The Berditchever Rav, zy”a, once noticed a group of Chassidim in animated conversation.
He inquired what they were talking about.
While somewhat uncomfortable about their choice of topic, they admitted that it was about the phenomenal wealth of Count Potocki, and the ultra-luxurious life he reveled in.
“He once wanted to ski in the middle of the summer,” one of the Chassidim related. “So he purchased a huge amount of salt [an expensive commodity at the time] and created a mountain to go skiing on.”
“Did he ever light Chanukah lecht?” The Berdichever Rav asked rhetorically.
The answer, obviously, was no.
“Then he doesn’t have any olam hazeh!” the Rebbe declared.
The Berditchever Rav was stating an eternal truth, one that many have discovered but few are willing to admit.
Great wealth often translates into a life of ostentatious luxury, but it certainly doesn’t bring happiness. In fact it is probable that this much-pursued ideal can be more often found in broken-down hovels than in the palatial mansions of the super-rich.
True happiness, a real sense of satisfaction, can be achieved only through doing something spiritually sound.
When we perform a mitzvah like Chanukah lecht, the result is not only a glorious reward in the World to Come, but temporal pleasure right here in this world.
Harav Meir Yosef Rubin, shlita, Dayan of the Rachmastrivka kehillah, points out that this was already alluded to four hundred years ago by the Taz. That great halachic authority discusses (670:3) why on Purim we are obligated to celebrate through food and drink, while on Chanukah the path to simchah is through hallel and hodaah. First the Taz quotes the Levush, who explains that since the miracle of Purim commemorates the physical salvation of the Jewish people, we celebrate through physically rewarding activities such as eating a seudah. The miracle of Chanukah, on the other hand, was a spiritual one, for the Greeks didn’t seek the physical annihilation of the Jewish people, but only of the Jewish soul.
But the Taz disagrees with the explanation of the Levush.
“This is not correct,” he says. “For as Rashi states in Parashas Ki Seitzei, ‘he who causes his fellow man to sin is doing him greater [harm] than he who kills him.’”
It is clear that the Taz felt that the spiritual miracle of Chanukah was very much a reason to celebrate in the temporal realm as well. For without spirituality, there is no olam hazeh either…
In his own explanation, the Taz says that the primary celebration of Chanukah is not for the victory over the Greeks but rather for the miracle of the oil. Therefore it is not comparable to Purim, which celebrates the salvation of the Jewish people.
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What is perplexing, however, is that the Al hanissim prayer that we recite in Shemoneh Esrei and in Birkas Hamazon is based on the battles with the Greeks. While there is a mention of “kindling lights in chatzros kodshecha,” according to some authorities that doesn’t refer to the miracle of the oil.
One explanation, proposed by Hagaon Harav Chaim Kanievsky, shlita, is that since Al hanissim is a tefillah of hoda’ah, we express gratitude only for those miracles that directly affect us today. On Pesach we celebrate our redemption, for as we recite in the Haggadah, if Hashem wouldn’t have taken us out of Egypt, we would still be enslaved there!
In a similar vein, if not for the miracle of Purim, and the victory over the Greeks at the time of nes Chanukah, Klal Yisrael as a vibrant Torah-observing nation would not exist today. The uplifting nes of the oil, though, does not fall into the category of hoda’ah.
This brings us to another question. Why does the tefillah celebrate the milchamos, the battles? We are not a war-loving nation. Why don’t we rather celebrate the victories?
The answer, said the Ponezhever Rav, zt”l, is that the battles of Chanukah were spiritual in nature. That war is still ongoing, and will continue to be waged until Moshiach comes. We cannot celebrate “victory,” for it is not yet in sight.
Rather, it is precisely the battles, the milchamos, that we celebrate. The fact that even in a time of such impurity as ours we continue to battle the forces of evil, the fact that we refuse to raise our hands and surrender, this is what we are celebrating!