As part of our thanks to Hashem for the miracles of Chanukah, we recite Al HaNisim in the Shemoneh Esrei and in Birkat HaMazon. Al HaNisim contains a puzzling description of what the Yevanim, the Greeks, tried to accomplish in their war against the Jews. “KeSheAmedah Malchut Yavan HaResha’ah Al Amcha Yisrael, LeHashkicham Toratecha, ULeHa’aviram MeiChukei Retzonecha,” “When the wicked Greek kingdom rose up against your people, Israel, to make them forget Your Torah and compel them to stray from the statutes of Your will.” We can understand that the Yevanim tried to prevent us from practicing Mitzvot (“ULeHa’aviram MeiChukei Retzonecha”), but what does it mean that they tried to make us forget Torah (“LeHashkicham Toratecha”)? The language used is not that they tried to prevent us from learning Torah – rather, it sounds like they tried to make us forget the Torah that we already knew. But how is it possible to make someone forget something he already knows?
One approach is to say that the Yevanim were, indeed, preventing us from learning Torah. A crucial point is therefore being made about the importance of learning Torah: If one does not continue to learn, not only will he not increase his knowledge of Torah, but he will also forget what he had learned previously. Unlike other intellectual pursuits, where the information that is stored in you can remain despite a lack of continued study, Torah study requires you to constantly learn more in order to continue to remember what you have learned before.
I think a second approach is also possible. The well-known Gemara in Mesechet Nidah (30b) teaches that when a baby is in his mother’s womb, he learns “Kol HaTorah Kulah,” the entire Torah, but when he is born, a Mal’ach hits him on the mouth, causing him to forget it all. The Maharal poses a simple question on this Gemara: Why, if the Mal’ach is trying to make the baby forget the Torah, would he hit him on the mouth? Why not the head, as one probably would think he should do? The Maharal explains that when the Mal’ach hits the baby on the mouth, he is giving him the power of speech, and the power of speech, in turn, is what causes him to forget the Torah. Why is this? When the Torah is in one’s head, it is in its perfect, natural, spiritual state. However, when it is expressed through words and brought into the physical world, it becomes diluted and lost. What we see according to the Maharal is that the Torah is forgotten when it is made physical.
Perhaps we can apply the same idea to Chanukah as well. What was the goal of the Yevanim? It was not to exterminate us, as Haman wanted to do in Megilat Ester. The Yevanim simply wanted to eliminate our spirituality, to degrade us and our Torah into mundane and physical entities. And by making the Torah a physical entity as opposed to a spiritual entity, they effectively caused the Torah to be forgotten, just as when the Mal’ach gives us the power of speech. This should encourage us to realize and internalize that Chanukah is a time when we must realize the importance and holiness of our beautiful Torah and ensure that we treat it with the respect it deserves, lest it be forgotten.