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Of Tzadikim and of Heroes

Translated from Rabbi Ginsburgh's book on Chanukah, Hanerot Hallalu

The Chanukah Candles’ Light and Warmth

We begin our 8-day-long journey into the secrets of Chanukah by meditating on the first candle. The primary experience of these candles is their light and warmth. Even though we are prohibited from enjoying the candles’ light and warmth, these are undoubtedly their two most prominent characteristics. Thus, our first immersion in Chanukah is into light and warmth. Light evokes the eyes and intellect. Light symbolizes the tools we use to grasp secrets as in the idiom “shedding light on.” Warmth evokes emotion, a warm and loving heart, and a living body.

On Chanukah, we celebrate two miracles, the one related to light, and the other to warmth: The miracle of finding the one pure flask of oil symbolizes the victory of light (over darkness). The light emanating from the oil in the Menorah and in our Chanukah candles also represents the revelation of mysteries, since oil symbolizes secrets; like secrets that must be revealed, so oil must be extracted from the olives in which it is “concealed.”

The other miracle—the miraculous military victory over the Greeks—is related to warmth. It was the warmth of emotion that overflowed from the heroic Hasmonean warriors' passionate hearts that led them to stage a revolt against the Hellenists and sacrifice their lives to restore the autonomy of the Jewish people in that generation.

On the flip side, the sages teach that the Greeks “darkened the Jewish people’s eyes” and “cooled” their hearts.[1] At first glance, this assertion is surprising because we are usually led to believe that Greek culture offers abundant intellectual “light” in the form of philosophy and ample “warmth,” both emotional and embodied (through its culture, poetry, drama, art, gymnastics, and focus on health). On further inspection, however, Greek intellectual light is cold and barren because it rejects a warm connection with the Creator. Its seductive emotional warmth is ultimately dark, lacking the illuminating moral compass provided by faith in the Creator and in the higher purpose of life and mankind. In contrast, Judaism offers warm light, and illuminated warmth. The miracle of the oil flask represents Judaism’s warm light prevailing over Greek cold light, while the miraculous military victory represents illuminated warmth’s victory over dark warmth.

Though we have only just started Chanukah by lighting a single candle, let us take a bird’s eye view of the synthesis of light and warmth as it manifests not only in the individual candle, but also as it expresses itself in all the candles lit during the entire Chanukah together. On Chanukah we light 36 candles altogether, since 36 is the sum of 1 through 8. Symbolically, the number 36 refers to the 36 tzaddikim in every generation[2] and to King David’s 36 heroes.  The 36 tzaddikim embody the candles’ light, and the 36 warriors embody the candles’ warmth. The Hasmoneans embodied both qualities.

While we may not currently embody either, the tradition teaches that the 36 tzaddikim and 36 warriors are archetypes that manifest in every generation, thus we have the responsibility to manifest these archetypes in ourselves. The meaning of the name Chanukah in Hebrew is cognate with “initiation” or “inauguration,” thus rendering it a holiday of education. As such, Chanukah invites us to embark on an educational journey that allows us to transition from an inner state of immaturity to ultimately become both a tzaddik and a warrior.

In the Bible, tzaddikim and warriors work closely together and sometimes are even the same person. As the generations progressed, however, the gap between the tzaddik and the warrior widened, with Jewish culture privileging the tzaddik while the warrior receded into the background. The Hasmoneans stand at the crossroads between the end of the prophetic period when warriors and tzaddikim cooperated and warriors were often primary, and the beginning of the rabbinic period, where tzaddikim took center stage. The Hasmoneans thus embody the synthesis of the tzaddik and the warrior.

Our objective in the present time should be to integrate both archetypes. The archetypal tzaddik in the Bible is Moses who transmits the Torah. Yet, when necessary, Moses also wore the heroic warrior’s mantle, from the moment he went out to join the Jewish people and risked his life to save a fellow Jew.[4] In like manner, tzaddikim must leave their comfort zones and behave heroically, impacting the world around them. Though King David is usually thought of as the archetypal warrior, he also lived a life suffused with study and heartfelt prayer (from which emerged his Psalms). In a similar fashion, people who primarily channel the warrior archetype must be constantly guided by the Torah and Psalms.

Mashiach too will bring together both archetypes of the warrior and the tzaddik by manifesting Moses’ soul within David’s body. Given that in our generation, we should each strive to cultivate our inner spark of Mashiach, we can use the Chanukah candles to inspire us to bring together the light of the tzaddik and the warmth of the warrior in ourselves.

Finally, the Chanukah candles evoke one additional trait: speech. As we say in the Hanerot Halalu hymn after lighting the Chanukah candles, their objective is to give thanks and praise with our mouths, meaning to share our light and warmth with the world around us. By connecting with others, we can express and share what we have come to understand and feel. Indeed, the meaning of Mashiach is also “he who speaks” (מֵשִׂיחַ), sharing the wisdom of our heritage with our friends and family.

Image by Ri Butov Pixabay

[1] Bereishit Rabbah, Bereishit 2:4, Lech Lecha 44:17, Mechilta D’Rabbi Yishmael, Yitro

[2] According to ancient Jewish tradition recorded in Sukkah 45b and Sanhedrin 97a, based on Isaiah 30:18, every generation has 36 tzaddikim (uniquely righteous individuals) who manifest Divinity in the world. Thus, one of the most prevalent “intentions” during Channukah is to associate each candle with a particular tzaddik and to either meditate on these tzaddikim through stories about them or through their teachings.

[3] See 2 Samuel chapter 23 and 1 Chronicles chapter 11 for their names. While the Davidic warriors were historical figures, their archetypes manifest in every generation. See for example the Rebbe Rashab in Sefer HaSichot 5702, pp. 141-153, and the Lubavitcher Rebbe in Sefer HaSichot 5751, v. 2, p. 807.

[4] See Exodus 2:11-15.

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