Seeing the “Other” through Zion’s Light: A Message for Chanukah

Dear Friends,


In this letter, we will discuss a deeper meaning of the following prophetic message to Jerusalem regarding the light of Zion at the dawn of the messianic age:


“Arise! Shine! – For your light has arrived, and the glory of Hashem shines upon you. For, behold, darkness shall cover the earth and a dense cloud the kingdoms; but upon you, Hashem will shine, and His glory shall be seen upon you. Nations will walk by your light; and sovereigns by the glow of your dawn.” (Isaiah 60:1-3)


“Nations will walk by your light” – The commentator, Malbim, explains, “This is the light of the Torah.” A source for this explanation can be found in the following teaching of King Solomon: “Torah is light” (Proverbs 6:23). Torah is the Divine Teaching, and the light of this Teaching shows people the way to walk on this earth. This is why the detailed steps of the Torah path are called “halacha” – the way to walk.


In what way does the light of Torah dispel the “darkness” covering the earth?  A deeper understanding of the nature of this darkness can help us to find an answer to this question. I will therefore share with you a related teaching of a leading 19th century sage known as Chidushei Ha-Rim, who was the Rebbe of the Gerer Chassidim. He comments on the following verse from the Book of Exodus which describes the plague of darkness which struck the Egyptians:


“Moshe stretched forth his hand toward the heavens, and there was a thick darkness throughout the land of Egypt for a three-day period. No one could see his brother...” (Exodus 10:22, 23)


“No one could see his brother” – The Chidushei Ha-Rim writes: “The worst darkness is when a person does not want to see his suffering brother and to extend to him support” (Mayana Shel Torah).


The above interpretation leads to the following insight: A selfish attitude can cause us to be enveloped in a great darkness which prevents us from truly seeing the other. When, however, we walk by the “light of Hashem” – the Torah – we gain an altruistic perspective which enables us to see and value the other.


The idea that the Torah leads to an altruistic awareness of the other can be found in the teachings of two sages, Rabbi Akiva and Ben Azzai, which are cited in the Jerusalem Talmud (Nedarim 9:4). According to Rabbi Akiva, an all-encompassing principle of the Torah is expressed in the following mitzvah:


“You shall love your fellow as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18).


This is an all-encompassing principle, as the path of the Torah helps us to see and love our fellow.



According to Ben Azzai, there is an even greater, all-encompassing principle of the Torah, and it is expressed in the following passage which makes us aware that each “adam” – human being – is created in the Divine image:


“This is the book of the descendants of Adam” – on the day that God created Adam, He made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female, and He blessed them and called their name ‘Adam’ on the day they were created.” (Genesis 5:1,2)


This is an all-encompassing principle, as the path of the Torah helps us to see and respect the Divine image within the other.



What does it mean to be created in the Divine image? In previous letters, we cited the following explanation of the Chofetz Chaim:


“Scripture records (Genesis 1:27) that, ‘God created the human being in His image.’ The commentators take the statement to refer to His attributes. He gave the human soul the capacity to emulate the attributes of Hashem, the Blessed One – to do good and act with loving-kindness with others; moreover, it is written in Scriptures, ‘Hashem is good to all and His compassion is on all His works’ (Psalm 145:9), and ‘He gives food to all flesh, for His loving-kindness endures forever’ (Psalm 136:25). ”


(The above teaching is cited in the Chofetz Chaim’s work, “Loving Loving-kindness” – Part 2.)


The Torah therefore enables us to see the spiritual potential in each human being to become a loving giver. This awareness can not only cause us to respect the other; it can also lead us to love the other. In this spirit, a leading sage of the 19th century, known as the Alter of Slobodka, would remind his students of the following teaching:


“All human beings are precious, for they contain the image of God. The human being is therefore obligated to honor another person and shower him with loving-kindness, for by doing so he is honoring God. He must also be careful not to embarrass or abuse another person, for by so doing, he is slighting God.” (Sparks of Mussar by Rabbi Chaim E. Zaitchik)


As we discussed in the previous Chanukah letters, the Syrian Greeks and their assimilated Jewish allies sought to impose upon the people of Zion a Hellenist culture which glorified the selfish gratification of our physical drives. This selfish approach encouraged a narcissistic focus on one’s self; moreover, the view of other human beings was actually focused on one’s self, for other human beings were viewed as objects created for one’s own gratification. On a deep level, it was a culture of darkness, for its followers were unable to see others as beloved human beings who were created in the Divine image; in fact, they were unable to see the Divine image within themselves. In addition, the Syrian Greek rulers outlawed the study of Torah – the light of Hashem that enables people to see the Divine image within others and within themselves. The Midrash therefore teaches in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish:


Our exile under the Greeks was an exile of “darkness” (Genesis Rabbah 2:4).


The light of Hashem has the power to dispel the darkness, and this idea is the message of the following miracle of Chanukah:


After liberating the Temple and removing the idols, the Maccabees wanted to immediately restore the tradition of lighting the Temple Menorah, but all they could find was one small vial of pure olive oil. As the Talmud records (Shabbos 21b), the Syrian-Greeks had contaminated all the flasks of oil that were in the Sanctuary. The Maccabees searched and found only one flask of pure olive oil that had the seal of the “Kohen Gadol” – High Priest. The quantity of oil was only enough for one day, yet, to the amazement of the people who had gathered in the Temple, it continued to give light for eight days! This gave the people the opportunity to prepare fresh pure oil. The sages felt that this was a miracle. And this miracle conveyed the following message for future generations of our people:


No matter how severe the darkness, the Divine light will continue to glow.



On Chanukah, we want to publicize the miracle of the light. The Chanukah lights are therefore lit outside the door of the home, at the entrance of the building, or by a window facing the street. This custom can serve as a reminder that the Divine light is to go out from Zion to the entire world.


Have a light-filled Chanukah,

Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen  (See below)


Related Teachings:


1. In Psalm 119, King David expresses his love for the Torah, and in the following verse from this psalm, he says to Hashem:


“Your word is a lamp for my feet, and a light for my path.” (Psalm 119:105)


2. Regarding the light-giving Torah path, King Solomon, the son of David, writes:


“The path of the righteous is like the glow of sunlight, growing until high noon. The way of the wicked is like darkness; they do not know upon what they stumble.” (Proverbs 4:18, 19)


The commentary, Metzudas David, explains the above passage in the following manner: The path of the righteous will have increasing light through their increased understanding of the Torah outlook. The way of the wicked, however, is like darkness, for their mistaken outlook has caused them to wander from the true path; thus, they do not know of what to be wary, and they therefore stumble.


3. Before the nations can walk by the light of the Divine Teaching, we, the people of Zion, must walk by this light. For example, after the Prophet Isaiah described the universal enlightenment of the nations in the era when “Torah will go forth from Zion” (Isaiah 2:3), Isaiah proclaimed to our people:


“O House of Jacob: Come let us walk by the light of Hashem” (Isaiah 2:5).


Through these words, the Prophet Isaiah is revealing that the responsibility of achieving the goal of universal enlightenment begins with us! If we desire to experience the era when all the nations will walk by the light-giving Divine Teaching, then we ourselves must begin to serve as an example. We must therefore walk by the light of Hashem – the Torah and her path of mitzvos (commentary of Radak).


4. Each morning, we chant the following words of prayer:


“May You shine a new light upon Zion, and may we all speedily merit its light.”

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