This week’s column is focused on the teachings of Rav Shalom Noach Berezovsky zt’’l, the Slonimer Rebbe, in translation and interpretation by Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein in his “Netivot Shalom” series, the second volume of which has just been published by Maggid Book.
Rabbi Adlerstein, who has devoted himself to translating Torah teachings into English for all to understand and appreciate, is the founding editor of Cross-Currents.com a popular website that the deals with the relationship between Torah teachings and contemporary issues.
The essay excerpted below considers the unique relationship of Chanukah and Shabbat observance. Although it does not deal with the special manner of observance of this year’s celebration, I chose to present it in that is keyed to the joint observance of Shabbat and Chanukah for another reason.
This year we have a triple-header observance, very rare on the Jewish calendar: The sixth day of Chanukah is also Shabbat and the first day of Rosh Chodesh Tevet. This triple-header is reflected in the length of the Birchat Hamazon with additions that reflect all three holy days, the longest such combination on the Jewish calendar.
The selection presented here of the Rebbe’s teaching bring together the Rebbe’s hashkafa relating to both the religious and historical significance of Chanukah observance. I urge you to obtain and study this volume for your further spiritual enrichment, both for this Chanukah and for all the other holidays.
Getting It All Together
By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein
The motifs of Chanukah and Shabbat are so different that they seem to talk past one another. But every Chanukah has its Shabbat. When we probe more deeply, we will find that the two do not work at cross-purposes. Rather, they work synergistically to afford a unique opportunity for personal growth.
Detecting the apparent conflict is easy. On a number of levels, Chanukah and Shabbat aim at very different goals. Shabbat aims at more elevated precincts, while Chanukah concerns itself with more pedestrian ones. …
In our Shabbat zemirot we say, “Gladden them with binyan shalem, a complete structure; make them shine in the light of Your countenance.” … When Shabbat adds the rarified light of the three highest sefirot to what is ordinarily accessible from the other seven, the structure of the sefirot is fully potentiated.
We could suggest a different interpretation, one in which the tension between Shabbat and Chanukah is resolved. The “complete structure” is available specifically on Shabbat Chanukah, because Shabbat addresses the highest sefirot while Chanukah successfully takes G-d’s light to much lower places. On the day that they overlap and fuse, all of the sefirot are addressed at once by G-d’s light.
Our Sages imposed rigid requirements for the oils and wicks we may use for the mitzvah of Shabbat lights. Those oils that do not produce a clean, constant flame or take well to the wick may not be used. They treated Shabbat Chanukah as an exception. Even oils and wicks that do not burn well may be used. …
Unlike other Shabbatot of the year, Shabbat Chanukah’s reach and appeal are universal. Some people remain unmoved by the message of the ordinary Shabbat. Chanukah, however, casts its light to the nethermost realms, below ten handbreadths. It attracts even those people who are like the imperfect oils and wicks, who are effectively banished from participating in an ordinary Shabbat, those to whom the light of Shabbat does not take well. These people respond to Chanukah and have a place at this one Shabbat that falls within it. …
Our Sages see [the] beauty of a doorway framed with mitzvot. On the right is a mezuzah and on the left, the Chanukah menorah. If our approach is correct, there may be room in this image for another matched set as well: a house with a Shabbat candles illuminating the inside and set above ten handbreadths, while the outside is lit up by the menorah, set below ten handbreadths.
This set is an inclusive one, because the implications of a menorah that shines outside the house is that it acts as a beacon to those who find no place within the walls of holiness and the restrictions and limitations they involve. They, too, are part of the divine purpose for this holiday … Although generally the Divine Presence never descended below ten handbreadths, on Chanukah the Shekhina reaches out not only to the generally faithful but even to those who think they have bottomed out in their relationship with Jewish life. …
The Ten Commandments begin with what seems to be the ultimate reductionist statement of Jewish belief: “I am Hashem your G-d who took you out of Egypt.”
Seeing this verse as a simple call to belief in G-d, however, is a mistake. It is actually two calls. It sets forth two very different requirements of bedrock Jewish faith. It touches upon our core emuna regarding G-d as the Creator and continued Guide of all creation. But by linking “I am Hashem” — whom you know as the Creator — to our Exodus from Egypt, it evokes another key belief: the relationship of G-d with every individual Jew, owing to his being part of in the Jewish people.
Not only did G-d forge us into a people, but He did so from within the context of an Egypt, where we had become mired in the impurity of the host culture and had fallen to the lowest of its levels. He could have insisted on beginning the process of growth and purification (which in fact occurred in the weeks before the giving of the Torah) while they still resided in Egypt. He didn’t — to make the point that although we had little to show for ourselves spiritually, He was with us and took us as is.
These two aspects are combined and repeated each year on Shabbat Chanukah. Shabbat testifies to G-d as Creator. Chanukah demonstrates the relationship G-d has with His people, standing by them even when they have disappointed Him through their sins.
Shabbat Chanukah thus affords us an opportunity to experience the binyan shalem, the completed structure of the tikkun of all ten sefirot, of service of G-d with all parts of our being and emuna in both of its significant manifestations.