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Hanukah- When Building a Foundation

After vanquishing the Greeks from Jerusalem, the Hashmonaim set out to cleanse the Bet Ha’mikdash, which had been defiled by the Greeks, and they dedicated the Bet Ha’mikdash anew. As the Gemara famously relates, all the oil had been defiled, with the exception of one small flask which was found untouched, still bearing the Kohen Gadol’s seal. The Hashmonaim used this oil to kindle the Menorah, and it miraculously sufficed for eight nights, until new oil could be produced and delivered to the Bet Ha’mikdash.

Many commentators raise the question of why the Hashmonaim insisted on using specifically pure oil. The Halachic provision of "Tum’a Hutra Be’sibur" allows performing the service in a state of impurity when the majority of the nation is impure. Seemingly, this should apply to the kindling of the Menorah with impure oil when the Temple was overrun by impurity. Moreover, it is unclear how the oil had become Tameh (impure) as a result of the Greeks’ intrusion into the Temple. A non-Jew touching something does not bring Tum’a (impurity) upon that item. And thus many scholars maintained that the oil in the Bet Ha’mikdash was acceptable for the lighting of the Menorah according to Torah law, despite having been handled by the Greeks, and it was disqualified only Mi’de’rabbanan (by force of Rabbinic enactment). We must therefore ask, couldn’t this Rabbinic edict have been suspended under the extenuating circumstances in which the Hashmonaim found themselves? Why did they insist on using only pure oil, if the impure oil was fit for use on the level of Torah law?

One answer given is that the Greeks had used the oil they found in the Bet Ha’mikdash for idol worship. This indeed disqualified the oil for use even under the circumstances, since the oil had been defiled through its having been used for pagan rituals.

Some commentators, however, explain that the Hashmonaim did not want to rely on any leniencies, or to compromise standards even one iota, because this marked the dedication of the Bet Ha’mikdash. When starting something new, nothing short of the very best is acceptable. Only the strongest foundations can support a large building. The Hashmonaim understood that they were building the foundations of the renewed Bet Ha’mikdash, and so they insisted on maintaining the highest standards of purity and Kedusha, without any compromises or leniencies.

A story is told of the Aderet (Rav Eliyahu David Rabinowitz-Teomim, 1845-1905), a towering Lithuanian sage who was brought to Jerusalem to serve as the city’s Chief Rabbi. Immediately upon arriving in the city, he was invited to officiate at a wedding as his first role in his new position. Already at the beginning of the ceremony, he made a mistake – when reciting the Beracha over the wine, he accidentally recited, "She’ha’kol" instead of "Bori Peri Ha’gefen." He then immediately recited "Bore Peri Ha’gefen," the correct Beracha.

The people were astounded – and very disappointed. There is a well-known Halacha that if one mistakenly recited "She’ha’kol" over a food or beverage which requires a different Beracha, the Beracha is valid after the fact. The people could not believe that the Rabbi chosen as the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem forgot this simple Halacha, and recited a Beracha unnecessarily.

When he was later asked about the incident, the Aderet explained why he recited a new Beracha. He said that when the Rabbi recites the Beracha under the Hupa at a wedding, he does so on behalf of the groom. He is the groom’s "Shaliah" ("agent"), in a sense, with regard to the Beracha. Hence, he must recite only the Beracha which the groom wants him to recite and thus authorizes him to recite. Unquestionably, a couple at their wedding want to begin their marriage with a strong foundation. They want things done optimally, in the best possible manner, and not on the level of "Be’di’abad" – in a way which is acceptable only after the fact. Therefore, even though generally one who mistakenly recites "She’ha’kol" has fulfilled his obligation and does not recite a new Beracha, in this particular instance, the Rabbi needed to recite a new Beracha – because the Hatan expected him to recite the optimal Beracha, and not a Beracha which is valid only after the fact.

This might also explain why we light not just a single candle each night of Hanukah, which suffices to fulfill the basic obligation, but an additional candle each night, following the "Mehadrin Min Ha’mehadrin" – the highest standard, as the Gemara teaches. As we celebrate the rededication of the Bet Ha’mikdash, the building of the foundation for the renewed Mikdash, we follow the Hashmonaim’s example and strive for the highest standard of performance, seeking to fulfill the Misvot in the best way possible, without any shortcuts or compromises.

Parashat Behaalotecha- Rectification is Always Possible
Parashat Naso- Emuna First
Shavuot- Celebrating the Eternal Torah
Shavuot- The Challenge – and Rewards – of Torah Commitment
Parashat Behar- Experiencing the Sweetness and Delight of Torah
Parashat Emor- Keter Shem Tob 'The Crown of Good Reputation'
Parashat Ahare Mot- Planting Our Spiritual Trees
Parashat Shemini- Respect and Reverence in the Synagogue
Pesah: Redemption Then and Now
Pesah- Its A Mirage
Parashat Vayikra- The Triple Sin of Dishonesty
Parashat Pekudeh- Counting the Things That Matter
Parashat Ki Tisa- The Sanctity of Every Jew
Purim and the Sale of Yosef
Parashat Terumah- The Torah’s “Footsteps”
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