1. We find a unique phenomenon in regard to Chanukah. The story of Chanukah is related at length in a text called Megillas Antiochus. On one hand, this text is not one of the 24 books of the Bible. Conversely, the Halachic authorities do refer to it and, in certain communities, it is customary to read this text in public on Chanukah. This is an apparent contradiction. If it is not given the status of a book of the Bible, why is it read in public in certain communities?

The question is reinforced by a comparison to Purim. In many regards, Chanukah and Purim have equal status: Both were instituted by the Sages, work is permitted on both of them,1 and the like. In regard to the text which records the holiday’s miracle, however, we find a drastic contrast. Megillas Esther is considered one of the books of the Bible. Indeed, it is given special importance. Our Sages relate that: “All the books of the prophets and the holy writings will be nullified in the Messianic age with the exception of the book of Esther.” It will remain eternally like the five books of Moshe and the halachos.

Also, it is a mitzvah to read the Megillah on Purim. In contrast, neither of these factors apply in regard to Megillas Antiochus. There is a further difference between the two: The Megillah of Purim is named after Esther, a righteous woman and the heroine of the story. The Megillah of Chanukah, in contrast, is named after Antiochus, a wicked gentile.

These concepts can be explained as follows: Chanukah and Purim represent the refinement of the lowest levels of existence, the transformation of darkness to light. The Chanukah miracle took place at a time of great spiritual darkness — the Greeks had entered the Sanctuary. Nevertheless, despite their desire to make the Jews “forget Your Torah and violate the decrees of Your will,” G‑d “delivered the mighty into the hands of the weak... and the impure into the hands of the pure,” and wrought the miracle of the Chanukah lights.

Similarly, the Purim miracle occurred in a time when darkness was prevalent. Haman, the enemy of the Jews, and Achashverosh, a wicked king, were in power over the entire civilized world. Nevertheless, the self-sacrifice of Mordechai, Esther, and the Jewish people as a whole, transformed the entire situation and brought about salvation for the Jews.

There is, however, a difference in the manner in which the Sages determined to have the holidays commemorated. The commemoration of Purim centers around activities which are carried out in one’s home (the Purim feast) or in the synagogue (the reading of the Megillah), i.e., these activities are set within a Jewish environment.

The commemoration of Chanukah, in contrast, centers around pirsumei nisa, publicizing the Chanukah miracle. Thus, the Chanukah candles are lit “at the entrance to the house, on the outside,” and must burn “until the Tarmudites are no longer present in the market-place.” Thus, these candles are intended to illuminate the public thoroughfare and should burn until even the last individuals are no longer present in the streets.

Significantly, all these terms, “Tarmudites,”2 “market-place,” and “public thoroughfare,” are all associated with the forces of evil. Through the light of Chanukah, symbolic of “the candle of mitzvah and the light of Torah,” these forces are transformed into good.

This represents the advantage which Chanukah possesses over Purim. Though Purim is also involved with transformation, that transformation involved the fate of the Jewish people and is commemorated by celebrations among the Jewish people themselves.3 In contrast, Chanukah is commemorated by spreading the light of the candles into the market place, effecting the gentiles as well.4

In addition to the above concept, to resolve the questions raised originally, it is necessary to explain the refinement of the gentiles and the seventy5 languages they speak. In general, there are two approaches to this service of refinement:

a) The revelation from above to below: When one’s service in the realm of holiness is powerful, the light of holiness is drawn down to even the lowest levels and brings about refinement. Chassidic thought describes this concept with a metaphor of a large torch which draws sparks to it.

This can be compared to the process of refinement accomplished through Torah study. The very fact that a person studies about a certain Torah subject causes the refinement of that subject in the world at large.

b) The elevation from below to above: This involves lowering oneself and involving oneself (needless to say, according to the Torah’s guidelines) in activities with gentiles and their languages and thus, employing these activities and languages for the sake of Torah and the service of “Knowing G‑d in all your ways.”

To focus on the concept of the gentile languages. In the beginning of creation, everyone spoke Lashon HaKodesh6 as the Torah states, “The entire earth was of one language.” After the construction of the tower of Babel, G‑d “confused the speech of the entire earth,” and from that time onward, people began to speak in different languages.

It is improper to speak about mundane matters in Lashon HaKodesh. If so, the question arises: During the many generations that existed before the tower of Babel, when Lashon HaKodesh was the only language spoken, how was this “holy tongue” used for mundane matters. Furthermore, this epoch included several generations, e.g., the generation of Enosh and the generation of the flood, in which the people were decadent idolaters. How could Lashon HaKodesh be used by these individuals?

The concept can be explained as follows: Every element of existence, even the most mundane matters and those which oppose holiness, contains a spark of holiness and has its source in Lashon HaKodesh. As explained in Tanya, G‑d created the world through speech and the name of an object in Lashon HaKodesh is the vessel that draws down the Divine life-force for this object.7

Thus, originally, when Lashon HaKodesh was spoken, even in regard to mundane matters, it served to reveal the Divine life-force present in each entity. Every individual, regardless of his spiritual level, even one who rebelled against G‑d, brought out the Divine life-force present within the world through the mere use of Lashon HaKodesh.

Nevertheless, the sin of the tower of Babel brought about a descent in the spiritual level of the world. When the people of that era wanted to cut themselves off from their spiritual source, they prevented the possibility of revealing the Divine life-force through speech. (Hence, there is, as mentioned above, precautions against using Lashon HaKodesh for mundane purposes.) Thus, G‑d’s “confusion of the languages of the world,” began a new order of service. It was no longer possible for speech, in and of itself, to be a positive act. Rather, effort had to be made that when one descended to speak these other languages, one intended to elevate them to holiness.

The Alter Rebbe explains the difference between the letters of Lashon HaKodesh and the letters of other languages as follows: The letters of Lashon HaKodesh can be compared to stones which are creations of G‑d, while the letters of other languages can be compared to bricks that are creations of man. By speaking these languages for a constructive purpose, and in particular, using them to teach Torah, one builds “the wall of Torah” with these “bricks.”

Though the above is the general rule, nevertheless, even after the tower of Babel and the spiritual descent it caused, every person — gentiles as well — shares a connection to Lashon HaKodesh. Therefore, there is the potential to reveal the G‑dliness invested in the creation through other languages as well. When G‑d “confused the languages of the world,” He also included some elements of Lashon HaKodesh in other tongues. As an example of this concept, the Rabbis explained that certain words in the Torah like Yagar Sahadusa and Totafos which are found in other languages are, in essence, words from Lashon HaKodesh.

Furthermore, there are other explanations which explain that these words are originally from other languages. Nevertheless, they have been elevated to the point where they can be used in the Torah. This principle is further expressed in the books of the prophets were foreign languages are used to communicate many concepts including those on an extremely elevated plane, e.g., Daniel’s prophecy of the advent of Messianic era. This reveals that there is the potential to elevate these other languages to the realm of holiness and accomplish an even higher level in the refinement of the world than that which can be accomplished through Lashon HaKodesh.8

Based on the above, we can understand the difference between the refinement of the gentiles and the world at large associated with the Purim miracle and that associated with Chanukah. The Purim miracle resembles the refinement of the world which was accomplished through speaking Lashon HaKodesh in regard to mundane matters. Even though Megillas Esther contains certain Persian words and names (including the name, Achashverosh) and was transcribed into the Persian chronicles, this shows how the holiness of the Megillah descended until the lowest levels. Nevertheless, because this refinement came “from above,” it did not effect the Persians on their own level. Thus, the name of G‑d was not included in the Megillah, lest the Persians have substituted the name of one of their deities for it when translating it.

To emphasize this concept, it is called Megillas Esther. This name indicates that Esther, symbolic of the forces of holiness, is the one who accomplishes this process of refinement.

Chanukah, in contrast, elevates and refines the gentiles as they exist “in the market-place,” i.e., on their own level, before they have been influenced by Lashon HaKodesh. Nevertheless, on that level itself, they are transformed into holiness.

For this reason, the Megillah of Chanukah is called Megillas Antiochus. Antiochus, the wicked, is the villain of the narrative. Furthermore, the narrative does not become a part of the Bible, thus, reflecting how it refers to the gentiles on their own level. Nevertheless, through the service of Chanukah, this narrative becomes transformed to the extent that Torah authorities refer to it and, in certain communities, it is customary to read it on Chanukah.

Greater potential for this service is generated on the present day which is:

a) Shabbos Chanukah — on which the holiness of Shabbos is drawn down into all aspects of Chanukah, including the service of transforming the gentiles.9

b) Shabbos Vayeishev — The opening verse of this portion states: “And Yaakov settled in the land of his fathers’ sojourns, the land of Canaan.” This contains an allusion to the two processes of refinement mentioned above. “The land of his fathers’ sojourns,” refers to service within the realm of holiness, and “the land of Canaan,” refers to the service of the refinement of the world at large.10

2. Based on the above, we can understand the practices followed by the Rebbeim in connection with nittul11 (which generally falls on or in proximity to the Chanukah festival). The Previous Rebbe taught that it is customary not to study Torah on that night in order not to increase the Divine life energy present. The Previous Rebbe continued that his father, the Rebbe Rashab, would either play chess (or give advice to others playing chess) on that night.

The lesson that can be learned from this is as follows: When a Jew is in a situation which — because its level is very low — he cannot elevate in a direct manner through studying Torah, he should use that situation to produce a benefit in an indirect manner, for example, by playing chess, a game which is connected with the intellect. Firstly, it sharpens one’s intellect. Secondly, playing successively can increase the respect with which one is held by gentiles and thirdly, at times, it can produce a direct financial benefit.

Similarly, each person in his own way must use nittul in a positive way. Rather, than merely do nothing, he should perform acts connected with wisdom, or connected with charity and kindness, or connected with the proper functioning of his home.

In this vein, the story was once told of a yeshivah student who wore a jacket which was missing a button. When he was asked why he did not fix it, he replied that nittul was approaching and that he was putting off fixing it until then. The yeshivah student couldn’t conceive of time that would be spent without any positive input. Hence, knowing that he could not study on nittul, he planned to use the time for another constructive act.12

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3. Chanukah is also connected with Chinuch, “education.” This implies that, first and foremost, a person must involve himself with the education of his own children, both his sons and daughters, by teaching them about the holiday and training them to observe its mitzvos. (In regard to sons, even those under bar-mitzvah age, this involves lighting the Chanukah candles. It is not customary for daughters below bas-mitzvah to light candles. Nevertheless, it is proper to train them in other aspects of the observance of the festival. Indeed, our Sages stressed how women are obligated in all aspects of the holidays observance since the miracle also involved a woman.

Similarly, the children should be given Chanukah gelt. This custom should be carried out at least twice throughout the holiday and if possible every day. (Needless to say, money itself should not be given on Shabbos.)

Similarly, since Chanukah is connected with “illuminating the public thoroughfare,” it is an appropriate time to devote oneself to reaching out to those Jewish children who do not receive any Jewish education, who study in “public schools.” We must try to bring them into a program of Jewish education. In particular, efforts should be made to use the mid-winter vacation they are given to involve them in a program of Torah study.

These efforts should be expanded until one educates the world at large, spreading Torah and mitzvos among Jews and the seven mitzvos given to Noach and his descendants among the gentiles, and in this way, reveal how the entire world was created only for the purpose of expressing G‑d’s glory. This will be realized in the Messianic redemption when, “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of G‑d as the waters cover up the ocean bed.”