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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.
Bnei Yisroel were given specific instructions on who is eligible and who may serve as a soldier in the conquest of Eretz Yisroel. Exemptions were given for those who were preparing for marriage (Shoftim, 20:7), had built a new house (20:5) or if they had recently planted a vineyard (20:6). Moreover, even one who was afraid of war could not participate (20:8). In fact, the Gemarah explains that only Tzadikim were left to fight and that is exactly what was intended.
How then does one understand the Torah’s significant discussion of the Yifas To’ar? This woman, a gentile captured at war, is permitted to marry the soldier who captured her once the procedures, albeit extensive ones, are followed. Rashi (21:11), citing the Gemarah in Kiddushin (21b) explains in rather blunt terms, that the procedures were prescribed by the Torah in recognition of the fact that soldiers at war would do terrible things. Accordingly, the Torah enacted a permissible manner in which the soldier could take this woman to be his wife. Is this the behavior of our Tzadikim? They are so overcome by their baser instincts that the Torah concedes that they will yield to them? How are we to understand this abhorrent conduct from our best people?
Many years ago one of my Rebbeim explained to me how this must be understood. The world is designed with an inherent moral code. There are certain things, which are intrinsically understood, as right or wrong. That is not to say that people would always do the right thing but they at least know what it is. For example, most people understand that it is wrong to steal. They may at times steal, either due to necessity, hatred or some other “reason”, but they understand it to be wrong. The most basic “wrong” that we understand is that it is wrong to kill. Whether people do commit murder at times due to greed, passion, vengeance or some other motivation, they understand that killing is wrong.
When one goes out to war, the fundamental instruction is to kill the soldiers on the other side. Once this most basic barrier is broken, all other forms of immoral behavior seem comparatively insignificant. If I can kill, then vandalism, theft or even rape seem like relatively minor violations. Long ago, our sages recited this principal thusly: the first time we commit a particular sin it is difficult, the second time it is permissible and the third time it is a mitzvah. (Sotah 22a)
This is an incredibly profound and poignant lesson. Barriers mean something. They are important. When we break through them, there are ramifications. Similarly, an emphasis of our core values does keep us from crossing certain lines absent the most extreme circumstances. Those values are Torah and Chesed. As we pass the midway point of Elul, we need to redouble our commitment to those core values and be certain to emphasize them to our children, both in word and deed.