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During the Second Temple, the Greek empire reigned (over Israel),1 and they (the Greeks) passed decrees against the Jews and (tried) to erase their religion, and did not allow them to carry out Torah (study) or the commandments. They put their hands on their property and their daughters. They entered the Temple, destroyed and made the pure unclean. The Jews were in great distress because of them and were much oppressed, until the G-d of their fathers had mercy on them, delivering them from their hands and saving them. Then overcame, the sons of the Hasmonean High Priest, (the Greeks) and killed them and saved the Jews from their hands. They appointed a king from the Priests, and the kingdom of Israel was restored for more than 200 years until the destruction of (the) second (Temple). When the Jews overcame their enemies and destroyed them, it was the 25th of Kislev2 when they entered the Sanctuary (inner room) and did not find pure (olive) oil in the Temple, except one jar sealed with seal of the High Priest, and it did not contain enough to light except for one day only. But they lit from it the lamps of the Menorah3 for eight days, until they could crush olives and produce a (new quantity) of pure oil. For these reasons, decreed the Sages of that generation that these eight days that begin on the 25th Kislev, will be days of joy and praise. One lights on them lamps at evening at the entrance to the houses, every evening of the eight nights to show off and demonstrate the miracle. These days are called ''Hanukah'' that is to say ''they rested'' (chanu) on the ''25'' ('th of the month) because on the 25th they rested from their enemies. and also because of those days they (re)-dedicated the house (Temple) which their foes had defiled. Also some say that it is a commandment to increase slightly the festive meals on Hanukah. Another reason is because the work of (building) the Sanctuary (in the desert) was completed in these days. One should tell one's children the story of the miracles that were done for our fore-fathers in those days, (see Josephus) However, these meals are not considered as part of the commandment unless one says at the meal songs of praise. One should increase charity in these Hanukah days, for this can help mend any defects in our souls. This charity, should be given particularly to poor Torah scholars. (KSA 139:1)
1) 352 BCE until 70 CE
2) 139 BCE
3) The Menorah was made of gold and had seven branches.
Parshas Ha’azinu is described in the Torah as a “Shira” - “Song”, and is known as “Shira’as Ha’azinu” (31:19, 32:44). Why did Hashem ordain that specifically this Parshah, the Parshah which promises us that no matter how low we sink we will always be redeemed (32:36. See Rashbam and Ohr HaChaim), should be a song?
Furthermore, Judaism puts a strong emphasis on singing in general; At the Shabbos, table we sing zemiros. In Shul, especially during the Yomim Norayim (High Holy Days), we spend much time singing. In fact, one of the services in the Bais HaMikdash was the Levi’im’s songs. Why is there such a value placed on song in Judaism? Wouldn’t it be better to remove the practice of singing by the Shabbos table, during davening, in the Bais HaMikdash, etc. and invest that time into studying Torah, saying Tehillim, etc. instead? There seems to be an intrinsic importance to singing together. What is it?
R’ Kalman Krohn was once traveling in Israel. As he entered a taxi, he noticed that the driver was Jewish but not religious. That did not bother him in the slightest. However, what did bother him was the look of disdain in the driver’s eyes when he recognized that his passenger was a religious Jew. Trying to lighten up the mood, R’ Kalman said to the driver with a friendly smile “you know, because we are both Jews, you and I are really brothers”. The driver vehemently shook his head in disagreement. “No, no we are not. You and I have nothing in common, and are certainly not brothers”. R’ Kalman persisted. “Sure we are! I had a great teacher who taught this to me beyond a shadow of a doubt. He taught me that all Jews are brothers, regardless of their level of observance”. The driver asked in disgust “Who was this teacher that taught you such a foolish thing??”. R’ Kalman replied softly “my teacher was none other than Adolf Hitler. He didn’t differentiate between religious and nonreligious Jews. He recognized the truth that you and I are part of one nation and, like I said, are truly brothers”. The driver was so taken aback that he nearly crashed! He pulled over to the side of the road, sat in silence for a few moments, and said with tears in his eyes “you are right. We ARE brothers. More Jews should be like you!”.
The word “song”, implies the concept of harmony. When it comes to a complex song, the many different instruments in the orchestra, and all of the unique voices in the choir, join together in harmonious cooperation. Each component focuses on the great orchestra that it consists of, instead of on their selves, in order to produce the most inspiring of music. Similarly, the purpose of the Jewish nation is to UNITE together to serve Hashem. When we do so, we have reached true perfection (based on a concept by R’ Gedaliah Schorr, quoted in the Artscroll Stone edition Chumash).
When the Levi’im would sing in the Bais HaMikdash, as well as when we sing together at the Shabbos table and in Shul, we accomplish something incredible: Every single person is coming together and adjusting their own pitch, tone, and tune, with the intention of uniting with every other Jew in the room to sing to Hashem. If everyone would disagree on what to sing or how to do it, there would be chaos. Instead, we unite together for the purpose of beautifying our service to Hashem. Nothing can be more favorable in the eyes of our Father in Heaven. Indeed, it is when we come together as a nation in unity that the promise of redemption and forgiveness which is discussed in Shira’as Ha’azinu, the song of Ha’azinu, will speedily come to fruition.
The Bais HaMikdash was the holiest place on earth. It was where the Shechina, as it were, resided. Every Jew traveled there at least three times a year, if not many more, in order to be closest with Hashem. The Bal Shem Tov is bothered - why does Hashem only allow there to be ONE Bais HaMikdash? The Jewish nation lived throughout the entire vast country of Eretz Yisroel. There were no cars back then, and for many Jews, traveling to the Bais HaMikdash could take weeks. Wouldn’t the Jewish nation have benefited so much greater if Hashem had allowed every shevet (tribe) to build their own Bais HaMikdash? Why didn't He allow them to build Him a Bais HaMikdash in every town, city or country? Wouldn't it be better for our nation’s spiritual well-being if Hashem's "house" was more accessible?
He answers with a message that we can all appreciate and relate to. Hashem’s purpose in creating the Bais HaMikdash was to bring bnei Yisroel together in UNITY to serve Him. Hashem is not the One Who needs a Bais HaMikdash. WE do. Hashem, in His wisdom, understood how different and truly unique we all are. Therefore, He decreed that the gift of the Bais HaMikdash would be one where it doesn't matter whether you're Ashkenaz or Sfard. Whether you are a Rav or a businessman. Old or young. In the Bais HaMikdash, there won’t be a Sfard minyan and an Ashkenazi minyan. There won’t be 20 different areas to daven, with each Jew dispersing and joining “his crowd”. Rather, all of the Jewish nation will have to all come to one single place to serve Hashem together in unity. This is the single greatest service to Hashem that gives Him the most pride, and the single greatest merit that we can and should work on accomplishing during these holy days*.
*- There is a famous saying that “chessed” (acts of kindness) begins in the home”. This means that before one goes out into the world to take care of others, he must first master the art of taking care of his own family. The same is true for unity. As important as mastering unity with strangers is, to truly succeed in this holy endeavor, we must first work and accomplishing unity in our homes.