Chanukah

The Rambam describes the mitzvah of lighting the Chanukah menorah as “a very precious mitzvah” (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Megillah V’Chanukah 4:12). Our love of this mitzvah reflects our love of Torah, which the menorah symbolizes.
In regard to Torah study, the Gemara declares (Megillah 6b): “If a person tells you, ‘I toiled and I found,’ you can believe him.” The Maggid, in his commentary on Shir HaShirim 8:7, discusses this teaching. He notes that the statement “I toiled and I found” seems at odds with itself. To say that one toiled for something means that he exerted great effort to get hold of it, while to say that one found something typically means that he got hold of it with little effort. It would appear more fitting to say “I toiled and I attained” or “I toiled and I acquired.” Why, the Maggid asks, does the Gemara instead choose the paradoxical expression “I toiled and I found”?
The Maggid answers as follows. In truth, the acquisition of wisdom is a gift from Hashem: The mortal mind does not have the capacity to acquire any measure of wisdom without Hashem’s aid. Thus, Shlomo HaMelech declares (Mishlei 2:6): “For Hashem grants wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.” And to whom does Hashem grant wisdom? To a person who loves the Torah with all his heart and values wisdom more than all material things – even the most precious. When a person casts aside all worldly pleasures, and strives with diligence and exertion to attain wisdom, this shows how dear wisdom is to him. When Hashem sees this, His compassion is stirred, and He grants the person the measure of wisdom that befits his effort.
The Maggid brings out the point with an analogy. A man loses a precious item. He goes to search for it in the place where he thinks it fell. He rummages through the dirt and the garbage heaps, straining to the point of sweating, but fails to find the item. A friend sees how hard he is straining and how pained he is, and realizes why. The friend then kindly calls out to him: “I know what you are looking for. Come with me, and I will show you where it is.” The man goes along with his friend to the place where the item is, and picks it up easily. Here, we can truly say that the man found the item—he found it where it was lying and took it with no effort at all. At the same time, the effort that he previously exerted elsewhere is what led him to make this find. Were it not for his exertion and suffering, his friend would never have thought to show him where the item was.
It is precisely the same with the acquisition of Torah wisdom. The process begins with diligent exertion in Torah study – even staying up into the night to plumb the Torah’s depths. Afterward, Hashem compassionately brings down an outpouring of Torah wisdom, which can then be found easily. It is like a prophecy, which comes upon the prophet suddenly, without any exertion. This is the meaning of the Gemara’s expression “I toiled and I found.” The toil is the underlying causal factor – the key preparatory step – in the process of attaining Torah wisdom. Once a person toils for Torah wisdom, Hashem leads him to find it.
I believe this lesson from the Maggid is particularly apt for Chanukah. As is reflected in the Al HaNissim prayer, the main goal of the Yevanim was to make us forget the Torah, and adopt their way of life. They issued onerous decrees to achieve this goal. The Chashmonaim and their followers zealously went to war to fight these decrees, and Hashem granted them a miraculous victory. On Chanukah, we recall this struggle through the Al HaNissim prayer, and we light the menorah, which represents the light of Torah. Overall, the key theme of Chanukah is love for and zealous devotion to Torah. The study of Torah is our lifeblood. We should cherish the Torah and toil over its words. If we do, Hashem will lead us to find the wisdom it holds.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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