From Parshat Vayeshev/Chanukah
Date of issue: 26 Kislev 5761 -- December 23, 2000
The Haftarot of Chanukah
by Rabbi Howard Jachter
We should always strive to determine the connection between the Haftara and the Sedra or holiday that it compliments. This is especially true for Chanukah where the Halacha is particularly insistent that we not replace the designated Haftarot of Chanukah with Haftarot intended for other occasions such as Rosh Chodesh. The reason given for this by the Mishna Berura (684:8 and Biur Halacha 684:3 s.v. V'im Ta'a) is that Pirsumei Nissa (publicizing the miracle of Chanukah) has precedence. In this essay, we will seek to demonstrate how the two Haftarot designated for Chanukah publicize the miracle of Chanukah and allude to many themes of Chanukah.
Primary Themes of Chanukah
There are many themes of Chanukah. The primary motif is Hallel, thanking Hashem for the great miracle of Jewish survival in general and Chanukah in particular. This author heard Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik state (in a Shiur he delivered at Yeshiva University) that the primary motif of Chanukah is Hallel. The Rav noted that the Rambam placed his discussion of Hallel in the Mishna Torah within the framework of Hilchot Chanukah, even though there seem to be more appropriate places in the Mishna Torah to discuss Hallel, such as Hilchot Tefilla. The Rav explained that the Rambam presents the laws of Hallel in Hilchot Chanukah because the essence of Chanukah is Hallel. Indeed, in Haneirot Hallalu we note that we light the Chanukah lights "to thank and praise Hashem." We thank and praise Hashem for the miracle of Jewish survival.
We express Hallel to Hashem by engaging in Pirsumei Nissa, publicizing the miracle. Rav Soloveitchik argues that the goal of Pirsumei Nissa extends to non-Jews as well as to Jews. He notes two proofs to this point. First, the Gemara (Shabbat 21b) states that the Mitzva to light Chanukah candles extends "until the last people leave the market." The last people to leave the market, says the Gemara, are the Tarmodai. Rashi explains that the Tarmodai were the non-Jews who sold firewood. Rav Soloveitchik reasons that if the Gemara uses non-Jews as the criterion for the latest time one may light Chanukah lights, then Pirsumei Nissa must apply to non-Jews as well as Jews. Furthermore, in Al Hanissim we state, "and You have made a great and holy Name in Your world." Accordingly, Rav Soloveitchik concludes (although others disagree) that Pisumei Nissa applies to non-Jews as well as Jews.
Secondary Themes of Chanukah
The Rambam (Hilchot Chanukah 3:1) emphasizes that the miracle of Chanukah was accomplished by Kohanim. The Rambam also prominently notes that after the military victory, kings were appointed from amongst the Kohanim. The Rambam does not criticize the Chashmonaim for appointing Kohanim as kings, in stark contrast to the Ramban (Bereishit 49:10) who severely criticizes them. The Ramban vigorously argues that only a member of the tribe of Yehuda may be appointed king, in accordance with Yaakov Avinu's vision that the kings of Israel would emerge from the tribe of Yehuda. Rav Soloveitchik suggests that the Rambam celebrates the appointment of Kohanim as kings because this appointment facilitated the Kohanim's fulfillment of their mission to guard the Bait Hamikdash. The Rav cites Hilchot Bait Habechira 8:3 to demonstrate that a primary role of the Kohanim is to guard and preserve the holiness of the Bait Hamikdash.
The Rambam (ibid.) notes that Jewish sovereignty over Eretz Yisrael lasted for more than two hundred years after the victory of the Chashmonaim. Rav Yehuda Amital and Rav Menachem Genack (Gan Shoshanim 2:52) note that the Mishna Torah is not a history book. The Rambam does not mention these two hundred years of Jewish sovereignty as a mere historical tidbit. Rather, the Rambam teaches that part of the Chanukah celebration is thanking Hashem for restoring Jewish sovereignty over Eretz Yisrael for an extended period (even though the Jewish kings who ruled during that 200 year period were far from the ideal).
We should note that the entire text of the Rambam's Hilchot Chanukah 3:1 is cited verbatim by the Mishna Berura (670:1). This indicates that the Rambam's approach to Chanukah represents mainstream Jewish thought.
The First Haftara of Chanukah -
The Major Theme
The first Haftara of Chanukah (Zecharia 2:14-4:7) is a much more complex selection than the second one. It contains complex imagery and a myriad of themes. We shall seek to demonstrate how this Haftara reflects the many themes of Chanukah. We should note that this is not a simple task, as Rashi notes in his opening remark to his commentary to the Book of Zecharia that "Zecharia's prophecies are exceedingly obscure."
The Haftara's major theme (as explained by Rashi and Rav Chaim Soloveitchik of Brisk, cited in Nefesh Harav pp.76-77) is the prediction that the Bait Hamikdash and Jewish sovereignty in Eretz Yisrael will be restored and preserved despite the lack of military prowess. The Navi (4:7) predicts that Hashem will make the impossible possible: "Who are you great mountain, before Zerubavel, [you shall become] a plain." The Navi presents Hashem's message that the victory came "not through armies and not through might, but through My Spirit." When the Jews conquered Eretz Yisrael during the time of Yehoshua, they conquered the Land by force with a great army. However, the Jews in the time of the Second Temple hardly constituted a potent military force, yet they managed to maintain the Bait Hamikdash and a measure of control over Eretz Yisrael for many centuries. Clearly, it was the hand of Hashem that made the impossible possible.
The Haftara places the miracle of Chanukah in a broad historical perspective. The miracle of Chanukah was a fulfillment of Hashem's promise to miraculously sustain the Bait Hamikdash and the militarily weak Jewish presence in Eretz Yisrael.
4:2-3 presents a powerful image to express Hashem's promise: As explained by Rashi, Yehoshua the Kohen Gadol was shown an image of a Menorah made entirely of gold with its bowl on top, its seven lamps upon it, and seven tubes extending to the seven lamps. There were two olive trees near it, which provided a continuous supply of fuel. This symbolizes that Hashem would sustain the Bait Hamikdash miraculously during the period of the Second Temple.
The miracle of the oil broadcasted the message that the military victory of the Chashmonaim represented a fulfillment of Zecharia's prophecy. We stress in Al Hanissim that the victory over the Greeks was miraculous. Hashem truly turned the mountain into a plain. The military victory was as miraculous as the oil lasting for eight days. Our commemoration of the miracle of the oil helps us realize that the military victory was miraculous as well.
The First Haftara of Chanukah -
The Minor Themes
In 2:15, Zecharia speaks of a time when multitudes of the nations of the world will come to Hashem by joining Am Yisrael. Chanukah commemorates Greek culture's failure to dominate the world. The Haftara predicts that the day will come when non-Jews will promote Torah and not seek to destroy it as the Greeks did. Ultimately Torah, not Greek culture, will dominate the world.
In 2:16, Zecharia predicts that the time will come when Hashem will restore Jewish sovereignty to Eretz Yisrael. This prophecy was fulfilled during the time of the Chashmonaim.
In 3:7, Hashem charges Yehoshua the Kohen Gadol with the mission of preserving the sanctity of the Bait Hamikdash. On Chanukah, we publicize the miracle of the restoration of the Kohanim to this role.
The Second Haftara of Chanukah
The Haftara for the second Shabbat of Chanukah (Melachim I 7:40-50) seems at first glance to have little relevance to the Chag. The verses describe the vessels for the first Bait Hamikdash that King Chiram of Tzor made. Aside from the reference to the Menorot delivered by Chiram, this Biblical selection seems to have little relevance to Chanukah. Recall the aforementioned comment of the Mishna Berura, which states that the Haftarot publicize the miracle of Chanukah.
The choice of this Haftara might be understood in light of Rav Soloveitchik's insight that the message of Chanukah is directed to non-Jews as well as Jews. King Chiram generously enriched the Bait Hamikdash as evidenced from Pasuk 47, which states that King Shlomo could not weigh all the vessels donated by Chiram because of their enormous volume. King Chiram's actions starkly contrast King Antiochus' defiling the Bait Hamikdash. Chanukah, in a very subtle manner, hints to the messianic era, when the light of Torah from Jerusalem shall illuminate the world. King Chiram's recognition of the greatness of Hashem foreshadows the future recognition of Hashem by the entire world. Chanukah lights foreshadow the era of Jewish teachings that will bring light to the entire world. We thank Hashem for not permitting King Antiochus to extinguish the light of Torah. The Haftara teaches that Torah will enlighten those who follow King Chiram's example. The Haftara publicizes the miracle of Jewish survival that facilitates the realization of our destiny that "from Zion shall go forth Torah" (Yeshayahu 2:3) and illuminate the world.
Although the Second Bait Hamikdash was destroyed and Jewish sovereignty over Eretz Yisrael ended, we continue to celebrate Chanukah. This is because the message of Zecharia's Menorah and the Chanukah lights are eternally relevant. These images reflect Jewish survival and eventual renewal. We praise and thank Hashem for our survival, which would have been impossible were it not for His involvement. He again turned mountains into plains in 1948 and 1967. We are profoundly indebted to Hashem and consequently must offer our sincerest praises for His many miracles.
We now see how the Haftarot of Chanukah profoundly enrich our appreciation of Chanukah. We now understand why the Halacha limits omission of these Haftarot very strictly.
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