Monday, December 29, 2008

An insight as to the nature of miracles.

I know it's the end of Chanukkah now, but I haven't made an entry and I really wanted to put something down so here goes...

I was in a shiur today, and the Rav mentioned that we follow Hillel's way of lighting the Chanukiah, adding a new candle each night, starting with one flame and adding a new light for each successive night, ending up with eight lights. Shamai's view on the other hand, was that we should start with eight, and remove one flame for each successive night.

The Rav giving the shiur posed a question: What's the reasoning behind Shamai's method? We can all easily understand Hillel's logic; that for each extra night the flame burned the נס, the miracle, became that much stronger and special, thus meriting an extra light. Shamai's method seems illogical. Why remove lights? Surely the flame's continued burning became more miraculous as one day's worth of oil turned to two, two to three, and so on?

The Chassidic master the S'fat Emet presents an answer to this very question. He said that if we look at another debate between Hillel and Shamai we may understand his logic. The debate is well know - the debate of preparation for Shabbat. Various sources, (notably the Ramban,) say that the Mitzvah of Zachor et Yom HaShabbat L'kadsho refers to an obligation during the week. On Shabbat it is no problem to remember that we are keeping Shabbat, it's obvious; the Shabbat spirit surrounds us. The real Mitzvah is to remember Shabbat during the week. It is for this reason that in Hebrew each day of the week is a reference to Shabbat - Sunday, for example, is called Yom Rishon because it is the first day after Shabbat. It is important to be conscious of Shabbat's higher reality during the mundane reality of the week.

With this in mind, the debate between Hillel and Shamai was thus; how do we prepare food for Shabbat? Shamai's point of view was that if a man was to find a nice cut of meat on Sunday for example, he would buy it and save it for Shabbat. If he were then to find a choicer piece of meat on Monday, he would then buy that, reserve it for Shabbat, and eat the other piece. Shamai's approach was to save the best for Shabbat. Hillel on the other hand, followed the rule of Bitachon Yom-l'Yom, to trust that Hashem will give us what we need each day and not to rely on our own (ultimately futile) efforts, to have daily bitachon in Hashem. Hillel's opinion was that one should live on a day to day basis and enjoy whatever came one's way. If one deserved a choice piece of meat for Shabbat, he would find it on Friday. Both points of view are perfectly understandable, and through their logic here we can understand their opinions on the Chanukah lighting poser above.

Hillel viewed each day of the chanukah as an extra dimension of the miracle being revealed. The miracle was ultimately complete on the eighth day, and thus for each day Hillel adds a light, building up to eight. Shamai, on the other hand, does not view the נס of the last remaining bottle of oil as the עיקר of the חנוכה story. His opinion was that the oil that was found, the oil that gave us enough time to get us back on our feet again, was actually the secondary aspect of the story. The miracle by itself would be rendered a neat trick, but pointless, were it not for what followed it. The נס was special because it enabled us to get back to the state whereby we were producing oil again and lighting the Menorah on a daily basis. Therefore, each day that passed was a day in which the miracle headed towards ending, a day headed back towards normality, a day headed towards the time when we would function after Hashem's covert intervention. It was the "9th" day that interested Shamai, the day when we returned to performing mitzvot in the Bet Hamikdash like we should.

Through this example we have an insight as to the nature of miracles. Hashem only performs acts that are above the realm of nature when it enables us to do something we merit. (There are apparent exceptions, but let's not go ther.) There is no point in performing a miracle for people who will not build in the base given to them. Shamai's understanding was that the miracle of Chanukah was all counting down to the point where Chanukah was over and the true light of our work, the light of Avodat Hashem would burn again.

In a similar fashion, may we merit the coming of the Mashiach and the imminent arrival of the third Bet Hamikdash. Amen!

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