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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.
With the onset of the new year, another shemittah year has concluded. Now that the year is over, the mitzvos regarding shemittah, for the most part, cease as well. Prohibitions regarding produce that grew in the shemittah year and maintain shemittah status still apply. The procurement of the post-shemittah esrog, therefore, takes on a different form depending on where you shop. In the absence of a pruzbul, as well, one is forbidden to collect a loan after shemittah has concluded. But these laws ultimately tie back to the actual shemittah year itself. However, there is one mitzvah connected to shemittah that still remains, although it is not in practice today - the mitzvah of hakheil.
Hakheil, as it is discussed in this week's parsha and in the gemara (Sotah 41a,) was indeed a sight to be seen - the entire nation gathered in the Holy Temple as the king read from the Torah. Why, though, was this practice reserved for once every seven years? And why at the end of shemittah?
Malbi"m explains that shemittah is a year of complete devotion to spiritual growth, a year when the farmers and all those whose who work the land turn away from their tiring and distracting service of the land and devote themselves completely to the service of HaShem. It is a time when all are putting their faith in HaShem as He miraculously carries them through the year. This is the time to capitalize on this spiritual peak and bring everyone together for the reading of the Torah in the beis hamikdash before they all return to their fields to go to work once again.
This idea underscores the importance of capitalizing on our spiritual growth to bring ourselves yet another step higher. This is really the lesson of Tishrei of every year. It may be suggested that expecting all Jews to exit their homes and live in a temporary dwelling for a full week might not have been in the realm of possibility, for example, in the middle of the summer. It is only after the spiritual high of Yom Kippur, following the aseres yemei teshuvah, that we are able to devote ourselves to such an extent. So, immediately after Yom Kippur, without leaving a moment to lapse back into our regular routine, we thrust ourselves into the mitzvos of Sukkos.
It is customary to capitalize on the auspiciousness of these days by taking on stringencies that we do not keep the rest of the year, such as pas Yisrael or chaleiv Yisrael. There has been much said about this practice. Why do we do it and whom are we fooling if we know that the day after Yom Kippur we will go back to doing what we’ve always done?
I once heard an inspiring parable in the name of R’ Ahron Lopiansky, Rosh HaYeshivah of the Yeshiva of Greater Washington, which explains what we are trying to accomplish. This is sure to resonate with those who drink coffee, which is approximately everybody. Coffee is often enjoyed hot – but not too hot. Right out of the pot, it usually needs a couple of minutes to cool off before it drops to that perfect drinking temperature. This, of course, begs the question, why not skip the wait? Why not brew the coffee at the desired drinking temperature so it can be enjoyed immediately? Nevertheless, as coffee aficionados will have you know, doing so will produce a drastically sub-standard brew of coffee. (The optimum brewing temperature is approximately 200° F.) Not enough of the flavour will be extracted from the beans and the result will be barely drinkable.
Such is the case with our spiritual levels we wish to maintain throughout the year. If we really want to be able to maintain an ideal “drinking temperature” for the rest of the year, we need to “come in hot.” We need to start off on a higher, perhaps unrealistic, level to extract all of the goodness from the aseres yemei teshuvah so that when ultimately simmer down, we are just right.
Have a good Shabbos and a gemar chasimah tov.