In the beginning, or a few days later, Hashem created the sun and the moon.
In Bereishis (1:16) the Torah says: “And G-d made the two large luminaries – the large luminary to rule the day and the small luminary to rule the night – and the stars.” A famous gemara (Chullin 60b), quoted by Rashi, points out an inconsistency in the verse. R. Shimon ben Pazi asks why the Torah first describes the sun and moon as “the two large luminaries”, but then it calls the sun “the large luminary” and the moon is called the small one. The Gemara answers with a story (paraphrased).
Originally the sun and moon were the same size. But the moon complained to Hashem, “Can there exist two kings sharing the same crown?” How can both the sun and the moon share the glory?
G-d replies, “Go and make yourself smaller.”
The moon is hurt. “Master of the Universe, because I presented You with a true complaint, I should reduce myself?
Hashem offers consolation, and permits that unlike the sun, “Go and rule over the day and the night.”
The moon sees this as no consolation. If the sun is shining all day, it continues, “What good is a candle at noon?” It will out-shine me, how do I gain by shining then?”
Hashem offers an alternate consolation. “It is destined for Israel to use you to count days and years.” To this day, the Jewish people use a lunar calendar.
This too the moon finds insufficient. “Without the sun they can not count seasons either.” (Rashi, Chullin ad loc,
explains that the leap years are based upon the seasons. The second Adar is added is to insure that Pesach is always in the spring, the Jewish calendar is not purely lunar.)
G-d provides a third consolation. Righteous men will be called by your name, for example (Amos 7) “Ya’akov haqatan [the small]”, “Shmuel haQatan” [a tanna], (Shemuel 1 17) “David haqatan”.
The moon thought about it, but was still unsatisfied.
Hashem commands, “bring a kaparah, a korban of forgiveness, in My Name, for I have wronged the moon.”
Reish Lakish points out that this qorban is indicated in the Torah in parashas Pinechas, describing the offering for Rosh Chodesh, the start of the new month. The pasuq says, “And one sa’ir, he-goat, for a chatas Lashem, an expiation-offering unto G-d” (Bamidbar 28:15). No other holiday’s chatas offering include this last word, that the korban is for G-d. On Rosh Chodesh, when the moon is not visible, the qorban chatas is to “atone” for G-d “wronging” (so to speak) the moon.
The Maharsha explains this gemara‘s metaphor by explaining that the moon symbolizes the Jewish people who appear small in this world. The midrash is a discussion about the need for Israel to be oppressed in this world, so that they may shine brighter in the next. He identifies the sa’ir, the he-goat of the Rosh Chodesh chatas offering, with Rome the children of Ya’akov’s brother Eisav. The sai’r represents the inheritor of Har Sei’ir. Both “eisav” and “se’ir” refer to hairiness. Surely of all of the nations of the world, history is dominated by Rome and the western civilization it spawned. And, like the moon, Israel’s fortunes rise, fall and rise again under its shadow.
Aside from the difference in ascendancy between Israel and non- Jews, there is a more obvious difference between this world and the next. Only in this world is there a physical existence. “Edom”, the name of Eisav’s nation, comes from the same root as adom (red) and adamah (earth) — again, this world. Hair is also a symbol of physicality, as we see from the laws of nazir and the obligation for married women to cover their hair. Yitzchaq associates Eisav with action “hayadayim yedei Eisav” — the hands are the hands of Eisav, in contrast to “qol Yaaqov“, Yaaqov deals in speech.
Yitzchaq looked to bless Eisav, and Yaaqov stepped in and took the berakhah. In an ideal world (one that doesn’t have the above competition between the physical and the spiritual), Eisav would have served as the physical supplier of what became the Jewish people. We see this in the content of that original berakhah. “And may Hashem give you from the dew of the heaven and the fat of the land…” But Rivka saw that G-d didn’t make that world. Instead, there is a basic split, Eisav goes off the path, and world history has to work out his error. And the berakhah Yitzchaq gives him instead: “Behold, the fat of the land is your dwelling, and the dew from the sky above. By your sword shall you live, but your brother you must serve. However, when you feel wronged, you will cast off his yoke.” (Bereishis 27:39-40)
“Lei’ah’s eyes were puffy” from crying, Chazal tell us (as quoted by Rashi ad loc) that this was because she was taunted that she, the older daughter, would marry Eisav, Yitzchaq’s firstborn, and Lei’ah would marry Ya’aqov. In this hypothetical ideal world, Yehudah’s kingship would have emerged from Eisav. (Whether Levi would still have been Lei’ah’s child seems less obvious.) And Eisav could have been given a second chance, but Yaaqov hides Lei’ah’s daughter Dinah during their encounter with Eisav.
What exactly is Eisav’s error? This notion that physicality is in competition with spirituality, rather than Hashem’s intended synergy. (I wrote much more on this Maharsha and other topic in parashas Bereishis to describe a progression of how the universe’s physicality first introduced imperfection (the trees not tasting like the fruit), physicality growing to loom as though it were an ends not a means, how this reached man’s soul causing the impurity of our motives, nd what Hashem gave us to do about it. See these posts: “The Origins of Imperfection“, “Adam and Pinnochio“, and “Havdalah“. The above analysis of the gemara is taken from Mesukim miDevash for parashas Pinechas.)
Rome followed in Eisav’s footsteps by considering the Hellenist legacy and Judaism an exclusive choice. And, like Eisav who simply couldn’t consider delayed spiritual gratification when he was starving and smelling a good red lentil soup, they chose Hellenism. To emulate Yavan.
Jewish history also followed this progression. We first experienced the Yevanim, Hellene overlords, the Seleucid enemy whose conquest plays a role in the story of Chanukah. As Noach blessed his son, Yefes, Yavan’s ancestor, “Yaft E-lokim leYefes” — G-d gave beauty to western culture, the value of physicality and aesthetics. We should have kept it external, remembered that we, as the descendants of Sheim, have a different role, “veyishkon be’ohalei Sheim” — G-d rests in our homes. Alexander the Great was a hero in Jewish history — one whose name is still worn proudly as a traditional Jewish one. Then, we had Misyavnim, Jews who made themselves Hellene. Who lost the concept of remaining distinct (and thereby contributing), and it all unraveled. The Seleucids became an oppressive regime who tried to destroy Judaism by simply subsuming our G-d into their pantheon. But the Chashmonaim restored the notion of a distinct Jewish identity.
But that too failed. We repaired out notion of spirituality, but not how to treat others in this world. Chanukah (galus Yavaan) was a religious challenge, not one of national survival. The destruction of the Second Beis haMiqdash (galus Edom) was over our lack unity. It actually lowered our spiritual potential but also changed the nature of our people-hood to one that forces us to learn how to apply that spirituality to how we treat others. Because galus Yavan was about the two coexisting together, it was a galus that occured entirely during a period in which we actually had a Beis haMiqdash. (Thus proving that “galus” doesn’t mean “exile” — we were on our land!)
The current step in that progression is that to take those distinct peices of the puzzle and use them together. Chanukah taught us “To form the ideal Jewish people. On Chanukah we learned “אַ֭שְׁרֵי יֽוֹשְׁבֵ֣י בֵיתֶ֑ךָ, ע֗֝וֹד יְֽהַלְל֥וּךָ סֶּֽלָה׃ – Enriched are those who dwell in Your House, they shall ever praise You – Selah!” We are now learning “…אַשְׁרֵ֣י הָ֭עָם שֶׁכָּ֣כָה לּ֑וֹ — Enriched is the nation that is like this…” Unity. So that we can acheive the both — “אַֽשְׁרֵ֥י הָ֝עָ֗ם שֱׁ֥ה’ אֱ-לֹהָֽיו׃ — Enriched is the nation for whom Hashem is its G-d.” This is why our current struggle is with Edom, the failed vision of Eisav. The two can work together, the “sun” needn’t compete with the “moon”.
There is a Yalqut Re’uveini (an admittedly obscure, late, and Kabbalistic collection of medrash) on Ki Seitzei that connects Chanukah to a sedra often leined at about the same time — Vayishlach.
Yaaqov went back across the river to get some “pachim qetanim“, small jugs. When crossing back again to his family, Yaakov encounters an angel, identified with Eisav and his people’s guardian (among other candidates).
One of these pachim made its way down the ages to Shemu’el. Shemu’el used it to anoint Sha’ul as our nation’s first king.
From Shemu’el, the jug was eventually inherited by Elisha. When the poor Shunamit woman came to him desperate for funds so that her sons won’t be sold as slaves, Elisha told her to collect any vessel she had that could hold oil, and to borrow all such that she could from her neighbors. And Elisha then took the jug with the left over oil from the annointing of Sha’ul, and filled every utensil in her home.
(I’m sure you see what’s coming next, but to spell out the details.) This jug was then placed in the first Beis haMiqdash, not with the other jugs of oil, but with the collection of artifacts that attest to miracles (the jar of mon, Moshe’s staff, Aharon’s blooming almond branch, etc..) And the jug made it through the interegnum and was placed in a similar spot in the second bayis. The seal that most understand to be a mark of purity is taken by this midrash to also mark this special jug so that it not be confused with the regular ones.
When the Yevanim defiled all the oil, this oil wasn’t found because it wasn’t stored with the rest! (I know, if we assume this medrash is historical, it contradicts a trend of thought I developed in another recent post.) And the same miracle that supported the Shunamit is the miracle of the oil of Chanukah. The pach shemen of Chanukah was one of the pachim qetanim of Yaaqov.
Which answers the Beis Yoseif’s question: If the oil was enough for one day, the miracle was only on the subsequent days. Burning on the first day was normal. What is the miracle that we commemorate by celebrating that day too? According to this Yalqut Re’uveini, the miracle was that they filled the menorah and afterward, the jug was still full.
(The Imrei Shefer (Shabbos 21b) says something similar but less elaborate: that it’s in the merit of Yaaqov returning for the pachim qetanim that we merited the Chashmonaim finding the pach shemen.)
What’s the point of this medrash, the lesson it’s written to teach? Looking at the key themes in it, I think I can suggest an idea.
The medrash ties Yaaqov going back for the pachim qetanim his battle with Eisav’s guardian, to Sha’ul, to supporting the Shunamit to Chanukah. What do they have in common?
Why did Yaakov go back for a small jug? Didn’t he just gratefully leave Eisav behind in that area, happy that there was no fighting? Doesn’t that mean it was dangerous?
Rashi on Vayishlach quotes Chazal that Yaaqov went back because the righteous consider their money precious, because they earn their money honestly. Proper business ethics isn’t “just” the permissable way to conduct business, it actually sanctifies the activity. And therefore, the pachim qetanim were sacred to Yaaqov, not to be simply left behind.
Eisav’s role in the ideal universe was mastered by Yaaqov — he internalized the notion of the role of the physical and how to sanctify the physical. Of course at that point Yaaqov is challenged by Eisav’s guardian and succeeds. And when he gains that mastery, that’s the moment at which Yaaqov becomes Yisrael. And according to the Zohar Chadash, Lei’ah corresponds to Yisrael, while Racheil corresponds to Yaaqov. It also says that this is why Racheil was Yaaqov’s favorite wife during the first part of his life, but after her passing, he builds the rest of his life with Lei’ah. Racheil is the “yefas to’ar — the beautiful looking” wife. It’s easy to see the spirituality of a life at battle with the physical world. Lei’ah has the deeper and longer relationship, although it’s one that must be built upon pain.
Sha’ul’s mission for his kingship is to vanquish Amaleiq. Amaleiq is a nation whose namesake forefather was Eisav’s grandson. He is from Racheil, because his job is Yaaqov’s job rather thaan Yisra’el’s, to vanquish the improperly harnessed physicality. And then Sha’ul is succeeded by David, who is from Yehudah and thus Lei’ah, who starts the process of building the Beis HaMiqdash — sacred wealth and beauty.
The Shunamit was supported in her time of need by the rewards of Yaaqov’s sacred toiling in this world. The money which was earned through honest and forthright business dealings will always suffice.
Which brings us to Chanukah. Chanukah was a step before Eisav-Edom, back at Yavan, Rome’s role model. The Jews lost themselves to Hellene values. To a religion where even the gods represent physical forces: Ares was the god of war, Hermes was the concept of change, Venus of love, etc…
And then they find the jug of oil. The jug of holy wordliness, of sanctifying the universe through halakhah. Not disdain for the physical or the beautiful, but knowing its value — as a tool. And with that concept the Chashmonaim revived Jewish loyalty, disbanded Hellenist oppression, and restored the concept of Jewish autonomy for the next two centuries. And when we couldn’t maintain that, we still had the notion that there was a role for Yefetic culture but not a clear idea of what that role was, in stepped Edom. Through that struggle with Edom, we can restore the world to “two great lights” — Yisrael and Eisav working in harmony.
וייראוך כל המעשים, וישתחוו לפניך כל הברואים, ויעשו כלם אגודה אחת לעשות רצונך בלבב שלם!
And everything made will have fear/awe for You,
And everything created will prostrate before You,
And they will be made together in a single union to do You Will wholeheartedly!
-Rosh haShanah and Yom Kippur Amidah
[…] possessions more than their own lives, because they avoid sinning through thievery.” As I wrote on that concept and the Yalqut Reuveini who ties it to other events later in history: Proper business ethics […]