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Rabbi Michael Rosensweig
Rabbi Michael Rosensweig

Chanukah's "Neirot ha-Maarachah": A Celebration of the Constancy and Comprehensiveness of Jewish Life

In his description of the miracle of Chanukah, the Rambam (Hilchot Chanukah 3:2) refers the miraculous candles as the "nerot ha-maarachah" ("ve-hidliku mimenu nerot ha-maarachah shemonah yamim"), a rare usage depicting the menorah. Unquestionably, the Rambam's formulation invokes the pasuk in parshat Pekudei (Shemot 39:37- "et ha-menorah ha-tehorah et neirotehah neirot ha-maarachah ve-et kol keilehah ve-eit shemen ha-maor") that catalogues the menorah and all of its accoutrements in the context of the presentation to Moshe of a completed and comprehensive mishkan (Shemot 39:32, 33, 42, 43). The Chizkuni and Netziv (ad loc) further note that this phrase itself is linked to the initial account of the menorah, and in particular to the role of the kohen in its kindling- "be-ohel moed mi-chutz la-parochet asher al ha-eidut yaaroch oto aharon u-banav mei-erev ad boker lifnei Hashem; chukat olam le-dorotam mei-eit benei yisrael"(Shemot 27:21). However, the Netziv remains puzzled by the Torah's choice of this singular expression in the context of the completion of the mishkan. The Rambam's insertion of "neirot hamaarachah" in Hilchot Chanukah is particularly intriguing. Evidently, he intended to convey something of the special theme of Chanukah by invoking these references. [The Netziv suggests that the "maarachah" reference in Shemot actually hints at the Chanukah theme of a special hashgachah, although he does not cite the Rambam's formulation in Hilchot Chanukah to support his view.]

We may better appreciate the Rambam's ambitious formulation Hilchot Chanukah in light of his broader perspective on the lighting of the menorah. While many authorities believe that the lighting of the menorah occurs only at night (See Zevachim 11b and Rashi, Ramban Shemot 27:20), Rambam's view (Hilchot Temidim 3:10- 12) is that the menorah burns both day and night. Significantly, the Rambam cites the phrase "yaaroch oto" as the source of this conclusion. Moreover, the Rambam notes that the lighting of the menorah overrides Shabbat and the obstacle of tumah because it is a continuous, constant and comprehensive obligation (not because it is a formal "avodah"- Yoma 24b. See also, Chidushei R. Chayim ha-Levi, Biat Mikdash 9:7). It is striking that the Talmud (Yoma 24b) establishes that the maintenance of the lamps (dishun ha-menorah; hatavat ha- neirot) is an official "avodah" which requires a kohen, the actual lighting of the menorah per se is not subject to the disqualification of "zar" (participation of a non-kohen). The Rambam apparently extends this motif, as well. He indicates (Hilchot Temidim 3:12) that the lighting is but an aspect of the "hatavah." Elsewhere (Hilchot Biat Mikdash 9:7), he rules that a non-kohen is actually permitted to kindle the menorah, as long as he does not enter the inner precincts of the mikdash. R. Chayim posits that the Rambam believes that the essential obligation pertaining to the menorah is not the act of kindling, but the effect of an enduring flame. This analysis is consistent with the view that the obligation applies also during the day, that the maintenance of the menorah and neirot is primary, and that even the lighting is merely a dimension of the hatavah. Some mefarshim suggest that the term "yaaroch" refers to the hatavah process, as it signifies the overall supervision and arrangement necessary to achieve the goal of "lehaalot ner tamid"(Shemot 27:10).

It is noteworthy, that the theme of constancy and comprehensiveness is inextricably tied with the motif of the menorah. In the beginning of parshat Behalotecha (Bamidbar 8:1), the Rashbam asserts unequivocally that the theme of the menorah is that of "melechet tadir". The Ibn Ezra, in that same context explains that the Torah treats the topic of the menorah immediately after it establishes that Moshe could initiate contact with Hashem at any time by means of the mikdash precisely because the menorah established the principle of constant and comprehensive avodat Hashem in the mikdash, even at night. It is surely not coincidence that the Torah invokes the idea of neirot maarachah when it sums up and integrates all of the components of the mishkan when they were presented to Moshe, who appreciated fully that the total mishkan constituted much more than the sum of its parts. The menorah particularly bears this theme, as it projects seven different neirot, albeit structured as a single integrated entity- mikshah achat. The idea of "yaaroch" arranging and integrating the various aspects of the menorah, internally and vis-a-vis its relationship with the other keilim in the heichal and other avodot in the mikdash is crucial to the very concept of the hadlakah and hatavah of the menorah also as an expression of an avodat Hashem that is "tamid".

These themes resonate particularly on Chanukah. Jewish spiritual life was endangered precisely by the effort to disrupt the continuity, constancy and comprehensiveness of halachic life. Particular mizvot and halachic institutions were targeted, undoubtedly also with the purpose of eviscerating the unity and integrity of halachic life. A piecemeal and disjointed avodat Hashem constitutes a corruption of the ideal of halachic life and poses a significant spiritual risk, warranting a rebellion. Moreover, Greek ideology itself promotes the idea of compartmentalization and the fragmentation of spiritual forces and authority, a perspective totally incompatible with Torah life.

The Ramban (Bamidbar 8:2) cites the midrash that the lighting of the menorah was assigned to Aharon as compensation for not having been allowed to participate together with the nesiim in the Chanukah ha-mizbeach. The Ramban asks why this particular institution addressed this issue more than the ketoret or avodat Yom Kippur etc. Ultimately, he suggests that the midrash refers to the Chanukah menorah and the leadership of the Chashmonaim. In light of our analysis, however, we might venture to add that the celebration of the completion of the mishkan and the dedication of the mizbeach was also an appreciation of the comprehensiveness and constancy of avodat Hashem reflected in the range and variety, as well as the integration of the different components of the mishkan. Indeed, the midrash and Ramban note the significance of the fact that each nassi donated equally, but individually and according to his own singular spiritual persona. Perhaps this very motif was effectively apprehended in the temidiyut of the hatavah and hadlakah of the varied but integrated menorah. Perhaps, according to the Ramban, the context of Chanukah and the importance of the reestablishment of the menorah then, particularly encapsulated this idea. [The fact that the mitzvah was given to Aharon notwithstanding the fact that there is no disqualification of a zar in the kindling is intriguing, but may also be understood to reinforce this theme...]

It was of immense symbolic and substantive significance that in the immediate aftermath

of the rebellion, the Chashmonaim, with siyata di-shemaya, were able to reassert the primacy of temidiyut- constancy and comprehensiveness. By means of the miracle of the Chanukah oil, they were able not only to kindle but to insure the endurance of the flame, to accomplish not only the hadlakah, but also to safeguard the more important theme of hatavah. Indeed, as the Rambam so succinctly, yet elegantly conveys, they were able to reestablish not only a menorah but "neirot ha-maarachah", with all that this singular phrase implies.

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