Category Archives: Shabbat Chanukah

Second Shabbat Chanukah – Seventy Candles

In years when the first night of Chanukah comes out on Friday night, there are two Shabbatot of Chanukah. The Gemara tells us which Haftarah to read in that case:

ואי מיקלעי שתי שבתות, קמייתא בנרות דזכריה, בתרייתא בנרות שלמה) מלכים א’ ז'(
If there are two Shabbatot; on the first we read the Candles of Zechariah; on the second, the Candles of Shlomo. (Talmud Megilla 31a)

The “Candles of Shlomo” refers to the description of the vessels that Shlomo had made for the Beit HaMikdash. The Haftarah includes the following verse:

וְאֶת הַמְּנֹרוֹת חָמֵשׁ מִיָּמִין וְחָמֵשׁ מִשְּׂמֹאול לִפְנֵי הַדְּבִיר זָהָב סָגוּר
The Menorahs, five on the right, and five on the left, before the Sanctuary, of pure gold (Melachim I 7:49)

The Midrash explain the symbolism of these Menorahs:

וכל מנורה היו בה שבעה נרות הרי שבעים כנגד שבעים אומות
Each Menorah had seven candles; seventy represents the seventy nations
(Yalkut Shimoni Melachim I 185)

Ten Menorahs with seven candles each add up to seventy candles. The number seventy, which is an iconic number in the Torah, refers to the Nations of the World.

The reference to the Seventy Nations appears also in the context of Chanukah. There is a famous dispute between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai whether we should light one candle on the first day, two on the second, and so on until there are eight candles on the eighth day, or whether, according to Beit Shammai, we should light eight on the first day, seven on the second, and so on, until we light one candle on the eighth day. The reason for Beit Shammai’s suggestion is stated in the Talmud:

טעמא דבית שמאי – כנגד פרי החג
The reason of Beit Shamai: representing the bull sacrifices brought on Chag (Succot). (Talmud Bavli, Shabbat 21b)

According to Beit Shammai, Chanukah candles refer to Succot sacrifices. The Torah commands that on the first day of Succot, we bring thirteen bulls, twelve on the second, eleven on the third, and so on, until there are seven on the seventh day, for a sum total of seventy bulls. On the eighth day, Shmini Atzeret, we bring a single bull.
The Talmud explains the symbolism of these numbers:

אמר רבי (אליעזר) הני שבעים פרים כנגד מי כנגד שבעים אומות. פר יחידי למה כנגד אומה יחידה. משל למלך בשר ודם שאמר לעבדיו: עשו לי סעודה גדולה. ליום אחרון אמר לאוהבו: עשה לי סעודה קטנה, כדי שאהנה ממך. אמר רבי יוחנן: אוי להם לגויים שאבדו ואין יודעין מה שאבדו, בזמן שבית המקדש קיים מזבח מכפר עליהן, ועכשיו מי מכפר עליהן?

R’ Eliezar said: Seventy bulls are analogous to what? To the Seventy Nations. The one bull is analogous to what? To the Unique Nation. Like the king that says to his servants, “Make me a big feast.” On the last day, he says to his beloved friend, “Make me a small meal, that I will enjoy your company.” R’ Yochanan said: Woe to the nations that destroyed, and do not realize what they destroyed. In the time of the Temple, the Altar would atone for them, but now who atones for them? (Talmud Succah 55b)

Part of the purpose of our service of G-d is universal. The rainfall of the entire world is determined on Succot; therefore, the sacrifices that we bring are not only for ourselves, but for all seventy nations. Ironically, as R’ Yochanan points out, the Nations of the World did not appreciate what we did for them, and destroyed the Beit HaMikdash, even though it was a source of blessing also for them.

By suggesting that we light Chanukah candles in the manner of Succot sacrifices, Beit Shammai highlights the tension in our relationship with the Nations of the World. On the one hand, we act to further the welfare of the entire world, be it through service of G-d at the Altar, or through the light of Torah wisdom that we project to the world. On the other hand, our expectations of being appreciated for our efforts are minimal. Just as they destroyed the Beit HaMikdash, a source of blessing to themselves, they have not hesitated to destroy Batei Midrash, and, as in the time of the Maccabees, to ban the study of Torah.

While the first seven days of Succot are outward-facing, Shmini Atzeret, the eighth day of the Succot holiday, is a day set aside only for the Jewish People. We bring a single bull, representing the singularity that is the Jewish Nation. We are unique, and our relationship with G-d is unique.

When Chanukah has two Shabbatot, the second Shabbat is the eighth day of Chanukah. We read the Haftarah of Shlomo’s seventy candles, symbolizing the universal aspect of Chanukah, of the light that the Jewish People give the world. The seventy candles allude to Beit Shammai, according to whom we would light a single candle on the eighth day. That single candle, like the single bull offering of Shmini Atzeret, remind us that ultimately, the Jewish People stand alone.

Copyright © Kira Sirote
In memory of my father, Peter Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ז”ל

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Shabbat Chanukah

The Haftarah of Shabbat Chanukah is the vision of the Menorah in Zechariah. (It is also read for the Parsha of Beha’alotcha.)

Linear Annotated Translation of the Haftarah for Shabbat Chanukah

What does it have to do with Chanukah? A Light in the Darkness

There are other connections – between Levi and Greece, Nature and Miracles, Yosef and Chanukah – that will have to wait for other years.

An interesting fact: The symbol of the State of Israel, the Menorah surrounded by two olive branches, was not actually inspired by the Haftarah of Chanukah:
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This article (in Hebrew), “an interview with the designers of the symbol” from 1949, makes it clear that they had never read Zechariah.

Perhaps we no longer have prophecy, but the Children of Israel are descendants of prophets.

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Shabbat Chanukah – A Light in the Darkness

The Haftarah describes the visions of the prophet Zechariah, encouraging the Jewish People who had returned to Jerusalem and began to rebuild the Temple. One of those visions was that of a Menorah surrounded by two olive trees. The Haftarah tells us that Zechariah did not understand the significance of this symbol:

(ד) וָאַעַן וָאֹמַר אֶל הַמַּלְאָךְ הַדֹּבֵר בִּי לֵאמֹר מָה אֵלֶּה אֲדֹנִי:
(ה) וַיַּעַן הַמַּלְאָךְ הַדֹּבֵר בִּי וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלַי הֲלוֹא יָדַעְתָּ מָה הֵמָּה אֵלֶּה וָאֹמַר לֹא אֲדֹנִי:
4) I spoke up and said to the angel that spoke with me, saying,
“What are these, my lord?”
5) The angel who spoke with me answered, and said to me,
“Don’t you know what these are?”
I said, “No, my lord.” (Zechariah 4)

The angel is surprised that Zechariah is unfamiliar with the Menorah’s message. Indeed, this is puzzling. How could Zecharia not know that the Menorah is the symbol of the Jewish People, of our perseverance and courage, of the light that we project to the world?

Zechariah was not aware of the Menorah’s symbolism because until that point in our history, the Jewish People did not use it as a symbol. During the times of the Judges, our symbol was the Altar with its unique shape; in the time of King David, our symbol was the Ark of the Covenant, with its distinctive Cherubim. The Menorah had no more nor less significance than any of the other holy objects in the Temple, such as the Table or the Copper Sink.

Zechariah lived during the rebuilding of the Second Temple. They did not have the original holy objects that Moshe had made. The famous Ark, the symbol of G-d’s direct prophetic connection with the Jewish People, was gone. Zechariah was one of the last prophets – the era of prophecy was drawing to a close and a new era was about to begin. In the Haftarah, Zechariah was told that the symbol of this new era will be the Menorah.

The Midrash describes the time period of the Second Temple in terms of the oppressors of the Jewish People.

ר”ש בן לקיש פתר קריא בגליות, והארץ היתה תהו זה גלות בבל …, ובהו זה גלות מדי …, וחושך זה גלות יון שהחשיכה עיניהם של ישראל בגזירותיהן שהיתה אומרת להם, כתבו על קרן השור שאין לכם חלק באלהי ישראל…
R’ Shimon ben Lakish explained the verse according to the four exiles: “The earth was null”, is the Babylonian Exile.. “void” is the Persian…, “darkness” is the Greek Exile, for it darkened the eyes of Israel with their decrees, and said to them: write on the horn of an ox that you have no portion in the G-d of Israel… (Midrash Breishit Rabba 2)

It parses the verse in Breishit 1:2, “The earth was null, and void, and darkness was over the abyss,” as referring to the Four Exiles: Babylonia, Persia, Greece, and Rome. The Midrash associates Greece, the third in the list, with the third noun in the verse: darkness.

To Western Civilization, Ancient Greece represents the light of the intellect and the light of beauty. Indeed, the Talmud expresses appreciation for the beauty that Greece brought to the world, and even suggests that the Torah can benefit from contact with it. Why then, does the Midrash call Greece “darkness”?

Greek culture introduced a new mindset where people were aware of only their own individual consciousness and experience, of physical, visible beauty, of intellectual, personal accomplishment. They were neither interested, nor aware of, anything outside the five tangible senses.

This mindset destroyed the ability of human beings to experience an awareness of their Creator, which was a prerequisite for prophecy.

Many centuries have passed since prophecy disappeared, and now even the idea of prophecy is alien to us. There had been another sense that people could access, and that sense disappeared and cannot even be described. We are told that during the age of prophecy there had been a general awareness of G-d’s Presence of which we now feel only an echo. A full-strength connection like those experienced by our greater prophets was described as “sweeter than honey”. After the ascendance of Greek materialism, that connection was severed, forever. As the Midrash states, Greece, “darkened our eyes.”

Moreover, the Greeks resented the very suggestion of the existence of any other reality, any other sense. They denied any connection of the Jewish People to the G-d of Israel. They forbade all visible signs of that connection – Shabbat, Brit Mila, Jewish Holidays, and learning Torah. It was then that the Jewish People, led by the sons of Matityahu, rose up against them. And when that battle was won, they celebrated by lighting the Menorah, the symbol of the eternal connection of the Jewish People to G-d, the Torah.

We no longer know what it feels like to receive prophecy, but we still have the recorded prophetic experience of our people – the Tanach. We still have the Torah she’be’al Peh, the Oral Tradition, which gives us, among other things, the methodology for extracting unlimited levels of meaning from the Torah. The little bit of pure “oil” of the Torah has been giving off light for millennia.

We cannot compete with the might of the Greek Empire, or the strength of Western Civilization. But even without prophecy, the Menorah continues to be the symbol of the Jewish People, of our perseverance and courage, of the light of the Torah and of our unbreakable connection to its Giver.

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