Fill Her Up
RABBI WAGENSBERG ON CHANNUKA
"Fill Her Up"
The Gemara in Meseches Shabbos (chap. 2, “Bameh Madlikin”, pg. 21b) relates that the Yevanim (Syrian Greeks) contaminated all of the oil in the Beis Hamikdash. The Chashmonaim (Hasmonean family) fought a war against them and won. When they returned to the Beis Hamikdash, they found only one flask of oil that was not defiled by the Greeks. This flask of oil had the seal of the Kohein Gadol (High Priest) on it. They used the oil in this flask to light the Menorah, but there was only enough oil in it to last for one night. However, a miracle occurred and it lasted for eight nights. The following year they established those eight days as Yomim Tovim (holidays) during which we praise and thank God.
One question comes to mind. Why did a Kohein Gadol prepare a flask of oil and seal it for the purpose of lighting the Menorah? We do not find anywhere in Jewish history or in halacha that it was the job of the Kohein Gadol to prepare oil for lighting the Menorah. Yes, the Kohanim did the Avoda (service) with oil, but they were not the ones picking olives, packaging them, shipping them, and squeezing them for the purpose of lighting the Menorah.
Therefore, how did it come to be that there was one Kohein Gadol who did prepare oil for the purpose of lighting the Menorah? Who was that Kohein Gadol anyway? And why did he prepare just one such flask?
Moreover, in the Al Hanisim prayer, which wasdrawn up by the Anshei K’nesses Hagedola, it says, “When the wicked Greek kingdom rose up against Your people Israel, Lihashkicham Torasecha (to make them forget Your Torah) etc.” From this text it seems that the Greeks knew how to make a person forget the Torah that he had already learned.
This brings us to another question. What magical powers did the Yevanim possess which could make a person forget that which he already learned and knew? What was their strategy?
In order to begin addressing these questions, the Shvilei Pinchas says that we must probe a well-known story in the Chumash that we had recently read.
The pasuk says, “And Ya’akov rose early in the morning, and took the stone that he placed around his head, and set it up as a pillar, and he poured oil on its top” (Parshas Vayeitzei, 28:18).
The Paneach Ruzuh (Rabbenu Yitzchak, son of Rebbi Yehuda Halevi; Parshas Vayeitzei) asks a question. We know that when Ya’akov arrived in Charan, he cried because he was penniless (Rashi, Parshas Vayeitzei, 29:11, based on Bereishis Rabba, Parshas Vayeitzei, 70:12; Sefer Hayashar). The reason why he was impoverished was because Eisav had sent his son Elifaz to run after Ya’akov [who had just fled from Eisav] to murder him.
After Elifaz caught up with Ya’akov, he did not have the heart to murder him because he had grown up on Yitzchak’s lap, and the kedusha of Yitzchak made an indelible impression upon him. Elifaz confided in Ya’akov and told him why he had come, but he explained to him why he could not go through with it.
Elifaz was nervous that Eisav would kill him (Elifaz) for not killing Ya’akov. However, Ya’akov advised Elifaz to take away all of his possessions. In that way Ya’akov would become a pauper and a poor man is equivalent to a dead man (Nedarim, chap. 9, “Rebbi Eliezer”, pg. 64b). Elifaz would then be able to tell Eisav with confidence that he indeed “killed” Ya’akov. That is precisely what Elifaz did.
Now, if Ya’akov was robbed of all of his possessions before he arrived at the future site of the Beis Hamikdash, where did he get oil from to pour over the stone that he had erected?
The Paneach Ruzuh answers this question by saying that Elifaz took almost everything away from Ya’akov. However, there was one item that Elifaz allowed Ya’akov to keep. That item was Ya’akov’s staff.
We know that Ya’akov still possessed his staff after the Elifaz episode from a verse. When Ya’akov was about to meet Eisav again, he prayed to God and said, “For with my staff I crossed this Jordan” (Parshas Vayishlach, 32:11). The crossing of the Jordan happened after Elifaz has stolen all of Ya’akov’s belongings. Therefore, it is clear that Ya’akov kept his walking staff.
This staff of Ya’akov’s was hollow on the inside. Ya’akov would regularly fill the hollowed part of his staff with oil so that he would have what to light when he wanted to learn Torah at night.
The Paneach Ruzuh says that this is where Ya’akov got the oil from to pour over the stone. He got it from the hollowed part of his staff.
After answering the previous question, the Ruzuh d’Meir asks, “How could the Paneach Ruzuh say that the oil came from Ya’akov’s staff if the Midrash says that the oil came to Ya’akov miraculously from Heaven?” Let us share this Midrash right now.
In Pirkei d’Rebbi Eliezer (chap. 35) it says that the twelve stones that Ya’akov had taken (on the night that he arrived on the future site of the Beis Hamikdash) was from the altar that Avraham built to place Yitzchak upon during Akeidas Yitzchak. Hashem had arranged for there to be exactly twelve stones because He was sending a message to Ya’akov that, one day, he would become the father of twelve sons who would become the leaders of the Twelve Tribes of Israel.
However, the Midrash continues, those twelve stones merged into one stone which served as another message to Ya’akov that those Twelve Tribes would merge into one unified nation (Divrei Hayamim Aleph, 17:21). Ya’akov erected that one stone which had been twelve stones and oil had come down to Ya’akov from Heaven, and he poured that oil over the stone.
So again, if the Midrash says that the oil came to Ya’akov from Heaven, how could the Paneach Ruzuh say that the oil came from Ya’akov’s staff?
The Shvilei Pinchas says that the answer to this question will become clear after we share a teaching from the Sifsei Kohein.
The Sifsei Kohein (the Mekubal Rabbi Mordechai Hakohein of Tzfas, one of the Arizal’s desciples, 1523-1598) advances a novel idea. Later on, there is a pasuk which says, “Vayivaser Ya’akov L’vado” (and Ya’akov was left alone; Parshas Vayishlach, 32:25). The Da’as Zekeinim m’Ba’alei Hatosafos says that we should not only read the word as “l’Vado” (alone), but rather as “l’Kado” (for his flask).
In a Sefer Torah, the letter beis is similar in shape to the letter chuf. Therefore, for purposes of uncovering hidden layers of Torah understanding, we can substitute the letter beis with a chuf. When we do, we find that the Torah is teaching us that Ya’akov went back alone (l’Vado) in order to retrieve his flask (l’Kado).
Now let us get back to when Ya’akov was on the future site of the Beis Hamikdash. When Ya’akov realized that the twelve stones had merged into one, he also noticed that a flask of oil had been provided for him miraculously. Ya’akov realized that he was supposed to pour the oil from this flask over the one stone that had been twelve stones. After pouring the oil on top of the stone, he realized that the flask was still full of oil, as if it had not been used at all. It was then that Ya’akov knew that this flask would bring forth blessings. Therefore, he understood that he should not leave the flask behind. So, Ya’akov took that flask with him wherever he went.
Later on, when Ya’akov was on his way to meet Eisav, Ya’akov crossed over the Jabok River. But then he remembered that he had forgotten that flask of oil on the other side. So, he went back to retrieve it.
The Shvilei Pinchas says that now we can reconcile the apparent tension between the Paneach Ruzuh who said that the oil used for pouring came from Ya’akov’s staff, and the Pirkei d’Rebbi Eliezer who said that the oil came from Heaven. The answer is, yes. It is both. The oil in Ya’akov’s staff got there from Heaven.
The Sifsei Kohein adds that the reason why Ya’akov was prepared to place himself in mortal danger in order to retrieve that flask was because Ya’akov foresaw prophetically that there would be many miracles that would happen with this flask in the future. By the time we are done, we will see that there were six miracles connected to this flask.
The first miracle with this flask of oil occurred when the Jews were in the Midbar (wilderness). They used that same flask of oil to anoint the Mishkan (Sanctuary), its vessels, and Aharon and his children as Kohanim. Yet, no matter how much oil they poured out of that flask for anointing, the oil was never diminished.
Therefore, on the verse, “The sacred oil of anointment will be for Me for generations” (Parshas Ki Sisa, 30:31), the Gemara in Horios (chap. 3, “Kohein Moshiach”, pg. 11b) explains that this verse means that the flask’s oil was preserved in its entirety for the future. How could the oil be preserved in its entirety if it was used for anointing? The answer is that the flask kept refilling itself miraculously. As such, it was completely preserved in its entirety.
The second miracle with this flask occurred at a later time.
Eventually, this flask of oil made its way to the possession of Eliyahu Hanavi. Eliyahu used this flask of oil to help a certain widow and her son who were starving to death on account of a drought (Melachim Aleph, 17:8-17). Eliyahu promised her that the small amount of flour that she still had would not run out. Then, Eliyahu handed her this flask of oil and told her that this flask of oil would not run out until the time that Hashem would bring rain. She used that oil for an entire year, and yet, its supply of oil was never diminished.
The third miracle with this flask of oil happened a little bit later on. This flask of oil made its way to Ovadia Hanavi. Ovadia was a convert to Judaism from Edom. Ovadia was a disciple of Elisha Hanavi, who in turn was a disciple of Eliyahu Hanavi. In Melachim Beis (4:1-8) the story is told of a man who died. Rashi (ibid) says that that man was Ovadia.
Ovadia’s widow went to Elisha Hanavi, her late husband’s Rebbi, and complained that she owed a debtor a considerable amount of money but she did not have the funds to pay him back. The debtor threatened that if she did not pay the money back soon, he would take her two sons away and make them his slaves as payment for the debt. Ovadia’s widow was asking Elisha Hanavi for his advice and for his help to rescue her sons from this predicament.
Elisha asked her, “What do you have in the house?” She responded, “Only one flask of oil.” That flask of oil was passed down to Ovadia by Eliyahu Hanavi. That flask of oil could trace its history all the way back to Ya’akov Avinu. Elisha told her to borrow as many pots, pans, bowls, cups, etc. as she could from her neighbors. When her house was full of these vessels, he told her to close the door of her home and pour oil from the flask into all of the vessels, filling them to the top.
When she finished doing this, Elisha told her to sell the oil that was in the vessels and use the money to pay the debtor back. She did as she was told. But she realized that the original flask was not diminished of its oil one iota.
Since Ya’akov foresaw all of these miracles connected with this flask of oil, he was prepared to retrieve it even at personal cost. That is why he placed himself in danger by going back for the flask alone at night, where he was indeed attacked.
The Shvilei Pinchas adds that when Ya’akov woke up in the morning after his prophetic dream, not only was there oil in the cavity of his staff, but he found that there was a flask inside the hollowed part of his staff filled with oil.
However, when Ya’akov first arrived at the future site of the Beis Hamikdash, the sun set abruptly (Rashi, Parshas Vayeitzei, 28:11; based on Chulin, chap. 7, “Gid Hanasheh”, pg. 91b). Ya’akov poured oil out of his staff so that he would be able to learn Torah all night long by candle light. This oil was regular oil, not miraculous oil. You see, during the fourteen years that Ya’akov studied in the Academy of Sheim and Eiver (Rashi, Parshas Toldos, 28:9), he always kept oil in his staff so that he would be able to learn all night long by the light from the oil that was kept within his staff.
Each morning, Ya’akov would have to find more olive oil to refill his staff with so that he would be able to learn Torah throughout the following night. So, when Ya’akov arrived at the place of the future site of the Beis Hamikdash and it got dark suddenly, he poured the regular oil out of his staff, as he had always done, so that he would be able to learn Torah throughout the night.
After lighting his candle, Hashem caused a deep sleep to overtake Ya’akov so that He could reveal secrets to him through a prophetic dream. When he woke up in the morning, he realized that the candle he had lit went out. Ya’akov thought that he would have to find new olive oil for the next night’s Torah learning session.
But when he picked up his staff, he realized that it was still heavy, as if it was still filled with oil. Ya’akov looked into the hollowed part of his staff and found a flask filled with oil neatly tucked inside. This was the fourth miracle that happened with the flask of oil. The miracle was that it appeared out of nowhere.
Then, when he poured that miracle oil over the stone that he had erected, Ya’akov noticed that the flask was not diminished of its oil whatsoever. That was the fifth miracle which occurred with that flask of oil.
These last two miracles (numbers 4 and 5) happened before the other three miracles we mentioned above. These two miracles (4 and 5) that happened to Ya’akov were paving the way for the other miracles (1, 2, and 3) to occur.
The Birchas Shmuel (Rabbi Aharon Shmuel Koidnover, 1614-1676, Poland; Parshas Miketz) adds that not only was this flask of oil used by Ya’akov, the Jews in the Midbar, Eliyahu Hanavi and by the widow of Ovadia Hanavi, but this was the very same flask that the Chashmonaim found in the Beis Hamikdash after they drove the Yevanim out. This flask of oil kept refilling itself miraculously for eight days.
This approach fits in beautifully with an answer that the Beis Yosef provides to his own question. The Beis Yosef (Rabbi Yosef Caro, 1488 Spain-1575 Tzfas; Orach Chaim, chap. 670) asks what is arguably the most famous question in Judaism, and it is most certainly the most famous Channuka question ever asked. He asks, “Why do we celebrate Channuka for eight days? The flask had enough oil for one day. Therefore, the first day was not miraculous. Only the next seven days were miraculous. If the holiday was established because of the miracle with the oil in the Menorah, Channuka should only be celebrated for seven days. Why do we celebrate it for eight days?”
This is such a juicy question that there are sefarim out there which offer over one-hundred answers to this question. It seems as though everybody has something to say about this question. The Beis Yosef himself offers three answers. We will share his second answer right now. The Beis Yosef says that after they poured all of the oil into the cups at the top of the branches of the Menorah, the flask remained full. Therefore, there was a recognizable miracle even on the first day. Thus, we celebrate the holiday of Channuka for eight days.
At this point we will be able to address the question we raised above regarding why any Kohein Gadol would have prepared one flask of oil for lighting the Menorah if this was never the practice of the Kohanim. The answer is based on the following Midrash.
In Bamidbar Rabba (Parshas Bamidbar, 4:8) it says that Adam Harishon was the bechor (first-born) of the world. As such, Adam Harishon was the worlds first Kohein Gadol. Prior to the Sin of the Golden Calf, the Avoda (service) was performed by the bechorim (first-borns). Therefore, Adam Harishon brought korbanos (Tehillim, 69:32).
Since Adam Harishon functioned as a Kohein Gadol, he wore the Bigdei Kehuna (priestly garb) of a Kohein Gadol. This is the meaning of the verse which says, “And Hashem God made for Adam and his wife Kosnos Ohr (garments of skin) and He clothed them” (Parshas Bereishis, 3:21). Those Kosnos Ohr were Bigdei Kehuna Gedola.
By the way, the verse says that Hashem had made Kosnos Ohr for both Adam and Chava. This would imply that Chava also served as a High Priestess in some capacity. However, this discussion about Chava’s role in Kehunaship is beyond the scope of this article. Therefore, as we proceed, we will be focusing only on Adam as the Kohein Gadol.
Rabbenu Bachya (1255-1340, Spain; Parshas Bereishis, 3:21) supports this Midrash with two proofs. The first support comes from the following gizeira shava (when the same or similar word appears in two different scriptural verses, the two verses are joined together to teach us something).
In Parshas Bereishis (3:21) it says by Adam’s clothing, “Vayalbishem Kosnos” (and He clothed them in garments), and in Parshas Tzav (8:13), when it talks about the sons of Aharon being inaugurated as Kohanim, it says, “Vayalbishem Kutanos” (and he dressed them in tunics). The words “Kosnos” and “Kutanos” are spelled the same. There is only a slight difference with respect to pronunciation.
Therefore, just as the word “Kutanos” by Aharon’s sons is referring to Bigdei Kehuna, so is the word “Kosnos” by Adam referring to Bigdei Kehuna. This supports the Midrash which posits that the Kosnos Ohr of Adam were Bigdei Kehuna.
Rabbenu Bachya adds another proof which supports this Midrash from a hint in the verse itself. We know that the Bigdei Kehuna of a High Priest consisted of eight garments, known as the Shmoneh Begadim. When examining the verse about Hashem clothing Adam, there are specifically eight words in that verse. They are: “Vaya’as Hashem Elokim l’Adam Ul’ishto Kosnos Ohr Vayalbishem.” These eight words allude to the fact that Hashem had clothed Adam in the Shmoneh Begadim of a Kohein Gadol.
The Midrash (ibid) continues to say that when Adam died, he bequeathed those Bigdei Kehuna Gedola to his son Sheis. Sheis passed them on to Mesushelach. Mesushelach gave them to Noach. Noach handed them down to Shem. Shem handed them over to Avraham, who in turn gave them to Yitzchak, who in turn gave them to Ya’akov.
Even though Ya’akov was not the biological first-born (Parshas Toldos, 25:26), he was the technical halachic first-born after he purchased the rights of the first-born from Eisav (Parshas Toldos, 25:31). Ya’akov wanted to become the first-born so that he could officiate as Kohein Gadol and offer korbanos (see Parshas Vayishlach, 35:1).
This leads right into a discussion about Eisav’s clothing, which were called, “Bigdei Chamudos” (desirous clothing; Parshas Toldos, 27:15). Those Bigdei Chamudos were the Bigdei Kehuna of the Kohein Gadol. Yitzchak had given those clothing to Eisav because he was the first-born. As such, Eisav should have functioned as the Kohein Gadol.
Perhaps we could suggest that the brachos which Yitzchak wanted to give Eisav (besides what the Torah says explicitly about those brachos) were the Birchas Kohanim that Eisav would be entrusted with so that he would bless the nation. Yitzchak wanted to teach Eisav the halachic and kabbalistic aspects of those blessings.
But Rivka knew that Eisav had already sold his birthright to Ya’akov. Therefore, Ya’akov deserved those Bigdei Chamudos. So, Rivka dressed Ya’akov in those Bigdei Chamudos when she sent him into Yitzchak to receive the blessings, because Ya’akov would have to learn about the secrets of Birchas Kohanim.
Another verse supports this entire approach. It says, “And Rivka took the Bigdei Hachamudos of Eisav Hagadol (her older son), and she clothed Ya’akov in them” (Parshas Toldos, 27:15). Before proceeding with the proof, I must interject. Why would this verse have to stress that Eisav was “Hagadol” (her oldest son)? This verse appears toward the end of Parshas Toldos. I think that by now we all know that Eisav was the oldest born son as it says in the beginning of Parshas Toldos. So, why repeat it again?
Perhaps we could suggest that the word “Hagadol” is not coming to teach us that Eisav was Rivka’s oldest born son, rather, the word “Hagadol” comes to teach us that Eisav potentially could have been the Kohein “Gadol.” But, Eisav sold those rights to Ya’akov.
In any case, Yonasan ben Uziel on this verse in Parshas Toldos (27:15) says that those “Bigdei Hachamudos” once belonged to Adam Harishon. All we have to do now is connect the dots. If the Bigdei Hachamudos were the clothing of Adam, and if Adam’s clothing were the Bigdei Kehuna of a High Priest, then it turns out that the Bigdei Hachamudos were the Bigdei Kehuna Gedola.
The Shvilei Pinchas says that now we can understand why there was one flask that was prepared by a Kohein Gadol, even though it was not typical for Kohanim Gedolim to prepare oil for lighting the Menorah. It is because that Kohein Gadol was Ya’akov Avinu! When Ya’akov foresaw the miracle of the Menorah that would be done through that miraculous flask of oil which appeared to him suddenly, he put his stamp upon the flask in order to preserve it for that miracle. This also explains why they only found one such flask. It is because there was only one miraculous flask of oil.
At this point we could address the only remaining question concerning how the Greeks intended to make us forget the Torah. We mentioned above that Ya’akov would burn the midnight oil from his staff to learn by candle light all night long. Now, we know that it is difficult to learn at night. If we wake up early in the morning and work all day long, by the time its dark, we are exhausted.
Yet, Reish Lakish says that Torah will only remain with a person who “kills” himself over it (Berachos, chap. 9, “Haroeh”, pg. 63b; based on Parshas Chukas, 19:14). This is called Mesirus Nefesh (self-sacrifice) for Torah. Rambam (Hilchos Talmud Torah, 3:12) expands on this idea. He says that Torah will not remain with those who approach its study with weakness. Torah will not remain with a person who pampers himself with eating and drinking. Rather, Torah will be possessed by those who push themselves to learn even if it hurst them physically, such as robbing themselves of sleep.
Rambam continues to say that the majority of a person’s Torah wisdom is acquired by the Torah study that he does at nighttime. Therefore, one should be careful with his nights, not to lose even one of them with eating, drinking, sleeping, schmoozing, or with any other activity which takes away our time from Torah study. We paskin like this Rambam in Shulchan Aruch (Yora Deah, 246:24).
This is how Ya’akov Avinu acquired his Torah knowledge. It was by his self-sacrifice to push himself to learn even at night, by the light of the candle that he lit with the oil from within his staff.
Now, we mentioned in previous articles that the Menorah in the Beis Hamikdash represented Chochmas HaTorah. That is why one should face south when he prays if he wants to become wiser in Torah (Baba Basra, chap. 2, “Lo Yachpor”, pg. 25b, Rebbi Yitzchak). It is because the Menorah was situated on the southern side of the Beis Hamikdash. Therefore, when one prays toward the south, he is connecting with the energy of the Menorah which was Chochmas HaTorah.
The Ben Ish Chai (Rabbi Yosef Chaim of Baghdad, Iraq, 1835-1909) in his Ben Yehoyada (Meseches Baba Basra ibid) says that since the Menorah represented Chochmas HaTorah, it was lit specifically at night to teach us that we will acquire the majority of our Torah wisdom from the Torah learning that we do at nighttime.
The Shvilei Pinchas says that this was the Greek strategy to make us forget our Torah learning. The Greeks recognized that the key to Jewish success in Torah learning was due to the Mesirus Nefesh which the Jews had invested in Torah study. The Yevanim recognized that Mesirus Nefesh for Torah learning meant to learn Torah even at night when it is difficult. The Yevanim recognized the message of the Menorah’s lights which burned brightly at night, conveying the lesson to become enlightened with Torah from the learning that we do at night.
Therefore, it was part of the Greek military campaign to contaminate Jewish oil. Their thinking was, if there is no oil, then there is no light at night. If there is no light at night, there will not be any Torah learning at night. If there will not be any Torah learning at night, there will be no Mesirus Nefesh for Torah. If there will be no Mesirus Nefesh for Torah, Torah will not remain with them. Meaning, they will forget what they learned. As they say, “Easy come, easy go.” This is how they planned to make us forget our Torah knowledge.
The Shvilei Pinchas points out that this is why the Reish Lakish in Bereishis Rabba (Parshas Bereishis, 2:4) says that the word “Choshech” (darkness; Parshas Bereishis, 1:2) represents Galus Yavan (the Greek Exile). It is because the Greeks tried to darken the eyes of the Jewish people. The way in which they tried to darken our eyes was to prevent candles from being lit at night which would cause the cessation of Torah learning at night.
The Shvilei Pinchas concludes that this is why Hashem orchestrated that the Channuka miracle happened specifically with the flask of oil that Ya’akov Avinu had possessed. It is because Ya’akov would always use that oil to learn Torah throughout the night. So, when the Chashmonaim found that very flask, it was a message from God to the Jewish people that the way to win the spiritual battle against the Greeks would be to increase the amount of Torah learning at night, when it’s hard to learn.
Although we realize the need for eight hours of sleep at night, one practical exercise that we could implement from this teaching would be to increase our nighttime Torah learning, even just a little bit. Even a five-minute seder of Torah learning at night (or an additional five-minute learning seder at night) would demonstrate our Mesirus Nefesh for Torah learning. From a night seder we will benefit that Torah will remain with us and our children for generations to come.
So, may we Mamleches Kohanim be blessed with the willingness and strength to push ourselves a little bit more in our Torah study, even if it means robbing ourselves of a little sleep, in order that we tap into the holy lights of the Menorah which was fueled by the hidden oil of Ya’akov Avinu, because this Mesirus Nefesh will serve as our guiding staff which will walk us safely through the darkest roads of our life’s journeys, illuminating the path before us constantly filling us with more Torah, until the time that God reveals the full measure of Hidden Light with the coming of Moshiach and the building of the Beis Hamikdash, when the Kohein Gadol will light the Menorah once again in full Bigdei Kehuna attire.