1. Today is the eighth day of Chanukah. This day is also referred to as “Zos Chanukah” (This is Chanukah). The two names convey two different characteristics. The name, the eighth day, denotes a connection to the seven previous days, while the name Zos Chanukah indicates that the day has a unique significance of its own. It appears that the name Zos Chanukah was given because the Torah portion read today includes the phrase “Zos Chanukas HaMizbaiach.” However, in the Ma’amar, “Boruch Sheasah Nissim,” the Alter Rebbe explains that the Torah reading was chosen because of an intrinsic connection it has with the day.

The importance of Zos Chanukah can be more clearly understood in terms of the argument between Bais Shammai (the house of Shammai) and Bais Hillel (the house of Hillel) concerning the number of candles to be lit each night of Chanukah. Bais Shammai maintains that on the first night eight candles should be lit, and that on each succeeding night, one candle less should be lit. Bais Hillel argues that one candle should be lit on the first night and on each of the succeeding nights a new candle should be added.

What is the crux of their disagreement? Bais Shammai holds that “potential” is most important. Since the first day includes within it the potential for all eight days, eight candles should be lit. The rational for this opinion is based on the fact that in regard to G‑d, “His potential does not lack expression.” Generally, the actual expression of a quality adds and contributes certain aspects that are not present in the original source. However, G‑d’s potential is complete and lacks nothing. Because, the Torah is “Toraso,” (His Torah,) and has not changed in its descent into the physical world, Bais Shammai maintains that in our behavior, as well, “potential” should be the determinant factor.1

Bais Hillel argues, on the other hand, that the Halachah should depend, not on the potential, but on the actual. In our world potential is not enough; we must have actual deed to effect a change. Therefore, they maintain that the number of Chanukah candles lit each day should correspond to the number of days celebrated.2

Bais Shammai maintains that the first day of Chanukah is the most important. This opinion has a positive aspect: The first and most important day of Chanukah is celebrated as a new event. The perspective of Bais Hillel on the other hand might detract from the celebration of the succeeding days. Those days might be considered merely as the aftermath of the first day. By nature we get excited about something new, whereas an old thing does not arouse as much enthusiasm.3 There is another advantage to Bais Shammai’s opinion. It focuses on potential — on what G‑d gives us — while Bais Hillel’s opinion focuses on actuality — on how to develop that potential in our service. Although “a person desires one Kav (measure) of his own more than nine Kabim of his friend” (B. Metzia 38a), (because by nature we don’t enjoy the bread of shame — that which comes without effort,) nevertheless, quantitatively, nine Kabim is the greater of the two measures.

Despite these points, the Halachah follows Bais Hillel. In fact, this concept is expressed in an acronym of the name Chanukah. The Avudreham explains that the letters of Chanukah represent the Hebrew phrase which means, “Eight candles and the Halachah follows Bais Hillel.” Actual expression is considered most important. On Zos Chanukah, this concept is clearly illustrated. We see the increase in “the candles of Mitzvah and the light of Torah. In regard to an increase in Mitzvos, all eight candles are lit that night. In regard to an increase in Torah, we see that the Torah reading of Zos Chanukah is longer and contains more particulars than those of the other days.4

From every concept in Torah we must derive lessons that we can apply in our behavior. This is particularly true in regards to “Zos Chanukah.” The Chanukah candles are placed “at the outer doorway to one’s home” so that they may shine into the darkness outside. They are intended to affect the public domain and the individuals who are found there, including non-Jews. On Zos Chanukah, they see that we light many candles and read a portion of Torah containing many verses. If Zos Chanukah can influence them, surely it contains lessons for every Jew, even the most simple.

The name Zos Chanukah itself provides us with a lesson. The word Zos, literally translated as “this is,” implies a direct perception of a thing. Rashi in his commentary on Torah (Shemos 15:2) explains that the word “Zos” refers to a state when the object is revealed to the degree that one can point to it with a finger. Likewise, in regards to Zos Chanukah and its Torah reading it is said, “This is the dedication of the altar.” In spite of the fact that we are in Golus, the altar is revealed to such a degree that we can point to it with a finger.

This concept is connected with the general significance of Chanukah. It is well known that Chanukah is related to the concept “and G‑d lightens my darkness.” The state of the world is one of darkness. Furthermore, that darkness is powerful enough to affect an individual. Even if by nature, an individual stands on a higher level (of light), the darkness of his environment affects him to the point where it becomes “my darkness.” Nevertheless, even in such a state, Chanukah brings about: “And G‑d lightens my darkness.”5

The affect of the darkness of our environment on our own individual service can be understood through the explanation of a statement of Rav Hillel Paritcher. Rav Hillel wrote6 that in regard to certain elevated souls such as R. Shimon Bar Yochai, the Bais Hamikdosh was never destroyed. This statement is very difficult to understand because throughout the Talmud we find many comments of R. Shimon related to the Golus. Also, in reference to his personal life, this statement is perplexing. He had to hide from the Roman authorities7 for thirteen years in a cave. How is it possible to say that he was not affected by the Golus? The principle mentioned above helps answer this question. Although his own level was above the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh entirely, the darkness of his environment affected him and brought certain aspects of the Golus’s darkness into his life.8

The darkness of the general environment can affect even those who, by nature, stand on a higher level because every Jew from the nation’s heads and leaders until its most simple members, are connected together. We can see this concept expressed in regard to both Torah and prayer: In order to make a blessing before and after the reading of the Torah, it must be read with a Minyan. Also, the Alter Rebbe writes that before we begin our prayers “it is proper to say, ‘Behold, I accept upon myself the Mitzvah of Love your neighbor as yourself’.”

The Chanukah candles also represent a Mitzvah that all Jews participated in equally. In the times of the Talmud there were those Jews who lit one candle each night for the entire household. In other homes more candles were lit in accordance with the custom of Mehadrin (to light for each member of the household), and others followed the custom of Mehadrin Min HaMehadrin (to add a new candle for each night). The same situation existed in the time of Rav Yoseph Karo. However, in the Ramah’s community, it had already become the common custom for all Jews to light Chanukah candles in a manner of Mehadrin Min HaMehadrin.9

The inner unity that binds all Jews together can cause someone who by nature stands on a level higher than those around him, to be influenced by the darkness of his environment. Although the darkness comes from the outside, and, therefore, does not affect him as much as others, still it has an affect. In fact, in a certain way, the affect it has on him is more telling than the affect it has on others. Since by nature he is above darkness, the presence of darkness in his life is more noticeable. A Talmudic concept communicates this point. The Talmud declares: that if a stain is found on the clothing of a sage, he warrants to be put to death (at the hands of G‑d.) On his high level, a stain on his clothing is a great disgrace, whereas a common man who is not so meticulous in his dress does not warrant such a severe punishment.10

Even though a state of darkness prevails, the holiday of Chanukah causes light, as King David declared: “G‑d lightens my darkness.” This is particularly true of Zos Chanukah, when all the aspects of Chanukah are manifest in great numbers, and when we read about the dedication of the sanctuary.11 Furthermore, that dedication is described by the word “Zos,” meaning that the it is so clearly manifest that we can point to it with a finger.

This raises a question: On the surface the sanctuary, and likewise, the Bais Hamikdosh, is destroyed. It is therefore, difficult to understand how the altar can be manifest to the degree that we can actually point to it with a finger.12

This question can be answered by approaching this issue from another perspective. The sanctuary was built by Moshe and the Talmud (Sotah 9a) explains that all of his works are eternal. Similarly, the Bais Hamikdosh was constructed by King Solomon who, “sat on G‑d’s throne.” Furthermore, the preparation for the Bais Hamikdosh was begun by David HaMelech and its construction supervised by the prophets. How is it possible that non-Jews could destroy their works? The destruction came about because of the sins of the Jewish people and for no other reason. Only Jews have the power to bring about such a change.

However, the question arises: How is sin possible? The Zohar explains that the verse (Vayikra 4:2), “a soul that will sin,” should be read as a question: How can a Jewish soul come to a sin?13 A sin is only a temporary act. Since a Jew is by nature good, that goodness will eventually be expressed, as the Midrash (Bereishis Rabba Ch. 53) declares, “Throw a stick into the air, and it will fall back to its place of origin.” In this vein, the Rambam (Laws of Teshuvah Ch. 7, Hal. 5) states that the Torah assured that the Jewish people would eventually do Teshuvah...”

Since the sin is only temporary, it is never considered a true existence. The Mishnah (Parah 8:9) declares that streams that dry up once in seven years are unfit to be used for the Parah Adumah, for they are not “living waters.” Since they dry up once in seven years, even during the times they exist, they are not considered “living.” The same principle in reverse applies to a Jew. The act of sin, and the Golus in general, are only temporary, and in truth do not exist. Therefore, because the Golus in which we find ourselves is not true existence, we can step beyond its limitations and see the altar manifest to such a degree that we can actually point at it with a finger. The same concept applies on a larger scale: When spoken with words that come from the heart, any Jew, regardless of his situation, can understand the above and be moved to Teshuvah. This is particularly true when thousands of others who have followed the path of Teshuvah can be given as examples.

And through this course of action we can each build our own personal altar — in our souls, in our bodies, and in our portion of the world. These activities will hasten the construction of the altar in the Temple, for the rewards of Torah are measure for measure.14 Then, the High Priest will light the candles in the Temple.

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2. The above applies to the celebration of Zos Chanukah every year. In addition, the particular day on which Zos Chanukah falls each year provides us with a lesson. This year Zos Chanukah falls on Shabbos. Besides the portion connected with the eighth day of Chanukah, the weekly portion is read as usual. In fact, the weekly portion takes precedence over the reading for Chanukah. Seven people are called to the reading of the weekly portion while only the Maftir, is called to the reading of the portion for Chanukah, “Zos Chanukas HaMizbaiach.” The Maftir represents a secondary level in the Torah reading.

To understand the significance of this, we have to understand, generally, what the Haftorah is. The Haftorah was instituted when the gentiles made a decree against reading the Torah. They enforced that decree by seizing Torah scrolls and preventing a Minyan from coming together. In this situation the Jews had no other choice except to substitute the — Haftorah reading for the weekly Torah reading.15 Even after the decree was annulled, the Haftorah reading was maintained. Thus, the decree produced a positive influence; that is. a negative factor was compensated for in such a manner that “from the forest itself is taken the (handle of the) ax wherewith to fell it.”

The Haftorah read this Shabbos — “Vayas Chiram” — is connected to the dedication of the first Temple. This Haftorah is read only in a year (such as the present one) when both the first and the last days of Chanukah fall on Shabbos. On the first Shabbos the Haftorah, “Rani V’Simchi,” is read, and on the second, “Vayas Chiram.” Surely, this order follows the principle of, “Always proceed higher in holy matters.” In “Vayas Chiram” there is a quality which is absent in “Rani V’Simchi.” “Vayas Chiram” describes the dedication of the first Bais Hamikdosh; “Rani V’Simchi,” describes the dedication of the second. The first Bais Hamikdosh was on a higher spiritual level than the second. There were five aspects of holiness present in the first Bais Hamikdosh which the second Bais Hamikdosh lacked.

Considering the above information, we can more fully understand a statement of the Rambam. The Rambam begins Hilchos Chanukah by explaining that “In the time of the Second Bais Hamikdosh, the Greek kings issued decrees against Israel...” Why did the Rambam begin his explanation with the phrase, “In the time of the Second Bais Hamikdosh?” What does this information add?

By beginning this way, the Rambam clarified a very basic question which is: How was it possible for the Greeks to have so much power over the Jewish people while the Bais Hamikdosh existed? By explaining that the Greek rule took place in the time of the Second Bais Hamikdosh, which lacked in certain aspects of holiness, the Rambam alludes to the reason the Greeks were able to “issue decrees against Israel” applying much pressure to them.

This also allows us to understand another point in the Rambam’s statement. The Rambam describes the Greek persecution, which continued until “the G‑d of our fathers had mercy upon them and saved them.” On the surface, the expression, “G‑d of our fathers,” is unusual and in fact derogatory to the Jewish people. It implies that G‑d is not “our G‑d,” but only our fathers G‑d. However, the Rambam’s intent was to explain that the story of Chanukah took place at a time when the Jewish people’s connection to G‑dliness was not direct. G‑d was “the G‑d of our forefathers.” It was the time of the Second Bais Hamikdosh. Because of that low stature, it was possible for the Greeks “to issue decrees against Israel...”

To return to the unique lesson taught by this Shabbos. The fact that Zos Chanukah falls on Shabbos Mikeitz reveals a connection between the two. As explained before, Chanukah, in general, and more particularly Zos Chanukah, is related to the concept of, “and G‑d lightens my darkness,” i.e., even when one is found in a situation of darkness, G‑d will light up that darkness, to the point that the altar and the Bais Hamikdosh will be manifest and we will be able to point to them with a finger.

Since this state is related to Chanukah, we might think that it applies only to Chanukah and to the altar, and that it is not related to the world at large. The need to establish a connection between the two is brought out by the relationship between Chanukah and Parshas Mikeitz. Parshas Mikeitz describes Yoseph’s situation after he had been brought down to Egypt. It relates how he ruled and controlled the kingdom of Egypt, “distributing grain to the entire nation.”16 Thus, the connection of Parshas Mikeitz to Chanukah teaches us that even in the midst of (the darkness of) this world, and even in Egypt, “G‑d lightens my darkness” and G‑dliness will be manifest to the degree that we will be able to point to the altar and the Bais Hamikdosh with a finger.

This state of revelation is intrinsically related to Shabbos. The Talmud Yerushalmi (D’Mai Ch. 4) declares that “(Even) a simple person will not lie on Shabbos. On Shabbos the truth of all situations is revealed. This revelation will serve as a preparation for the Exodus from Golus, the construction of the sanctuary and the entry into Israel. May we soon witness the fulfillment of the prophecy, “as in the days of your Exodus from Egypt, I will show you wonders,” with the rebuilding of the Temple by Moshiach. This is brought about through the revelation of, “And G‑d lightens my darkness,” in the time of Golus. This revelation lifts us to a higher level than that of the Bais Hamikdosh. There only seven candles were lit and now, on the holiday of Chanukah, we light eight candles. These candles are placed at the outside entrance to our houses, so that they affect everyone, even non-Jews, — and bring open and revealed good.