
The securing of wisdom is of value greater than corals….
Whence does wisdom come, and where is the place of understanding?
It is concealed from the eyes of all living,
and hidden even from the birds of heaven.”
There are four commodities upon which the world relies, and each of them can be replaced:
“There is a mine for silver
and a place for the refinement of gold;
iron is taken out of the earth,
and copper is smelted from rock.”
But for a Torah scholar who has died
a replacement cannot be found.
Rabbi Levi observed: The sons of Jacob were distraught when their money was returned, but they would not have been distraught if they had lost money because the precious metal of money can be replaced. How much the more then should we be distraught for losing Rabbi Simon, a Torah scholar!
Genesis Rabbah 92:4
Joseph and Shabbat
“Joseph sees that Benjamin is with them.
He orders the steward of his house to bring the men in
and slaughter an animal
in preparation for dining with them at noon.”
It would have been sufficient for Joseph to order the slaughter of an animal for dining. Why does the Torah add “in preparation?” These additional, redundant words allude to the preparation required for Shabbat: Slaughter an animal not only for today but also prepare food today for tomorrow, so it must have been Erev Shabbat (Friday), and this shows that Joseph observed the Sabbath even before it was commanded under Moses at Mount Sinai!
Genesis Rabbah 92:4
Assurance of Merit
“’We do not know who put the (original) money back into our pouches!’
The steward seeks to reassure them:
Your God and the God of your father
put the money in your sacks as a hidden treasure.
As for your original money, I have received it…’”
The steward refers not to the God of the men and the God of their father as if to more than one God. Rather, he was saying to them: Do not worry, there are sufficient merits among all of you to justify the money in your sacks as hidden treasure. Whether for your own merit or for the merit of your fathers, your God has given you these gifts. Separate from that, however it happened, your money has come back to me. [Joseph later arranges for his steward to return secretly the money of each man into the mouth of his pouch (Genesis 44:1).] Above all, I do not suspect you of stealing from my master!
Genesis Rabbah 92:4
News of the Living, News of the Dead
“Joseph asks their welfare and the welfare of
‘your aged father of whom you spoke, is he yet alive?’
and the men assure him that their father is alive and well.”
Rabbi Chiyah Rabbah once encountered a friend who had come from his native Babylonia. He asked him, “How is my father doing?” The friend responded, “Your mother asks how you are doing.” He said to him, “I ask you about one thing, and you respond to me about something else?!” He explained, “We reply about the living, and we do not reply about the dead.”
Thus the men took Joseph’s words “your…father” to refer to their father Jacob and replied that their father is “alive and well.” But they understood “your aged father” to refer to Isaac and let Joseph know that he had died by not replying about him (cf. Genesis 35:22b-36).
Genesis Rabbah 92:4
Benjamin’s Special Blessing
“Then Joseph looks up and sees Benjamin his brother,
the son of his mother:
‘Is this your youngest brother, about whom you spoke to me?
May God be gracious to you, my son!’”
Why is there here this single, brief blessing for God’s favor to Benjamin? Benjamin was the only tribe which had not thus far been favored with such a blessing, for when Jacob with his wives and children encountered his brother Esau, he said, “These are the children with whom God has graced your servant” (Genesis 33:5), and Benjamin had not been born yet (cf. Genesis 35:16-18).
Genesis Rabbah 92:6
My Brother, Keetov
Joseph arranges for his steward
to fill the men’s pouches
with food and money,
and to put his silver goblet
in the mouth of Benjamin’s pouch.
“Then, In the morning, at light,
the men are sent away with their asses.”
As it would be sufficient
to have said,
“In the morning the men are sent away,”
why is the phrase “at light” added?
Said Rabbi Levi: There was an incident in the south regarding a certain innkeeper, who used to arise at night and bestir his lodgers to arise as well on the pretext of a caravan which would be passing through in the darkness. They were led to believe by that innkeeper that they would benefit from the merchandise that the caravan would be carrying. But when the lodgers went out into the night, they were set upon by highwaymen who robbed them and murdered them. These highwaymen then entered the inn and divided the spoil with the innkeeper.
On one occasion Rabbi Meir was traveling, and he lodged at that inn. When the innkeeper sought to entice Rabbi Meir with the same pretext, he begged off with his own pretext: “I am expecting my brother to meet me here, so I must remain and not go out.” The innkeeper asked, “So where is your brother now?” Rabbi Meir answered, “In the synagogue.” “Well, what is his name?” asked the innkeeper, “so that I can go out and summon him.” “His name is Keetov (‘That it was good’),” said Rabbi Meir.
The innkeeper spent the entire night shouting at the entrance of the synagogue, “Keetov! Keetov!” But no one answered him.
In the morning, at light, Rabbi Meir arose and loaded his ass, ready to go. The innkeeper asked him, “Where is the brother whom you mentioned?” “Oh, he has already arrived,” answered Rabbi Meir—as was said, “And God saw the light, ‘that it was good’ [Keetov]” (Genesis 1:4)!
Talmud Rosh Hashanah 22b-23b
Yerushalmi Rosh Hashanah 2:1
Lights of Rosh Chodesh
When testimony of witnesses to the New Moon crescent was accepted in Jerusalem and Rosh Chodesh was sanctified, torches would be raised along a line of promontories, beginning on the Mount of Olives, then at Sartava in the hills of Samaria overlooking the Jordan Valley, followed by Agrippina in the Lower Galilee, then to Auran east of the Jordan, and ending at Beit Baltin between the borders of the Land of Israel and Babylonia. As the burning torch on the previous mountain became visible, those on the next mountain would kindle their torches and wave them back and forth, up and down, until they saw the torches afire on the mountain ahead, and so on for each promontory. From Beit Baltin the torch signaled to all of Babylonia: Pumbeditha was lit up as everyone would hold a torch in his hand and raise it up on the roof of his house.
Later, Rabbi discontinued the display of torches because of false signals from the Samaritans. But those who lived in Tsefat, having received notification of Rosh Chodesh by messengers, continued to display torches when they learned that Rosh Chodesh was sanctified, just to announce and celebrate.
Various commentators report on the subsequent practice of kindling lights in the synagogue and at home on Rosh Chodesh, such as Pri Chadash to Shulchan Aruch, Orah Chayim 419 (Hezekiah da Silva, Italy & Land of Israel, 17th cent.): “There is one who wrote that there is the practice of kindling extra lights in honor of Rosh Chodesh.” See Sefer Hamoadim, Vol. 5, p. 14.
Talmud Avodah Zarah 8a
Adam reacts to the winter solstice
Our Rabbis taught: When Adam the First saw that the days were becoming shorter, he said, “Woe is me lest, because of my sin, the world is getting darker and will ultimately return to unformed void, and this is the punishment of death that was imposed upon me from Heaven” (cf. Genesis 2:17)! Whereupon he fasted and prayed for eight days.
But then, crossing the winter solstice (Tekufat Tevet), he observed that the days began lengthening, and recognized that such must be the natural cycle. So he observed eight days of Yom Tov.
For the following year he observed Yom Tov for both. He established them for the sake of Heaven, while others have established them for the sake of idolatry.
Tanchuma ed. Buber Beha’alot’cha 5
Numbers Rabbah 15:5
Giving and Receiving Light
“When you raise up [b’ha’alot’cha] the Menorah,
let the seven lamps cast light…”
Those words are explained by:
“For You light My lamp;
the Eternal, my God,
lightens my darkness.”
Said Israel before the Holy One, blessed be He: Master of the universe, You say that we should cast light before You, but You are the Light of the world! The light dwells with You, as is written, “He reveals deep and secret things; He knows what is in the darkness, as the light dwells with Him” (Daniel 2:22). Yet You say, “Let the seven lamps (that we have lit) cast light…” (Numbers 8:2)?!
Yes, it is “when you light My lamp…!” Said the Holy One, blessed be He, to them: It is not that I need it; rather, you should cast light for Me just as I cast light for you. Why? To raise you before all of the nations, that they should say, “See how Israel gives light to the One who gives light to all!”
To what may this be compared? To two who walk together: one can see and one cannot. The seeing one says to the non-seeing one, “Come, let me guide you home!”—and so he does. When they come to the unlit house of the non-seeing one, the seeing one says to him, “Light a candle for me—in order to provide me light!” The non-seeing one replies, “When we were on the road, you supported me and guided me and accompanied me to my house; now you ask me to light a candle to provide you with light?!” The seeing one explained, “So that you should not feel that I did you a favor for nothing in return!”
The seeing one is the Holy One, blessed be He, of whom it was said, “These seven, the eyes of the Eternal (cf. Zechariah 3:9 in Haftarah), they go about over the whole earth” (Zechariah 4:10). The non-seeing one is Israel, as was said, “We grope for the wall like those with no vision…” (Isaiah 59:10). The Holy One, blessed be He, guided Israel and gave them light, as was said, “The Eternal goes before them by day…to guide them…and by night…to give them light…” (Exodus 13:21).
With the erection of the Tabernacle, the Holy One, blessed be He, commanded Moses: Provide light for Me (the Seeing-One), as was said, “in order to raise you up [b’ha’alot’cha]” (Numbers 8:2)! For b’ha’alot’cha can mean either “when you raise up,” as in, “When you raise up the Menorah” (Numbers 8:2), or it can also mean “in order to raise you up.” Here the Midrash interprets the verse to mean the latter, “in order to raise you up”—in conformity with its interpretation of David’s song (Psalms 18:29) : “As you (Israel, the non-seeing one) light My (Seeing Holy One’s) lamp, the Eternal, my God, lightens my darkness!” The Eternal bids us who seek light to light His lamp in order to raise us up before the nations as the bestowers of divine light upon the world!
Pesikta Rabbati 35
Some Weep, Some Rejoice
The prophet brought forth these words
in anticipation of the Second Temple:
“Rejoice and be glad, O daughter of Zion,
for I am coming to dwell in your midst,
declares the Eternal!”
Now contrast Zechariah’s gentle vision
with words that are attributed
to Solomon under the Holy Spirit:
“If she be a wall,
we shall build upon her
a turret of silver;
and if she be a door,
we shall protect her
with boards of cedar.”
(Song of Songs 8:9)
Solomon spoke those words, in Song of Songs,
regarding the Congregation of Israel,
with the First Temple in mind.
For when the Second Temple was built, the Shechinah (Divine Presence) did not dwell upon it, as it did upon the First Temple.
But the Holy One, blessed be He, said: If all of Israel comes up, the Shechinah will take residence; if not, they will benefit only from the Bat Kol (a reflection or echo of the Divine Presence), as was said: “Many of the Kohanim and the Levites and the Elder Chiefs of the Fathers, who saw the First Temple when it was established, for this (Second) Temple in their eyes they weep loudly….” (Ezra 3:12a), and: “Who is left among you who saw this Temple in its former glory, and what do you see now? Is not such a one as nothing in your eyes” (Haggai 2:3)! Yet the verse of Ezra continues: “…but many shouted joyously at the top of their voices!” (Ezra 3:12b)
Why did some of the people weep while others rejoiced at the sight of the Second Temple? Elders who saw the glory of the Temple in which the Shechinah dwelled and then saw the Second Temple, in which the Shechinah did not dwell, were the ones who wept. But their children, who had not seen the glory of the First Temple, but saw the building of the Second Temple, were those who rejoiced.
Talmud Shabbat 21b
The Miracle of Chanukah
Our Rabbis explained the meaning of Chanukah: Beginning on the twenty-fifth day of the month of Kislev we observe Chanukah for eight days. When the Greeks entered the Temple, they defiled all of the oil that was in it. Later, when the Hasmoneans triumphed, they searched and found only a single cruse of oil that remained intact with the seal of the Kohen Gadol, sufficient to burn for only one day. A miracle occurred: it burned for eight days. Beginning the next year those days were established as holidays to include the recitation of Hallel and Thanksgiving (Rashi: Al Hanissim).
Talmud Shabbat 21b
Chanukah Lights: How many and when?
Our Rabbis taught that the basic mitzvah of Chanukah is for a person to kindle a light for oneself and one’s household every night. Among the more rigorous (hamehadrin), each member of the household kindles a lamp. Among the most rigorous (hamehadrin min hamehadrin): the School of Shammai say that eight lights are kindled on the first night, the number diminishing each night; while the School of Hillel say that one light is kindled on the first night, the number increasing each night.
According to Ulla, the later teachers in Eretz Yisrael, Rabbi Yosi bar Abin and Rabbi Yosi bar Zavida, gave different reasons for the dispute between the School of Shammai and the School of Hillel. One explained that the School of Shammai thought that the number of lights on a given night should correspond with the number of days that remain, while the School of Hillel thought that the number of lights on a given night should correspond with the number of days that have occurred. The other explained that the School of Shammai related the diminishing number of lights each night to the diminishing number of sacrificial bulls each day of Sukkot as prescribed in the Torah, while the reason of the School of Hillel was based upon the principle: In matters of holiness we increase and do not decrease.
Talmud Shabbat 21b
Chanukah Lights: Where?
Our Rabbis taught that the mitzvah of the Chanukah lamp is to place it outside of the entrance to one’s house. (Rashi: The purpose of this placement outside is parsomey nisah, “publicizing the miracle.”) If one dwells in an apartment without a direct street entrance, he should place it on the inside of a window which faces the public road. If either of these placements is dangerous, then it is sufficient to place it on one’s table. Rava taught that one needs also an additional light to provide illumination as distinguished from the Chanukah lights themselves.
Talmud Shabbat 21b-22a
Chanukah Lights: How high?
Rav Kahana taught that Rav Nathan ben Minyomi expounded in the name of Rabbi Tanchum: A Chanukah lamp that is placed more than 20 cubits from the ground is invalid (as fulfillment of the mitzvah)…. (Rashi: The reason for this limit is that people do not routinely cast their eyes up more than 20 cubits, so that a Chanukah lamp at more than that height would not serve the purpose of parsomey nisah, “publicizing the miracle.”)
Talmud Shabbat 23a
Did God “command us to kindle the Chanukah light?”
Over the Chanukah light one blesses, “Blessed are You, Eternal One,…Who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to kindle the Chanukah light,” but when did God so command us? (Rashi: It is a commandment not from God in the Torah but from the Rabbis!) Rav Ivya located God’s command in the verse, “You shall act in accordance with the instruction that they (future Judges) shall teach you and the Judgment that they shall say to you; do not depart in any direction from what they tell you” (Deuteronomy 17:11)! Rav Nechemia located it in the verse, “Ask your father, and he will tell you, your Elders, and they will say to you” (Deuteronomy 32:7)!
Commentary on Eyn Ya’akov by Avraham Ya’akov Finkel: Both verses tell us that the Torah authorizes the Rabbis to enact decrees and institute mitzvoth, so that underlying all Rabbinic mitzvot there is a Biblical obligation. Which is why, before performing a Rabbinic mitzvah, we can also say, “Blessed are You, Eternal One,…Who has commanded us to…e.g., to wash our hands.”
Talmud Shabbat 22a
Treat not the Chanukah light lightly
Rav Judah taught that Rav Assi taught: It is forbidden to sort coins (count money) by the Chanukah light. – But when I repeated this in the presence of Samuel, he said to me, “Does the light possess holiness?!”
Rav Joseph argued against Samuel’s implication by analogy: “Does blood (of a non-sacred animal) possess holiness?!” yet from, “Let him pour out its blood and cover it in the dust” (Leviticus 17:13) instead of merely “pour out its blood in the dust,” we infer that he should cover the blood of slaughter with dust using the same limb by which he poured out the blood, by his hand and not by his foot, so that the commandment be not regarded lightly by him. Here also, regarding the Chanukah light, the prohibition is not because the light possesses holiness, any more than the blood of a non-sacred animal (slaughtered for human consumption) possesses holiness, but that the commandments should not be regarded lightly by him!
Tractate Soferim 20:6
“These lights of Chanukah are holy throughout the eight days: we may not use them for anything, except to behold them, in order to acknowledge Your Name for Your wonders and Your miracles and Your salvation.” – These words accompany the kindling of Chanukah lights.