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A Second Chanukah: What Could Have Been
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I want to suggest to you that the event which the Gemara talks about in Yoma is a kind of prototype for Chanukah. In a way it is the real Chanukah and the Chanukah that we celebrate is just an approximation of it, a Chanukah Sheni, 30 days earlier.
The Gemara tells us a story. It gets to the story because it is debating an issue. Is a kohen allowed to wear the bigdei kehunah outside of the beit hamikdash. So the Gemara sites an incident in which Shimon Hatzadik, one of the greatest leaders of the generation, who happened to be kohen gadol when he wore bigdei kehunah outside the beit hamikdash and this is the story. V’asrim v’chamisha b’Tevet, on the 25th day of Tevet, that day is know as Yom Har Grizim, the day of the mount of Grizim. Mount Grizim is where the enemies of the Jews know as cuthim lives and the cuthim were plotting to destroy the temple. Anyway, the Gemara says, this day, Yom Har Grizim, is a holiday of sorts. It is the day that the Cuthim tried to get permission to destroy our temple from Alexander of Macedon and provisionally Alexander the great gave them permission to do so. Bou v’hodiu l’Shimon Hatzaddik, they came and told Shimon Hatzadik that Alexander had permitted the destruction of the temple. Umah asah? What did he do? Lavash bigdei kehunah, he put on the cloths of the kohen gadol, v’netatef bigdei kehunah, wrapping himself in these cloths, umikiri Yisrael imo, and he went out with the delegation of other Jews to meet Alexander. V’avukot shel or beyadeihen, and as they went out to greet Alexander, they were clutching torches, torches of light. V’chol halaylah halalu, and all night long, holchim mitzad zeh v’holchim mitzad zeh, these men and these delegation, Shimon Hatzadik with these other elders, went out holding these torches ad shaalah amud hashachar, until the morning came, until dawn came. Kiven shaalah amud hashachar, once dawn came, Alexander saw them coming from afar and asks the cuthim, the enemies of Jews, mi halalu, who are these people approaching us? Amru lo, the cuthim said, Yehudim shemardu becha, they are Jews who are rebelling against you. Kiven shehigia leAntipatras zarchah chamah, as they reached the place called Antipatras, the sun came out with all of its glory. Upagu zeh bezeh, and in full daylight the delegation lead by Shimon Hatzadik, met up with Alexander of Macedonia. Kiven sherah Shimon HaTzaddik, as Alexander of Macedon saw Shimon Hatzadik, the kohen gadol, approach, yarad mimerkavto v’hishtachah lefanav, he got down from off of his chariot and bowed down before Shimon Hatzadik. Amru lo, the other Greeks that were with Alexander, said to him, melech gadol kamotcha, such a great king as you, yishtachvah leYehudi zeh, what are you doing bowing down to this Jew? Alexander said to them, every time I go out victorious in war I see a vision, an aberration of this man. He is always going before me in battle. Now I am going to bow before him.
Alexander said to Shimon Hatzadik’s delegation, lamah batem, why did you come? Amru, they said, efshar bayit shemitpalelim bo aleicha va’al malchutcha shelo techarev, could it be that the house that prays for you Alexander and for your kingdom that you not be destroyed, that our enemies should seduce you into destroying that very house? We are praying for you. Alexander was convinced, the temple was saved.
It is a short little story, what do we make of it? There are couples of puzzling elements. Why is Alexander seeing aberrations of Shimon Hatzadik, like what’s the deal with that? Was that just a device that the almighty used as a way of saving the Jews in this time of trial? Or is there a meaning in that? And coupled with that question, is the question when Shimon Hatzadik says, we are praying for your success Alexander, was that true or was that just a convenient lie? It seems like it is true because independently Alexander seems to be seeing these aberrations of leading his troops in battle. So Alexander already thought of it as true. So it kind of seems that this is actually the case. So why would that be so, what’s skim is there for Shimon Hatzadik and in the gain of Alexander’s conquest? When Greece battles Persia, what is that our business is with this? There seems to be some sort of affinity between these men. It is strange because in the actual Chanukah we fear ourselves as the enemies of the Greeks.
It’s a war which the Maccabaeus wage against the Syrian Greeks but this was nothing like that at all. In his meeting they were allies. This meeting takes place several generations before the actual Chanukah but it is the first high level contact between Jewish culture and Greek culture and it happened on the 25th Tevet, Chanukah happens exactly 30 days before that, 25th day of Kislev, could it be that this event, this first meeting between Greeks and Jews is in some kind of prototype for Chanukah? The actual Chanukah, the one that takes place 30 days before this is the Chanukah that came to be. That’s the Chanukah that we celebrate but it is not necessarily the Chanukah that had to be. It could have been something else.
In the Chanukah that we celebrate, it’s all about the menorah, it’s all about these candles that would burn all night. Are there lights that burn all night in the story too? Turns out, there are, those are the torches. Torches that the elders held in their hands as they went outside the beit hamikdash, to greet Alexander. Isn’t that an interesting coincidence? Candles on the menorah that would burn all night long, torches in the hands of the delegations that burned all night long. Not only they burned all night long, they seem to continue burning even in the morning. We are told that they are holding these torches when dawn comes. What are they doing holding torches when at the end they are going to meet Alexander in the daylight? The oil in the torches is only designed to keep the torches burning in the night but the torches continue burning hours after the oil was due to expire. Just like the later miracle Chanukah, the oil kept on burning. Interestingly that quality of the oil, its ability to keep on burning longer than its appointed time seems to be associated in particular with the influence of Shimon Hatzadik.
The Gemara and the Midrash tell that for the 40 years that Shimon Hatzadik reigned as kohen gadol, a miracle would happen with the oil of the menorah, the miracle happened with the western most candle. You see all of the candles had the same amount of oil on them. But the kohen gadol, Shimon Hatzadik, would light the western most candle first before all the other ones and after all the other ones had long burned out, the western candle would keep on burning. And now, in this story with Alexander, the light of the torches keep on going, only difference is the light is outside the beit hamikdash now. The light is going to greet Alexander. The light outside the beit hamikdash, but the clothes of the kohen gadol are outside the beit hamikdash too.
That’s the whole reason actually why the Gemara and Yoma starts talking about this story. Because it wants to shed light on that debate, are you allowed to wear the cloths of the kehunah gedolah outside the beit hamikdash? So here you have the cloths, that beautiful splendor of the cloths of the kohen gadol outside the beit hamikdash and in a certain way you have the light of the menorah, the torches, outside the beit hamikdash too. The cloths of the kohen gadol, the light that normally burns inside. All of these are going outside now. It’s going to greet Alexander. Why?
We are going to explore all of that in our next segment but before we get there, I need to tell you that I am going to be referencing some ideas that I have talked about on our first Chanukah course, which you can find out on the video section of AlephBeta. So if you have heard that course, I am going to be dealing with some of the same ideas and reformulating them. If you haven’t heard that course, don’t worry, you won’t be lost. I will reintroduce the materials.
I will see you in our next segment.
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