Chanukah @ Shemayisrael

Peace Before Everything

by Rabbi Yisroel Pesach Feinhandler

"[And the L-rd spoke to Moshe, saying,] Speak to Aharon, and say to him, When you light the lamps, the seven lamps shall give light towards the body of the Menorah." (Numbers 8:2)

Rabbi Aryeh Levin, the well-known Jerusalem tzaddik, used to pray with a sunrise minyan every morning in a synagogue near his house. Among those attending the minyan was an honorable but strong-headed man who had a long-standing quarrel with a second person who prayed in the same minyan. It was Rabbi Aryeh's task of selecting those who would be honored with an aliyah (being called up to the Torah reading).

One morning, Rabbi Aryeh called the second man up to the Torah. When the first man heard that the person he hated was being given an aliyah, he ran up to Rabbi Aryeh, tore off his tallit and screamed at him. "Wicked one! Who gave you permission to give out aliyahs?" The man had embarrassed the kindly Rabbi Aryeh in public with all the anger that had been brewing in his heart against the one with whom he had a quarrel.

Rabbi Aryeh restrained himself with amazing inner strength, and accepted this scolding quietly and with patience. Rabbi Aryeh stopped praying in that synagogue the next day in order to prevent arguments that would arise if he returned, since people would certainly try to defend him. From then on he went early every morning to Zoharei Chama, a synagogue a distance from his home.

After a short while the man who had shouted at him became ill and was hospitalized. Rabbi Aryeh did not hold a grudge and went to visit him in the hospital as if he was a good old friend. The ill man was deeply impressed at Rabbi Aryeh's merciful behavior. This brought him to regret his previous actions, and he begged Rabbi Aryeh to forgive his outburst in the synagogue (K’tzeis HaShemesh B’Givuraso, p. 216).

Rabbi Aryeh was quick to forgive the man's irrational abuse for the sake of peace, in spite of the grave injustice he had suffered by being publicly embarrassed. We should learn from Rabbi Aryeh's example how important it is for peace to dwell amongst the Jewish people. This is especially true in our homes. Therefore, we should always be ready to forgive our spouses, even at times when we feel their actions to be unjustifiable.

When the Mishkan (Sanctuary) in the desert was dedicated the head of each tribe brought sacrifices. The lone exception was the head of the tribe of Levi. Who was the head of the tribe of Levi? It was Aharon, as it is written, "And the name of Aharon you shall write on the tribe of Levi." When he was not invited to bring sacrifices Aharon said to himself, "Woe is me. Perhaps it is because of my sin in allowing the Golden Calf to be made that my tribe is not allowed to bring any sacrifice for the dedication of the Altar?"

When God heard this He said to Moshe, "Go say to Aharon, '[Do not perturbed.] You are being prepared for something greater than sacrifices. The sacrifices will be brought only as long as the Mishkan and Beis HaMikdash (Holy Temple) function. However, the candles [of Shabbos and Chanukah—Zayis Raanan] will continue forever, as it is written, "in front of the Menorah." Furthermore, the mitzvah I gave to you to bless my children [bircas Kohanim] will never be annulled'" (Yalkut, B'haaloscha 719).

Why did Aharon assume that he was to blame for his tribe not being given the opportunity to bring sacrifices during the dedication of the Mishkan? How could the lighting of the candles for Shabbos and Chanukah be greater than the bringing of sacrifices on the Altar inside the Beis HaMikdash? How is the blessing of bircas Kohanim more important then the sacrifices offered in the Beis HaMikdash?

Our Sages say that even if the whole world says that you are a tzaddik, you should view your self as a rasha (fiend). This means that even though you may be highly esteemed in the minds of many, you should remain aware of your own faults. In order to maintain a clear view of reality one needs to recognize even those faults completely unknown to other people. Anyone who earnestly investigates his own capabilities will come to realize that he could be accomplishing more than he actually does. With this in mind, a person will never consider himself to be a complete tzaddik.

Furthermore, one is really better off spiritually if he considers himself to be imperfect as this is far more likely to bring about self-improvement. It was precisely for this reason that Aharon looked to his past shortcomings and viewed himself as a rasha. From Aharon's comment—that he felt he was to blame for his tribe not being allowed to bring a sacrifice—we see his sincere desire for self-improvement.

The Midrash says that the lighting of the candles, referring to those of Shabbos and Chanukkah, is even greater then bringing animals to sacrifice on the Altar. The explanation for this could be that the lighting of the candles alludes to the learning of Torah. Rashi comments on this point that it is specifically through the lighting of Shabbos and Chanukah candles that the light of Torah comes to the world. Additionally, our Sages say in the Talmud, "There is no light except for Torah, as it is written, 'Because a candle is a mitzvah and the Torah is light.'" So we see the direct connection within the words of our Sages between lighting candles and learning Torah.

To understand the greatness of Aharon's task, one must understand that learning Torah is equated with keeping all the mitzvahs. So Aharon, who was promised the lighting of the candles, was really being set aside for a special portion in the learning of Torah, the highest of tasks, even higher than bringing sacrifices to the Altar. Furthermore, the portion of Aharon's descendants, unlike those of the other tribes, is not limited by the existence of the Beis HaMikdash. So also in that respect their task is greater.

The idea that candles represent Torah could also help to explain certain parts of the al HaNissim prayer. At the beginning of this prayer we mention that one of the primary offences of the Greeks was that they "tried to cause us to forget the Torah." However, at the end of the prayer, when we speak of our victory over them, we mention the rededication of the Beis HaMikdash and the lighting of the candles, but omit any discussion of the renewal of Torah study. From the above mentioned Talmud, which equated the lighting of candles to Torah study, we can say that when the candle lighting is mentioned in al HaNissim it is in fact an allusion to the return of Torah learning which accompanied the victory of the Maccabees.

The reason why the blessings of the kohanim are in some ways more significant then the sacrifices in the Beis HaMikdash might be that the blessing of the kohanim concludes with the blessing of peace, as it is written, "and He will bestow upon you peace." Our Sages say that there is no quality more beautiful than peace. When one has peace it is as if one has everything; when there is no peace, nothing seems of value. Therefore the bircas Kohanim is greater than the sacrifices, in that the sacrifices have a more limited function and are not designated specifically for bringing about the all encompassing quality of peace.

Peace: The Foundation of a Jewish Home

It is the view of our Sages that in a Jewish home the Shabbos candles play a special role in making peace between a man and his wife. They tell us that as soon as the Shabbos candles are lit in a Jewish home, an enduring peace can then be established. The harmony and love that these candles can create are so important, that if someone has only enough money to buy either candles or wine for kiddush, then the halacha is that purchasing candles takes precedence. Not only that, but the lighting of Shabbos candles takes precedence over the lighting of Chanukah candles, even though lighting Chanukah candles publicizes the miracle of Chanukah. Here too the Talmud states that the reason for this preference is the importance of creating peace between husband and wife.

Considering that so many people go to the effort of lighting candles on Chanukah, how foolish it is if we find a home in which there are arguments between a husband and wife on this same holiday. We can preceive the foolishness of such behavior when we consider that the above halacha shows clearly that creating peace is more important then the lighting of the Chanukah candles. Our Sages are teaching us that before we go out to publicize the miracles of our forefathers, we must first make sure that all is well at home.

A person must exert great effort to establish peace in his home. Peace comes when there is mutual giving and love. When each side wants only to take, then there will never be peace, only bitter arguments. When each side is unyielding and desires only to satisfy its own selfish cravings, the tension which will result can completely disrupt the whole household.

Having peace at home is a beautiful blessing. The final blessing of the Amidah is, "Who has blessed His nation, Israel, with peace." As mentioned above, this is also the final blessing of Bircas Kohanim. Our Sages teach us that peace is stressed in our prayers and blessings because without peace there can be no true relief or happiness. Peace, which is the basis of the Jewish home, gives meaning to all other blessings and very often takes precedence over other mitzvos.

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