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Shabbat Parashat Miketz 5773

Ein Ayah: Qualified Use of Foreign Ideas An Idea from the Laws of Chanuka

(condensed from Ein Ayah, Shabbat 2:5)

Gemara:  Rav says that one may use inefficient oils and wicks for Chanuka lights. This is because he rules that if the lights go out, one does not need to relight them and because he rules that one is not allowed to use their light. [We do not have to be concerned that the lights will go out because in any case, the mitzva was fulfilled, and one will not adjust the flame on Shabbat because it is forbidden to use the light. Rav Kook explains these concepts with a fascinating allegory.]


Ein Ayah:  High quality oil hints at the “oil of Torah.” High quality wicks hint at Bnei Yisrael, to whom the light of Torah clings.

Hashem’s Hand tends to His nation, even in our impurity, and preserves us during our wanderings among the nations and when we lack prophets. In exile we hear many ideas that emanate from the wisdom of the nations. There is a danger that these ideas, which are not proven like Torah ideas, could cause the light of Torah to be forgotten from Israel. In our lowly status, we are liable to be attracted to the philosophies of the time’s successful nations. Divine Providence arranged that great rabbis would always be present to adopt some of the popular ideas and use them to strengthen the light of Torah. This can be done even though we cannot take responsibility for ideas that emanate from foreign sources and are not eternal truths like the Torah.

The nations’ ideas are like flickering lights, which provide lights at the moment but are liable to go out at any time. Philosophies that were once accepted are often rejected and forgotten after a generation or two. However, since at their time they have great influence over people, including Jews, if they could not be connected to the light of Torah, many weak-minded Jews might leave the Torah in favor of the foreign, fleeting notions. Therefore, Hashem protected the Torah by incorporating in it elements that can connect to the popular modern ideas. However, the connections to the Torah, with all its specific practical laws, are not natural, but are like oil that is not well absorbed by a wick and is able to do its job only nominally. These lights will not last forever, and when they go out, we will have no use for them but for the eternal word of Hashem. This is hinted at by the halacha that if the lights go out, we will not need to relight them.

Furthermore, it is forbidden to use the light. In other words, foreign ideas must not replace the light of Torah, even when it is not in direct conflict with the Torah. This is epitomized by the victory of the Hasmoneans over the Greeks. The spirit of Greece influenced Jewish ideas, but the way of Torah prevailed.

Another element of Divine Providence was to provide non-standard leadership, according to the needs of the time. The Hasmoneans’ generation did not merit a leader from the House of David, and, therefore, there was temporary alternative leadership. The House of David is the one most effectively connected to the Torah, as David was able to do “justice and charity” and was the sweet singer of Israel. He learned deep into the night and was still a brave warrior. The light of nationalism is fueled from the light of Torah, and only with such a connection is the light clear and stable.

Even non-natural combinations of oil and wick are valid for Chanuka lights, and they were able to light up the darkness of exile. However, this is not an eternal light. Temporary lights are important enough to be holy. We have to thank Hashem for them as well for preserving us in our dedication to the Torah. Foreign ideas can overlap with the words of the Torah and are like a flask of oil with the seal of the Kohen Gadol (representing the Torah). However, when the light goes out (its period is over), we will be finished with those ideas. We should also not use their light, i.e., believe they are the basis for our law and justice.  
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Hemdat Yamim

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