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Chanukah and Money

Written by Rabbi Rudman, 29/10/2018

 The Rambam begins Hilchos Chanukah with the following description of the oppression of the Jews by the Greeks:

רמב”ם הלכות חנוכה פרק ג – (א) בבית שני כשמלכו יון גזרו גזרות על ישראל ובטלו דתם ולא הניחו אותם לעסוק בתורה ובמצות ופשטו ידם בממונם ובבנותיהם ונכנסו להיכל ופרצו בו פרצות וטמאו הטהרות וצר להם לישראל מאד מפניהם ולחצום לחץ גדול

In [the era of] the Second Temple, the Greek kingdom issued decrees against the Jewish people, [attempting to] nullify their faith and refusing to allow them to observe the Torah and its commandments. They extended their hands against their money and their daughters; they entered the Sanctuary, wrought havoc within, and made the sacraments impure.

This introduction is unusual. No other section of the Yad begins by introducing what the Chag is about.

Rav Yosef Ber Soloveichik ZT”L explains the Rambam’s need for this introduction based on a premise that the Rambam brings down in his introduction to the Yad. He says that it is sufficient to learn the Tanach and the Yad and one does not need to learn any other Sefer. Therefore, since Chanukah is the only chag not mentioned in Tanach, there is a need to write this introduction, because otherwise we would not know the reason for Chanukah.

In the Rambam’s introduction, some of the words need clarification: How do we explain “They extended their hands against their money”?

One could say that it is referring to taxation of the Jewish property. But such a decree would seem to not fit into the general scheme of what follows in this Halacha. The Rambam juxtaposes oppression of the money to the oppression of the daughters and therefore they would seem to be parallel. The understanding of the decree against the Jewish women is that the Greeks did not kidnap the daughters, but defiled them by first forcing them to go to the Greek ruler before they went to their husbands. The purpose of this decree was to infect and affect them by the Greek mentality, so that they would return to their husbands in that state. This would change the entire tone of Jewish family life. Since the Rambam joins these two ideas, what is inferred is that the goal was the same and that is to affect the Jewish approach to wealth. I would like to suggest an approach to what that means.

There is an idea found in the writings of Rabbeinu Moshe Dovid Valli in Daniel. When Chananiah, Mishael and Azariah are placed in the furnace, the Pasuk emphasizes that they specifically put on their royal clothes. And when they were saved, just as not a hair on their head was harmed, so, too, their clothes were untouched. Why was this important? Their clothes were part of the property of a Tzadik, and since the Gemarra in Chulin explains that the possessions of a Tzadik are as valuable to him as his life, just as their lives were saved, so too their possessions were saved. We see that the possessions of a Tzadik are worthy of a miracle. But what is the spiritual reason for HaShem to do this?

The source for this idea is a Gemarra in Chulin. When Yakov is returning to Eretz Yisroel, Eisav comes to attack Yakov. Yakov prepares his family for this confrontation, and they cross the Yabok River. When Yakov realizes that he left small jugs on the other side of the river, he returns in the middle of the night alone to a dangerous area to recover them. From here we learn that the possessions of a Tzadik are as valuable as his life. Why is this true? Shouldn’t a Tzadik be above mundane material concerns, let alone objects only worth a few pennies?

A Tzadik realizes that all his possessions were given to him in order to utilize them to serve HaShem. Therefore he understands that as minor as they seem to be, they are not extra or negligible, but they all need to be treated as an object of a Mitzvah. In addition, since as Yakov said earlier that all his money was earned completely honestly, his possessions are completely from HaShem. Therefore they are valuable as such, and are worthy of Mesiras Nefesh, just like any other Mitzvah.

This lesson, that even the smallest possessions are from HaShem and are there to serve HaShem, and are therefore valuable, is learnt specifically from Yakov. His entire life is dedicated to only serving HaShem and therefore every part of his life is utilized. The Gemarra in Taanis says that Yakov did not die, since so long as his descendants are alive, he is alive. This is the concept of מטתו שלימה that all of Yakov’s descendants will never leave the Jewish people. This is connected to the Gemarra that Reuven was ראשית אוני, the first seed of Yakov, and nothing from Yakov was ever wasted. So, too, his possessions were not wasted, since everything was acquired through honesty and therefore everything is to be used for HaShem

This concept of the Torah value of a person’s possessions is what the Greeks tried to confuse. In their world, money is to be used for frivolous purposes, not to be treated with this kind of holiness. Just as they viewed the bond of marriage as something to be treated cavalierly, so too they viewed money as a means to a physical end, rather than an opportunity to serve HaShem.

This is even clearer when we examine some of the hints in the incident with Yakov and the return for the ‘small jugs’. In many sources these פכים are seen as a forerunner of the פך שמן of Chanukah. They represent the low spiritual level of the nation at the time of Chanukah. And since Yakov knows that every one of his descendants, as distant as they seem from HaShem is valuable, he returns to save them even at risk to his life. These descendants are even the Hellenist Jews in the time of Chanukah, but they still have the drop of holy oil that is sealed with the purity of the Kohain Gadol. Therefore, the incident of the Pachim Ketanim alludes to the time of Chanukah, referring to both the rescue of the people and the possessions. The Chashmonaim went into battle to save the lost parts of Klal Yisroel at the risk of their lives, which they learnt from Yakov risking his life for the smallest jugs.

During the confrontation with the angel, Yakov is smitten on his thigh. In the writings of the Ariz”l Chanukah and Purim are represented by the Sefiros of Netzach and Hod, which are represented in man as the two thighs. Chanukah is the time of Hoda’ah, giving thanks. That is the Sefira of Hod. The battle here is about this concept, to give thanks to HaShem. This is where the angel attacks Yakov. So once again, this is a precursor of Chanukah.

Even though we are discussing Chanukah, and the angel here is the angel of Edom, there are many sources connecting Galus Edom to Galus Yavan. Rashi writes, Italy of Greece. Also in the Gemarra the debate with the wise men of Athens, takes place under the time of the Roman exile. And historically the Romans are an extension of Greek philosophy and knowledge.

In this battle the angel is only able to overcome Yakov when he smites him in the thigh. The thigh is described in the Zohar as those who support the Torah. The angel realizes that he cannot impact those who study Torah. The Pachim Ketanim represent those who recognize the importance of torah and support it. These are the target of the angel. Yakov, in recognizing their importance, returns even for those small jugs. The angel of Eisav, who is a continuation of the Greeks, gives battle and impacts the economic support of the Torah, represented by the thighs, which are the Sefira of Hod of Chanukah. This is what the Rambam means by stating that the Greeks oppressed the money of the Jews; the tremendous people in Klal Yisroel who realize the importance of using their resources to support Torah, were Hellenized to view money in the Greek way, not as a path to Kedusha, but as a means of pleasure and frivolity.

The ones who battle this misconception of money are the Kohanim. The Rambam writes that the Kohanim do not have any portion in acquisition of wealth by human endeavor. They have no portion in the land or in the spoils of war. All they receive is directly from HaShem, in order to facilitate their learning Torah. In their world all their money is used for Torah purposes and comes to them without any human effort. They are not even permitted to travel to the fields to facilitate receiving their Terumah. They are dedicated to serving HaShem and money is only to be used for that purpose. Their approach to money is the antithesis to Greece, and they therefore lead the battle against Greece.

This can explain the custom brought in the Magen Avrohom that the poor Bnei Torah go on Tzedakah rounds while the candles are burning. They are giving us the opportunity to show that we reject the Greek concept of money. In the Book of Antiochus, after the battle the Kohanim of the house of Matisyahu distribute the spoils of war to the poor students of Torah. This is their response to the Greek interference in the Jewish economy.

There is another parallel idea. Rav Avrohom Gurwitz explains the Rambam as meaning that the Greeks objected to the Torah approach to civil law. They claimed that even if there is a Torah which has religious laws, matters of commerce do not need to involve God. Those laws are human based and can be figured out with our intellect. We reject this idea. Just as Pirkei Avos begins with the recitation of the Mesorah to drive home the understanding that this is not just good advice but a part of the Torah, so too all of Nezikin is from HaShem and is to be learnt as the Torah. This is why they wrote on the horn of the ox that we do not have a portion in HaShem. In the laws of damages done by oxen, the damage done by goring is dealt with differently if it is a Jewish owned ox, or non-Jewish. Therefore the Greeks reject that.

This claim that there is a part of our life that is not defined by Hilchos HaTorah but by our own intellect can bring a person to view that part of their life as outside of Torah, and through this the Greeks impacted the Jewish approach to using money.

This could also explain why the Gemarra requires writing in all contracts the year from the Kingdom of Greece. We are saying that even though you controlled the world at one point, we are going to write our contracts according to the Torah, and you are going to be part of the system of Torah, rather than the other way around.

May we be Zoche to live our lives and our economic lives as Jews, and use our resources as a gift from HaShem in order to serve Him.

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