Rabbi Mayer Twersky

Chanukah: A Time of Renewal

The parshios of Vayeshev and Miketz, wherein Yosef HaTzadik looms as the central figure, provide the kerias hatorah backdrop for the yom tov of Chanukah. We must separately analyze the yom tov of Chanukah and the religious persona of Yosef HaTzadik in order to appreciate the significance of this calendrical synthesis. What follows is but a brief, incomplete attempt at these analyses. Nonetheless, it is hoped that an appreciation of the aforementioned synthesis will be forthcoming.

The yom tov of Chanukah always encompasses rosh chodesh. This is not simply a calendrical coincidence or inevitability. The timing of the miracle of Chanukah was divinely ordained, and accordingly the timing of the yom tov of Chanukah was indirectly divinely dictated. Rather, the calendrical coincidence reflects a conceptual nexus. Rosh Chodesh marks the renewal of the lunar cycle, and as such is a mo'ed of renewal (hischadshus). Similarly, Chanukah commemorates the rededication of the Beis HaMikdash and as such it too is a yom tov of renewal.

In truth, hischadshus is a daily, miraculous occurrence. Hakadosh Baruch Hu is "mechadesh b'tuvo bechol yom tamid maaseh bereishis"; "He, in His goodness, every day continuously renews the work of creation". Each of us individually is considered a beriah chadashah each day. This ontological renewal, according to Rash"ba, forms the basis of our obligation to wash netilas yadayim and recite Birchos HaShachar each day upon awakening. Nonetheless, while each day is informed by hischadshus, the yom tov of Chanukah is dedicated to renewal. Chnukah is a yom tov of hischadshus, and as such the days of Chanukah are especially conducive to cultivating our capacity for self-renewal. This is the avodah of Chanukah.

[Chanukah, with respect to its avodah resembles other yomim tovim. For instance, Pesach is a yom tov of emunah. Obviously, this depiction of Pesach does not suggest that the mitzvah of emunah is restricted to Pesach. Rather, it indicates that this permanent component of avodas Hashem is stressed even more than usual on Pesach and accordingly, this yom tov is especially conducive to cultivating and deepening our emunah. The same holds true for the yom tov of Chanukah vis-à-vis the quality of hischadshus.]

How does our capacity for hischadshus manifest itself? First of all, exercising our capacity for hischadshus allows us to live, happily and successfully, in the present. Let us clarify this point. Without the capacity for hischadshus, the burdensome past, abounding with errors and blunders, wasted time and squandered opportunities, would overwhelm us. It would be nigh impossible for a religiously sensitive person to ward off depression. "What could have been...What I should have done..." The questions are endless, and their ramifications could have been shocking and shackling. Indeed, the failure to exercise the koach of hischadshus is one cause of depression when one is trapped in the mire of the past.

The capacity for hischadshus, however, while allowing us to productively dwell on the past long enough to recognize and regret our misdeeds, enables us to repent and immerse ourselves in the present; to be sustained and even enthralled by today's accomplishments. We have a remarkable capacity for self-renewal and regeneration (i.e., teshuvah) and an equally remarkable capacity to live in and enjoy the renewed present.

The second manifestation of our koach hischadshus is the ability to persevere in the face of adversity. This too is a vital, indispensable quality because most, if not all, people encounter some type of turbulence - personal, professional, financial, spiritual, etc. - during their lives. Such periods of turbulence can be protracted. Lacking the capacity for self-renewal and regeneration, one would have become enervated, gradually but inexorably sapped of his strength, both physical and spiritual. Sadly, we are all too familiar with the consequences when the koach hischadshus is not utilized. God forbid, one's emunah and will to live gradually erode. The koach hischadshus, when exercised, allows us to persevere and prevail, steadfast in our faith and forever optimistic. "Hein yiktileni lo ayacheil."

Finally, the capacity for hischadshus is critical in the realm of talmud Torah. The ability to discover and formulate chidushei Torah which is essential to the entire endeavor of talmud Torah and masorah is but a component of the broader capacity of hischadshus.

In light of the above subsumption of koach hachidush in Torah as part of the broader koach hischadshus, we can now recognize that the foregoing depiction of Chanukah as a yom tov of hischadshus encompasses the well-known identification of Chanukah as a yom tov of Torah Shebaal Peh because Torah Shebaal Peh is distinguished from Torah Shebichsav and characterized by its capacity for chidush.

Having surveyed the crucial role of hischadshus within our lives, two fundamental questions remain. What is the source of this remarkable miraculous capacity? How do we tap this source so as to cultivate this vital capacity? The answer is provided by Shlomo HaMelech who writes in Megilas Koheles that, "there is nothing new under the sun". Mundane pursuits, when not elevated by the impulse and goal of l'sheim shomayim, are not new. Whatever novelty one initially experiences in mundane matters eventually wears off, together with its attendant joy, enjoyment and excitement. Even the routine of the fabulously rich, undoubtedly the object of jealously to others less fortunate, becomes stultifying. This too is a phenomenon all too readily observable. People abandon successful careers or hazard risky investments in an attempt to generate excitement. In their pursuit of pleasure, people literally risk life and limb because they are plagued by the ennui resulting from the fact that "there is nothing new under the sun". However, as noted by Chazal, Torah is above time; it preceded and hence transcends time and is thus forever new (as is HaKadosh Baruch Hu himself, and "kudsha brich hu v'oraysa chad hu") and accordingly the source for hischadshus. When one immerses himself in Torah and mitzvos, and elevates his otherwise mundane pursuits by the impulse and goal of l'sheim shomayim, one draws from the wellsprings of hischadshus.

This was the middah of Yosef HaTzadik. When Yaakov charges Yosef with the fateful task of going to his brothers, Yosef responds "hineini". Rashi comments that this reflects zrizus, alacrity. Alacrity flows from koach hischadshus. Throughout his years of suffering and imprisonments, Yosef does not despair. He perseveres. His own tragic plight and suffering notwithstanding, he remains sensitive to the plight of others, as evidenced by his concern for the sar hamashkim and sar haofim. This perseverance is also a manifestation of the capacity for hischadshus. And throughout his odyssey Yosef HaTzadik was sustained by the Torah he learned from Yaakov (he remembered exactly where their last lesson had ended!), Talmud Torah being both a source and manifestation of hischadshus. Hence the parshiyos of VaYeishev and Miketz - i.e., the parshiyos of Yosef - provide the krias HaTorah backdrop for Chanukah.

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