Why do non religious Jews observe Chanukah more than other holidays?
The answer probably isn’t because the Goyim have their holidays around that time of the year. The attitude of a lot of non-observant Jews is not to draw too much attention to their Judaism. The extent of this awareness varies from Jew to Jew. Neither wearing a Kippah, nor eating Matzo around non-Jewish neighbors; or just keeping their Judaism at a low profile as to not to evoke anti-Semitism. Therefore it would stand to reason that especially during the time of year when the Goyim have their holiday, the average non-observant Jew who avoids showing his Jewishness should all the more so crawl into his hole until after the “Holiday season.” The outward observance that is evident by even the most irreligious Jew, is a stark denial of the previous reasoning. Lighting candles in the window and mass purchasing of Chanukah cards are all living proofs to the aforementioned phenomena.
The Gemarah in Shabbos says even the candles that are unfit for Shabbos are permissible to be used on Chanukah. The Maor Einayim and Maor V’Shemesh explain that a candle can also refer to a soul, as it is written, “The candle of G-d is the soul of man.” Therefore the Gemarah hints to us that even souls that don’t light up on Shabbos - therefore experiencing a spiritual elevation - are uplifted on Chanukah. Both of the aforementioned Chassidic masters’ interpretation of the Mishnah are even more acute and accurate in our day and age. Yet the question remains, why is it that on Chanukah these souls light up (pun intended)?
The Gemarah in Yuma compares the miracle of Purim to the dawn which comes at the end of the night. So too, Esther is the end of the miracles. On this the Gemara asks; But Chanukah was a miracle which came later (about 200 years)? On this, the Gemarah answers that the verse is referring to a miracle which was meant to be written down. The intrinsic difference (between a miracle that is meant to be written and a miracle which is not meant to be written) lies before us.
Rabbi Hutner explains that the translation of the Torah into the vernacular of nations, makes the Jews somewhat foreign to their own Torah. It is written in Gittin that G-d’s Covenant with the Jews is made through the Oral Torah. A Covenant is not only a bind between those who are included therein but also an exclusion of those who are not. Therefore the prohibition of writing the Oral Law is not just a prohibition in the Torah, but rather a violation that penetrates our connections with G-d. With this we can understand why, even after the Oral Law was about to be written, it still necessitates a teacher to preserve, to some extent, the spirit of the Oral Law.
The Vilna Gaon explains the blessing we recite on the Torah “that You chose us and gave us the Torah”. The choosing was on the 2nd day of Sivan before the Torah was given whereas the actual giving of the Torah was on the 7th of Sivan. The making of G-d’s chosen people came before the giving of the Torah. Our covenant or Bris with G-d, as a nation, started on the 2nd day of Sivan. The manifestation of this covenant is through the Oral Torah.
There is a Halacha that if a Gentile forces a Jew to violate the Torah or face death, then the Jew is permitted to transgress a Torah prohibition with the exception of three cases. On the other hand, if the Gentile’s intention is not for his own personal benefit, but rather to get the Jew to violate the Torah, then the Jew is obligated not to transgress any prohibition no matter how lenient, at all costs. The reason for this, explains Rabbi Hutner is that if the Gentile has his own personal motives in mind when he forces the Jew to perform transgressions then the law of saving a life, albeit one’s own, takes precedence over all other laws except three. However, if the Gentile’s intention is to get the Jew to violate the Torah, this affects our connection with G-d, and hence, is above and beyond a specific law in the Torah. Therefore one is obligated to give his life rather than perform a transgression which would be considered lenient under normal circumstances.
Chanukah was a time when the Greeks tried to uproot our connection with G-d. This Covenant, made through the Oral Torah, was not meant to be written down. Therefore the miracle, that G-d performed, to help us sustain our covenant, should intrinsically be left in the realm of the Oral Torah and not be written. This is one of the reasons why there is no Megilas Chanukah in the Written Torah. This is Rabbi Hutner’s explanation.
With Rabbi Hutner’s explanation we can perhaps explain why, in all the generations, when it came to a choice between self-sacrifice or G-d forbid forced conversions, even the most non-religious Jew was willing to give up his life rather than convert. The Torah was given on the 7th day of Sivan. There are Jews who do more Mitzvahs and there are those who do less. However, the Bris or Covenant that G-d made with us on the 2nd day of Sivan, came before and the actual giving of the Torah and Mitzvahs. On this plane all Jews are equal and everyone feels that they are a Jew and are connected with G-d. Even if the Goyim forcibly try to breech this bond, the Jew will inevitably be willing to preserve it, even at the cost of his life, as we have seen in our history.
With this, we can have a deeper understanding of the explanation of the Chassidic Masters that we began with. “Even the souls that don’t light up on Shabbos light up on Chanukah.” Chanukah is a time when the Goyim tried to uproot and destroy the bond which G-d made with us. Every year on Chanukah, this spark, which lies deep in the heart of every Jew, becomes ignited and calls out to his inner self, “You’re a Jew! Stand up and be counted. On Chanukah all Jews light and all are Holy.
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