This Shabbos we read Parshas Mikaitz. We also celebrate Shabbos Chanukah. The miracle of Chanukah is the last of the great miracles that we celebrate with a Holiday. It is the miracle that Hashem gave the Jewish people to give them encouragement for the entire long and bitter exile that they would have to endure.
Although lighting the Menorah on Chanukah is a Rabbinical commandment, the Sages were extremely strong in requiring this commandment to be filled. Indeed, the obligation on a person to light the Chanukah menorah is so strong that even if a person does not have enough money to buy candles to light the menorah, they must borrow money to do so. Why is this obligation so strong – more than even the Torah obligation to take a Lulav and Esrog on Succos? In truth we could ask a more basic question - why is it that we make a remembrance for the miracle of Chanukah and we don’t do so for so many other miracles that happened to the Jewish people? (There is no celebration for the miracle of the battle of Jericho, the downfall of Sancherev, the salvation from Sisra,…?)
In truth, if we appreciate what the miracle of Chanukah was and what it teaches us, we can appreciate why we must have this remembrance for this miracle. In Jewish law the entire miracle of the menorah on Chanukah was not necessary. When the Jews discovered that all the oil in the Temple had been defiled, they were allowed to use oil that was ritually impure. The entire miracle of having the Menorah burn for eight days was not required. Why is it, then, that Hashem made this unnecessary miracle for them?
When we think about the actions of the Macabees, they really didn’t have to do what they did. They could have passively resisted the Greeks, refused to observe their edicts, and secretly kept the Torah. Indeed, many thousands of Jews did so at the time. Many thousands lost their lives at the hands of the Greeks for their passive resistance, their refusal to bend the ways of the Torah, their refusal to compromise what the Torah obligates us to do. The Macabees went a step further. They actively challenged the Greeks, and they went to war to fight for the honor of Hashem and His Torah. They made the ridiculous attempt to fight the strongest army of the world, to overcome it with the ridiculous army of a few weak Yeshiva students. Disregarding all personal concerns, they gave of their essence, they gave their very lives to fight for Hashem. This is beloved to Hashem. This was something that made them special and unique. When they finally won the war and entered the Temple they again refused to settle for anything but doing the mitzvah exactly right. This earned them such favor in the eyes of Hashem that they merited an open miracle – the burning of the menorah for eight days - that gave them the opportunity to do the mitzvah exactly right.
This lesson of mesiras nefesh – of giving of oneself totally in order to serve Hashem, is extremely important. It is so important that the Sages made us remember this miracle every year, and required us to make sure that we celebrate it. Even the person who is dire straits r”l must make sure to remember this miracle and lesson. Hopefully, if we realize this, we can absorb this lesson of mesiras nefesh – of doing mitzvohs at all times, even when it isn’t easy. This idea – that we do mitzvohs not only when it is convenient and simple, but even when it is at great cost and self sacrifice, is the beautiful lesson that Chanukah reminds us of every year. We hope that by the time we finish celebrating Chanukah, we are ready to approach our observance of the Torah and the mitzvohs with new energy and vigor.