A child’s connection to Chanukah runs deep and lasts a lifetime. Even adults can describe their childhood memories of Chanukah. Why does it have such a profound effect on people? The B’nei Yissaschar points out that the Hebrew word Chanukah spells Chinuch Hashem, which we will explain. Chanukah represents the re-start of observing the mitzvos of Hashem relating to the Beis Hamikdash, upon its re-dedication, and we know that beginnings are exciting and make a deep impression.
The word chinuch refers to a course of training to prepare children to perform Hashem’s mitzvos properly before they reach bar/bas mitzvah. Chinuch also is used to refer to the concept of starting something new, as in chanukas habayis—inaugurating a new home. This is why the Torah reading on Chanukah lists the korbanos offered by the Nesiim (princes) upon the inauguration of the Mishkan in the desert—the start of the use of the Mishkan. (The Mishkan was completed on the 25th day of Kislev, the first day of Chanukah, but Hashem postponed the actual opening until Rosh Chodesh Nisan.)
Now, beginnings set the stage and one would expect everything in the Mishkan to be done with precision from the beginning. That wasn’t the case. The Nesiim initially brought a korban chatas (sin offering) along with ketores—incense. However, a korban chatas may only be offered when one commits a crime and ketores may only be used with a korban on behalf of the entire people. Yet, the Nesiim offered the korban chatas with ketores as a personal offering. Why did the inauguration of the Mishkan not follow the expected rules?
Rav Shimshon Pincus notes a similar break in the rules upon the chanukas habayis of the first Beis Hamikdash. There were so many sacrifices to be offered that Shlomo Hamelech made a one-time exception to expand the mizbei’ach (altar), although it had a required size, by allowing sacrifices to be offered even on the floor of the Beis Hamikdash. Further, Shlomo Hamelech decreed a two-week holiday, with full eating and drinking, effectively overriding Yom Kippur that year!
How could Hashem allow the inauguration to start off with a one-time exception that deviated from the required guidelines? Starting with prohibited actions seems to be contrary to the whole concept of chinuch, let alone properly following the mitzvos!
Rav Shimshon Pincus explains the issue with a fundamental principle of parenting and avodas Hashem. Parents want their children to grow up and be successful in connecting with Hashem. For that to happen there needs to be a solid foundation in the child’s chinuch, which must include a feeling of absolute, unconditional love. That’s why Hashem designed humans to be absolutely helpless at birth. Parents must fulfill all the needs of their children, but it’s easy, since they love them so much! In those early years, parents surround their children with boundless affection. This caring and affection form the foundation of all chinuch if it is to be successful.
There is a program called “TP”—Twisted Parenting—by Rabbi Avi Fishoff, for parents whose children have abandoned Torah and mitzvos and are involved in extremely dangerous and decadent behaviors. His philosophy is that these children are in extreme pain and the only way to start their healing is to shower them with unconditional love via extreme actions and activities. Most of these youth did not receive that important ingredient of love when they were young, and now need an overdose of love.
The reason Hashem designated the inauguration of the Mishkan and Beis Hamikdash to be outside the “norm’’ was to demonstrate to klal Yisrael that His love for us is not based on mere guidelines and regulations; it’s much deeper. Hashem loves klal Yisrael unconditionally. Of course Hashem wants us to perform His mitzvos as written, but a foundation of pure love is needed for that to happen. Hashem allowed the Nesiim to offer a sin offering to show that Hashem loves a person even after he has erred. Hashem allowed the ketores communal offering by the Nesiim to show His love for each individual in the community.
Within the Chanukah story we find this reciprocal love between Hashem and the Jewish people. At this special time the Chashmonaim recaptured the Beis Hamikdash and restarted the services in the Beis Hamikdash. Even though the menorah could have been lit from defiled oil (through the rule of tumah hutra b’tzibur—where only tumah is available, it may be used for the benefit of an entire community), they nonetheless searched for flasks of pure oil to light the menorah. After an exhaustive search, with the people coming up empty handed, Hashem saw their loving attempts to worship Him in the purest way and revealed one sealed, untampered flask. Hence, the Bnei Yisrael were able to light the menorah in the best possible manner.
Throughout the year and especially on Chanukah, may we all feel the unconditional love Hashem bestows on us, and mirror that love back to our Creator!
Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch, where he leads a multi-level Gemara-learning program. PTI has attracted adult Jews of all ages from all over northern New Jersey for its learning programs. Fees are not charged but any contributions are always welcome. Beyond PTI, Rabbi Bodenheim conducts a weekly beis midrash program with chavrusa learning in Livingston plus a monthly group in West Caldwell. Rabbi Bodenheim can be reached at [email protected] For more info about PTI and its Torah classes, visit www.pti.shulcloud.com.