We have established that Chanukah is, according to the Rambam’s interpretation of the Gemara, yemei simchah — days which were established as a Yom Tov whose essence is to give thanks and praise to Hakadosh Baruch Hu.
Let us clarify and explain the connection between simchah and “praise and thanksgiving.”
The Mesilas Yesharim (Chapter 19) in “Explanation of the Components of Chassidus,” talks about the middah of ahavah — loving Hashem. (This is after his discussion there of yir’ah — fear and awe of Hashem.) He says there that love branches off into three parts: simchah, deveikus (bonding), and kinah (which we will loosely explain as “sticking up for Hashem”). After describing ahavas Hashem as a state where a person desires to be close to Hashem, a state of longing for spirituality and devotion, Mesilas Yesharim goes on to give the details of these “branches” which constitute aspects of that longing. One of them, as just mentioned, is simchah, which Mesilas Yesharim calls “a mainstay of avodas Hashem.” Dovid Hamelech states in Tehillim, “Worship Hashem with joy.” Although we are humbled and feel lowly before the Ribbono Shel Olam, we should find ourselves joyous, exuberant, even ecstatic at being given the opportunity to serve Hashem and to fulfill His will by doing His mitzvos. Mesilas Yesharim continues by quoting Chazal who say that the Divine presence rests only upon someone who is suffused with simchah shel mitzvah. True simchah is the jubilation we feel at having the ability and wherewithal to busy ourselves with the things which bring us closer and closer to Hashem.
And so we have this relationship between simchah and our ahavas Hashem, our longing to connect to Hashem.
We find this too in the Rambam (Hilchos Lulav, 8:15): “The joy which a person has when he does a mitzvah and the love he exhibits towards the Almighty is in itself a tremendously important component in his avodas Hashem…” Thus we find that the Rambam makes Mesilas Yesharim’s point: that simchah (the simchah one feels in serving Hashem) and ahavas Hashem go hand in hand.
And since that simchah is the simchah of being able to serve Hashem, certainly the victory of the Chashmona’im and the cessation of the gezeiros shmad would give rise to the special simchah which was established on Chanukah (see Part One). This would go a long way towards explaining a peculiarity of the mitzvah of hadlakas ner Chanukah, in that it has within the rules of performing the mitzvah different ways of fulfilling that performance: basic, mehadrin, and mehadrin min hamehadrin. This is not found regarding any other mitzvah! And the explanation is that our simchah/ahavah level is so magnified by the great nissim that Hashem has wrought, both in the war against the Greeks and of course in the miracle of the oil, that we feel compelled to do this mitzvah not only as fulfillment of an obligation, but as a manifestation of the love we feel towards Hashem. As Mesilas Yesharim writes in the abovementioned Chapter, “What a true servant of Hashem would want most of all is to find favor in the eyes of Hashem, to give Hashem pleasure, as it were, by going beyond the letter of the law in doing His will; any implication of what His will may be, even if not explicitly stated, is enough to command my loyalty, as is the case when I have a desire to please someone. I will not wait to be commanded, nor will I do only exactly what I need to do in order to fulfill my obligation.” Rather, I will rush, with alacrity, and perform what that person really wants, and I will do it with “all the trimmings.”
Thus, we have a Chanukah-line going from the simchah created by the ability once again to serve Hashem freely — which is an offshoot of ahavas Hashem — which resulted in an establishment of yemei simchah in which it is only logical and correct that the mitzvas hayom, the main mitzvah of the day, was uncharacteristically established at the outset with a way of doing it in a more preferred, choice way.
(In fact, it is probably no accident that the basis for the very concept of doing any mitzvah in a mehudar way is derived from a possuk of the shira sung by Bnei Yisroel upon their delivery from the Egyptians through the great miracle of the splitting of the Red Sea. The public display of Hashem’s changing the rules of nature to save the Jewish People, to bring closure to the Exodus and to punish the Egyptians, created an outpouring of allegiance and yearning towards the Almighty; through that ahavah comes the concept of hiddur mitzvah, as the Mesilas Yesharim formulates for us.
And now the final idea, to complete the circle. The Mesilas Yesharim (Chapter 19) states another concept: “Another level of avodah can be reached by those chassidim who yearn to excel in their avodas Hashem, i.e., when a person is interested only in the honor of Hakadosh Baruch Hu, and is not doing what he is doing for the sake of a reward or other motives, but rather for kiddush shem Shamayim, that the name and honor of Hashem be publicized and increased throughout the world, and he desires and longs that all know of Hashem; it pains him when something occurs that is a diminution of His Name, and he cares that at least as far as he is concerned, the glory and recognition of Hashem be heightened and enhanced.”
The Rambam, in Sefer Hamitzvos, in the mitzvah of ahavas Hashem, states that an aspect of that mitzvah is to care that other fellow-Jews become aware of the greatness of the Almighty and feel the need to serve and worship Him; as is known, when one loves someone else one praises repeatedly that person and calls upon others to love him as well.
Is this not an exact recipe for the concept of pirsumei nissah — publicizing the miracle (the essence of the mitzvah of hadlakas neiros), and also having the avodas hayom be one of praise and thanksgiving to Hashem for allowing us to continue serving Him? As “Maoz Tzur” concludes, “In order that we thank and praise Your great Name, for all your miracles and wonders and salvations.”
So yes, rejoice and be happy and joyous on Chanukah — the spiritual joy of being free and able to utilize one’s life for the spiritual pursuit of avodas Hashem.
Rav Malinowitz is the Rav of Beis Tefillah Yonah Avraham, located in Ramat Beit Shemesh Aleph, at the corner of Nachal Refaim and Nachal Luz. Many of Rav Malinowitz’s shiurim can be heard at www.btya.org. Send your questions to RCZMChadash@gmail.com.