Dispelling the Dark

There is a medrash on Bereishis 1:2 which associates the four exiles to this pasuq:

וְהָאָ֗רֶץ הָיְתָ֥ה תֹ֙הוּ֙ וָבֹ֔הוּ וְחֹ֖שֶׁךְ עַל־פְּנֵ֣י תְה֑וֹם וְר֣וּחַ אֱלֹהִ֔ים מְרַחֶ֖פֶת עַל־פְּנֵ֥י הַמָּֽיִם׃

And the earth was (1) without form and (2) void; and (2) darkness was (4) on the face of the deep waters. And (5) a wind / spirit of God hovered over the surface of the waters.

-Bereishis 1:2

רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן בֶּן לָקִישׁ פָּתַר קְרָיָא בַּגָּלֻיּוֹת.

  1. וְהָאָרֶץ הָיְתָה תֹהוּ, זֶה גָּלוּת בָּבֶל, …
  2. וָבֹהוּ, זֶה גָּלוּת מָדַי…
  3. וְחשֶׁךְ, זֶה גָּלוּת יָוָן, שֶׁהֶחֱשִׁיכָה עֵינֵיהֶם שֶׁל יִשְׂרָאֵל בִּגְזֵרוֹתֵיהֶן, שֶׁהָיְתָה אוֹמֶרֶת לָהֶם, “כִּתְבוּ עַל קֶרֶן הַשּׁוֹר שֶׁאֵין לָכֶם חֵלֶק בֵּאלֹקי יִשְׂרָאֵל.
  4. עַל פְּנֵי תְהוֹם, זֶה גָּלוּת מַמְלֶכֶת הָרְשָׁעָה, שֶׁאֵין לָהֶם חֵקֶר כְּמוֹ הַתְּהוֹם…
  5. וְרוּחַ אֱלֹקים מְרַחֶפֶת, זֶה רוּחוֹ שֶׁל מֶלֶךְ הַמָּשִׁיחַ,

Rav Shimon ben Laqish applied the verse to exiles.

  1. “And the earth was without form” — this is the Babylonian Exile… [prooftexts elided]
  2. “and void” — this is the [Persian and] Median Exile….
  3. “and darkness” — this is the Greek Exile. For they darkened the eyes of the Jews with their decrees. For [the Greeks] said to [the Jews], “Write on the horn of a bull that you have no portion in the G-d of Israel.”
  4. “On the face of the deep water” — this is the the galus of the Evil Empire [i.e. Rome], which seems endless like the deeps….
  5. “And a wind / spirit of G-d hovered…” — this is the king messiah’s spirit…

– Bereishis Rabba 2:5

In this Medrash, the Greek Exile is darkness. So, it is not coincidental that Chanukah, a turning point in that exile, came to be known as Chag haUrim – the Festival of Lights.

There is another linkage between prehistoric darkness and Chanukah. (In general, I like it when my chiddushim are like lines connecting at least two data points. When there is only one data point, you can extrapolate in any direction — and then how do you know if it’s True?)

Here is a gemara describing Adam’s first experiences around the winter solstice. (Which this year coincides with the 3rd day of Chanukah.)

ת”ר לפי שראה אדם הראשון יום שמתמעט והולך אמר אוי לי שמא בשביל שסרחתי עולם חשוך בעדי וחוזר לתוהו ובוהו וזו היא מיתה שנקנסה עלי מן השמים עמד וישב ח’ ימים בתענית [ובתפלה].

כיון שראה תקופת טבת וראה יום שמאריך והולך אמר מנהגו של עולם הוא הלך ועשה שמונה ימים טובים לשנה האחרת עשאן לאלו ולאלו ימים טובים הוא קבעם לשם שמים והם קבעום לשם עבודת כוכבים

The Rabbis[, those who believed that Creation was in Tishrei,] taught: When Adam the first [person] saw that the day was progressively diminishing [throughout the fall], he said, “Woe is me; perhaps because I sinned the world is becoming dark around me and will return to chaos and disorder! And this is the death that was sentenced upon me from Heaven!” [see Bereishis 3:19] He arose and spent eight days in fasting and in prayer.

Once he saw that the season of Tevet, i.e., the winter solstice, had arrived, and saw that the day was progressively lengthening after the solstice, he said: Clearly, the days become shorter and then longer, and this is the order of the world. He went and observed a festival for eight days. Upon the next year, he observed both these eight days on which he had fasted on the previous year, and these eight days of his celebration, as days of festivities. He, Adam, established these festivals for the sake of Heaven, but they, the gentiles of later generations, established them for the sake of idol worship.

– Avodah Zarah 8a

Aside from being in approximately the same time of year, how does this relate to Chanukah? Well, see the gemara‘s introduction to Chanukah. The opening words aren’t about the history. There is a sentence before that:

מַאי חֲנוּכָּה? דְּתָנוּ רַבָּנַן: בְּכ״ה בְּכִסְלֵיו יוֹמֵי דַחֲנוּכָּה תְּמָנְיָא אִינּוּן דְּלָא לְמִסְפַּד בְּהוֹן וּדְלָא לְהִתְעַנּוֹת בְּהוֹן.

What is Chanukah? The Rabbis taught: On the 25th of Kisleiv are the 8 days of Chanukah, in which you do not eulogize nor fast.

– Shabbos 21b

Chazal’s definition of Chanukah is that it’s 8 days in which we do not mourn or fast. In contrast to Adam’s 8 days, which were specifically of morning and fasting.

And when was each established? Adam, we see above, established his holiday “לשנה האחרת — the next year.” An expression we find later in that same gemara in Shabbos, explaining Chanukah:

…נַעֲשָׂה בּוֹ נֵס וְהִדְלִיקוּ מִמֶּנּוּ שְׁמוֹנָה יָמִים. לְשָׁנָה אַחֶרֶת קְבָעוּם וַעֲשָׂאוּם יָמִים טוֹבִים בְּהַלֵּל וְהוֹדָאָה.

A miracle occurred [with the sole undefiled cruise of oil] and they lit from it for eight days. The next year they established them as holidays with Hallel and prayers of gratitude.

So, Adam saw the return of darkness, the same darkness the opening medrash identified with the spiritual decimation attempted by the Hellenists in the years before Chanukah. He mourned and fasted for 8 days. We have 8 days, but with an opposite theme — mourning and fasting are prohibited, and praise and gratitude dominate. And in both cases, the message was only seen in retrospect, the next year.

There is one major difference: Adam concluded that the darkness and the return of light was just “the natural cycle”. On Chanukah, we initiated the light manually, and Hashem responded with a miracle. Where Adam saw Hashem’s Light in nature, we see Him bestowing it in a covenantal union with us.

Adam was the start of this world. The Jewish People were given the Torah, handed a burning torch, to bring light to the world that follows.

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