The Oral Law – The Light that Illuminates the Darkness

It is no coincidence that the holiday of Chanukah falls out at a time when the darkness of night reaches its peak. This period of the year is when the nights are longest and the cold of winter permeates the land. Moreover, the moon barely shines, since Chanukah coincides with the days immediately before Rosh Chodesh, when the moon wanes.

When the sun sets and darkness begins to envelop the land, and the long night casts its ominous, icy shadow upon the world, Jews go out with candles in their hands and light the Chanukah lamps. This symbolizes the mighty Jewish faith, which breaks through all forms of darkness. Even in the darkest times, when the mightiest empires ruled the world ruthlessly, we did not despair of the light of Torah and faith, and we continued learning and teaching. A small ray of our light repels a great deal of their darkness.

Chanukah is the time to rejoice over the Oral Law; firstly, because it was established [as a holiday] by the Sages [the expounders of the Oral Law], and also because the mitzvah of lighting the candles was one of the first mitzvot the Sages enacted. Moreover, it symbolizes, generally speaking, the essence of the Oral Law. During the First Temple era, prophecy abounded among the Jewish people, and they studied primarily the Written Law. After the Temple was destroyed and prophecy ceased, however, the time came for the Oral Law [to take precedence]. The Oral Law displays the high stature of the Jewish people, who share in the revelation of the Torah’s light. The principles are set in the Written Law, but the Sages of the Oral Law pave the way for the realization of these principles. Granted, the light of the Written Law shines brighter, like the midday sun, while the light of the Oral Law resembles that of the moon and the stars. However, the Oral Law has the ability to descend to the hidden recesses of man’s soul and illuminate all the dark corners of the world. The foundations for the study of the Oral Law were laid during the Second Temple era – including all the edicts, [protective] “fences,” and customs. The unique light of the Oral Law, which is like the Chanukah candles that illuminate the darkness, helped us cope with all the tribulations of exile.

Apparently, these ideas hidden in the holiday of Chanukah are the deep-seated reason why Jews love and cherish it so much, to the point that almost every Jew, no matter how far he is from Torah observance, lights Chanukah candles. Moreover, everyone follows the custom of fulfilling this mitzvah in the best possible way – Mehadrin min ha’mehadrin.

A New Candle Every Day, Culminating with Eight

Everything in the world is fleeting and eventually withers away. This is true of ideas and memories, as well; they lose their strength and vitality over time. But behold, when it comes to lighting the Chanukah candles, we discover that faith in HaShem never wanes. On the contrary, it continues to exist and even thrive, despite the troubles and darkness all around. The pure spirituality that is manifest in the Torah is eternal; therefore, it constantly increases. Other ideas which are transient, however, fade away and expire. Because of this wondrous idea, all of Israel follows the custom of Mehadrin min ha’mehadrin, in which one adds a new candle every night, eventually lighting eight candles on the final night.

As is well-known, the number eight alludes to what is beyond physical nature. After all, the world was created in seven days, and there are seven days in a week. The number eight, on the other hand, hints to the supernatural, like brit milah (ritual circumcision), whose purpose is to rectify and elevate nature to a higher level, which is why it is performed on the eighth day. The Torah, as well, belongs to the eighth dimension, for it comes to elevate nature to a divine level. This is why the Torah was given after the seven-week [Sefirah] count, which represents the wholeness of nature. After [the seven weeks of Sefirah], we rise to a level above nature – the holiday of Shavu’ot, when the Torah was given. Similarly, we complete the reading of the Torah on Shemini Atzeret (the eighth day from the beginning of Sukkot), which is Simchat Torah.

Chanukah, as well, belongs to the realm of the supernatural, for it reveals the lofty stature of the Oral Law. Therefore, we light candles for eight nights, adding a new one each night.[1]

[1] See the Maharal’s Tiferet Yisrael, chap. 2 and 25 (end), and Ner Mitzvah p. 23.  The Greeks’ worldview stemmed from nature, and since nature has different forces, they believed in multiple gods.  In addition, since nature has no values, just strength, beauty, and external wisdom, they yearned for these things.  In contrast, Judaism is based on the belief in one God, Who created and transcends nature.  The goal is to discover God’s oneness in the world, to reveal the image of God within man by way of morals, Torah, and mitzvot.  The Greeks cannot coexist with us, because our belief in one God and our ethical values undermine the foundation of their worldview.  Judaism, however, can coexist with Greek culture and use it as a tool for research, classification, and the revelation of Jewish concepts.  For more on this, see Binah LeItim, vol. 1, chap. 25-27.

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