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Easy Come, Easy Go

Rabbi Wagensberg
Easy Come, Easy Go

The Gemara (Shabbos, chap. 2, "Bameh Madlikin", pg. 21b) mentions that when the Greeks entered the Temple, they spiritually contaminated our olive oil intentionally. Why was that part of their military campaign to defile Jewish oil?

Additionally, The Gemara (ibid) says that the Chashmonaim searched for pure olive oil to light the Menorah. On a deeper level, why does olive oil seem to be the central theme of the Channukah story? What is all the fuss over olive oil?

In the Al Hanisim prayer, it says that the Greeks wanted to make us forget Torah and they wanted to compel us to go astray from Hashem's chukim (statutes). How could the Greeks cause us forget Torah? In fact, how can anybody make anybody forget about anything? The moment you tell a person to stop thinking about something, he cannot stop thinking of the very thing that you told him not to think of.

Moreover, why did the Greeks want us to stray specifically from chukim as opposed to mishpatim (ordinances)?

Although Channukah is a Rabbinic holiday through and through, there are hints to Channukah in the Torah.

For example, The Rokeach (Rabbi Elazar Rokeach, Crakow 1665 - Tzfas 1742; chap. 225) points out that all of the holidays are mentioned in Parshas Emor. First it talks about Shabbos, then it discusses Pesach, then Shavuos, then Rosh Hashana, then Yom Kippur, and finally, it mentions Succos (see chap. 23, verses 1-44). Then, immediately after that, the pasuk says, "Command the Children of Israel, that they must take for you pure olive oil, pressed for illumination, to kindle a continual lamp (Parshas Emor, 24:2).

This juxtaposition shows us that the Torah is alluding to Channukah, because right after talking about Succos, the verse discusses lighting the Menorah. That points in the direction of Channukah on which we light the Menorah, which is the holiday right after the holiday of Succos.

Within this Biblical hint to Channukah, Moshe Rabbenu is mentioned. We can see this from the above verse itself which said, "They must take TO YOU pure olive oil." Since Hashem was talking to Moshe, the "YOU" is referring to Moshe Rabbenu. By instructing that the olive oil for the Menorah must be brought to Moshe, it implies that Moshe was connected to Channukah.

We find other sources that tell us that Moshe was connected to Channukah. For example, Moshe prayed on behalf on the Chashmonaim when he (Moshe) blessed the Tribe of Levi before he (Moshe) died. Moshe davened that the thirteen Chashmonaim should be victorious in their war against the myriads of Greek soldiers (see Rashi Parshas V'Zos Habracha 33:11, citing Tanchuma Parshas Vayechi, 14).

The Midrash (Bereishis Rabba, Parshas Vayechi, 93:2, Rebbi Yochanan) says that the many Greeks fell before the few Chashmonaim because of Moshe's blessing and prayer on their behalf.

Although we see that Moshe was connected to Channukah, we must ponder what the cause of that connection was. Why was Moshe so deeply connected to Channukah?

To address these issues, let us mention that one of the functions of the Menorah was to draw the light of Torah from the Menorah to the Jewish people. A source to this is found in Baba Basra (chap. 2, "Lo Yachpor", pg. 23b, Rebbi Yitzchak) which says that if a person wants to become wise in Torah, he should face south when he prays because the Menorah was placed on the southern side of the room that it was kept in in the Beis Hamikdash.

We see from this teaching that the Menorah generated Torah light that would make the Jewish people wise. We also find that Moshe Rabbenu was connected to the Menorah.

The Menorah in the Beis Hamikdash had seven branches. Those seven branches corresponded to the Seven Shepherds of Israel. The Kabbalistic order of the Seven Shepherds are: Avraham, Yitzchak, Ya'akov, Moshe, Aharon, Yosef, and Dovid. This order is not dependent on chronological order of birth, but rather based on the order of the Sefiros (realms, dimensions, illuminations, filters). How the Seven Shepherds parallel the seven lower Sefiros is beyond the scope of this article.

However, according to this order, Moshe is smack in the middle. Therefore, Moshe corresponds to the central shaft of the Menorah. Hashem commanded that the six branches of the Menorah should face the central shaft (Parshas Beha'alosecha, 8:2), because this demonstrated that the six branches primarily received their light from the central shaft.

Therefore, just as the other six branches of the Menorah received their light from the central shaft, so did the other six Shepherds of Israel receive their Torah light from Moshe Rabbenu because Moshe was appointed by God to be the Law Giver.

Since the Menorah was lit with olive oil, it teaches us about how we must learn Torah.

The Gemara (Horios, chap. 3, "Kohein Moshiach", pg. 13b, Rebbi Yochanan) says that the regular consumption of olives can cause a person to forget his Torah learning, whereas the regular consumption of olive oil can help a person retain his Torah learning.

The Shvilei Pinchas explains why. Olive oil is the paradigm example of one who works hard. This is because it is not easy to produce olive oil. First the olives must be crushed into a paste and then they must be pressed into olive oil. This represents one who crushes himself and presses himself and pushes himself to understand the Torah. Such a person will retain what he learns as it says, "Torah will only remain with one who kills himself over it" (Brachos, chap. 9, "Haroeh", pg. 63b, Reish Lakish, based on Parshas Chukas, 19:14).

However, an olive represents a person who takes the easy route in Torah study. This is because an olive represents one who says, "I don't have forty-five minutes to crush and press the olives to get to the olive oil. Nor do I have the patience or willingness to invest in the making of olive oil. Instead, I'll just pop an olive into my mouth and chew and I'll taste the olive oil." This type of short-cut represents a person who is not willing to put in the effort and work in order to understand the Torah. Rather, he takes the easy way out, and you know what they say about taking the easy path, "Easy come, easy go." This is because if one does not "kill himself" in Torah, he will never acquire it, he won't possess it, and he won't own it. Rather, he will come to forget his Torah quickly.

The Taz (Rabbi Dovid Halevi Segal, 1586-1666, Ukraine; Orach Chaim, 47:1) says that this explains why the nusach (text) of the first bracha of Birchas HaTorah is, "La'asok Bidivrei Torah" (according to Minhag Ashkenaz). The word "La'asok" teaches us that merely "learning" (lilmod) is insufficient. Rather, we must "toil" (La'asok) in our learning. Only then will we possess it.

Moshe Rabbenu was very much connected to toiling in Torah study. The Gemara (Nedarim, chap. 4, "Ein Bein Hamoder", pg. 38a) tells us that during Matan Torah, Hashem gave Moshe the "Pilpul" (dialectical arguments which are investigations of truths by systematic reasoning) of Torah. Moshe, in turn, gave Pilpul as a gift to the Jewish people.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that Moshe gifted the Jewish people with pilpul because his mission was to bring them Torah. However, Moshe understood that without pilpul (which is synonymous with toiling), the Jews would only learn what was convenient for them. It would just be a matter of time until they would forget everything in Torah. In order to ensure that the Torah would remain with the Jewish people, Moshe gave them pilpul.

There is one area of Torah which represents toiling in Torah and that aspect of Torah is known as chukim (laws which were given without reasons to them). It is precisely because chukim do not come with reasons that makes them hard to understand. They even appear to be illogical. In order to understand the meaning behind chukim, one must apply oneself and work hard.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that this explains the words in the Al Hanisim which says that the Greeks wanted to cause us to forget the Torah. We had asked how it is possible for anybody to make anybody forget anything. The moment you tell a person not to think about pink elephants, the only thing that the person can think about are pink elephants. How did the Greeks plan on ripping Torah information out of our brains? The answer is found in the very next words of the Al Hanisim which says that the Greeks wanted to compel us to go astray from the chukim of the Torah.

The Greeks had no problem with Jewish people learning mishpatim which have reasons and are thereby easier to understand. Rather, the Greeks wanted to remove us from the study of chukim to which no reason was given and are thereby much harder to understand. If the Greeks could convince us to kick our shoes off, recline in a hammock, sip our Slurpees, and choose an easy Torah read, eventually we would forget all of our learning. Easy come, easy go.

This explains how the Greeks intended to cause us to forget our Torah learning and it also explains why the focus in the Al Hanisim is on the chukim that they wanted us to turn away from as opposed to mishpatim.

Perhaps we could add that this is why Talmai the King had the Torah translated into Greek (Megillah, chap. 1, Megillah Nikreis", pg. 9a). A translation would make Torah learning far easier than learning it in the original Lashon Hakodesh. Once again, this would soften the Jewish people in their learning, causing them to ultimately forget the entire Torah.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that this explains why the Greek's military campaign was to contaminate Jewish olive oil. It was because the olive oil represented the approach of crushing, pressing, and pushing oneself in Torah study. The Greeks wanted to remove that from us.

Therefore, the Chashmonaim went out of their way to find pure olive oil. The reason why such a fuss was made over olive oil is because olive oil represents the crux of the battle between the Greeks and us. They wanted us to abandon sweating in Torah, whereas we demonstrated that we were committed to laboring in Torah.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that this is how Moshe is connected to lighting the Menorah. Moshe was the one who gifted the Jewish people with pilpul. It is not surprising that Moshe would be the one to charge the Jewish people with lighting the Menorah because the Menorah, with its olive oil, represents the effort that we must invest into Torah study.

Therefore, the Pri Megadim, in his Eishel Avraham (Orach Chaim, chap. 670; Rabbi Yosef Meir Teomim, 1727 Ukraine - 1793 Germany) says that a person should try to study Torah with pilpul over Channukah in order to show that this form of study is what the Yevanim wanted to rob us of, and this is how the Hasmoneans were victorious over them, through their adherence to pilpul.

He goes on to say that this is the source of the custom that many of our Rabbanim darshan in pilpulic fashion throughout the holiday of Channukah. It is in order to do the direct opposite of what the Yevanim wanted to accomplish.

Since pilpul is primarily found in Torah Sheba'al Peh, we light specifically 36 candles throughout the entire holiday of Channukah (excluding the Shamashim) because they correspond to the 36 mesechtos in Shas. This further hints to us that the Channukah candles represent pilpula Shel Torah, because it is primarily contained within Torah Sheba'al Peh.

The Chasam Sofer (Rabbi Moshe Sofer, 1762 - 1839, Frankfurt; Derashos) adds that when we use milchama (war) on the battlefield of Torah, such as in the Batei Midrashos, we harness the creation of war and direct it in Avodas Hashem. Once the creation of milchama is used for the good, it is already taken up, and as a result, the nations will not be able to use it to wage an actual war against us on an actual battlefield.

This is why the Gemara says that Talmidei Chachamim increase peace in the world (Berachos, chap. 9, "Haroeh", pg. 64a. Rebbi Elazar in the name of Rebbi Chanina). It is because they engage in the war of pilpulic debate. As a result, the nations are weakened in their ability to wage war. After all, when the voice of Ya'akov is chirping in pilpulic debate, the hands of Eisav become powerless (Bereishis Rabba, Parshas Toldos, 65:20, expounding on Parshas Toldos, 27:22. Also see Kiddushin, chap. 1, "Ha-isha Niknis", pg. 30b).

When Yehoshua stopped his men from learning Torah so that they could prepare for the war against Yericho, an angel admonished him. Yehoshua accepted the rebuke and engaged in deep Torah learning the entire night before the war (Megillah, chap. 1, "Meggilah Nikreis", pg. 3a, based on Sefer Yehoshua, 5:13-14 and 8:9).

The angel meant to say that if you want to succeed in battle, one should increase Torah learning, not decrease it, because the more we engage in Milchamta Shel Torah, it weakens the enemies from engaging in an actual milchama against us with jets, tanks, missiles, and guns (Shvilei Pinchas).

One practical application of this teaching is that especially over Channukah we should try to engage in deep Torah learning. We could choose a topic that we have always wanted to learn more about and delve into it as much as we can. We could do this on our own, with a study partner, in a group, or by attending classes that focus on this type of learning. Not only will this show what Channukah is about, but it will also weaken our enemies and protect us.

So, may we, the disciples of Moshe Rabbenu, all be blessed with the desire and strength to engage in fierce pilpulic debate on the battlefield of Chukei HaTorah by igniting the 36 candles of olive oil and by delving into the 36 mesechtos of Torah Sheba'al Peh so that we won't forget, and thereby benefit from the weakened nations who will not be able to wage war against us

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