Chanukka 5784: How Can I Say Hallel this Year?

By Rabbi David Brofsky, Ra”m at Midreshet Lindenbaum

brofsky 969x1024 1 1Many years ago, I had the great zechut of participating in Midreshet Lindenbaum’s annual Poland trip. Each year our students travel after Sukkot, and inevitably, one these days will be Rosh Chodesh. That year, we visited Auschwitz/Birkenau on Rosh Chodesh. As usual, Rav Brown planned each day with much attention to detail, and we stopped first at the Oświęcim Synagogue to daven and say Hallel, as how could we say Hallel on the grounds of Birkenau?!

This year, I find myself thinking of that trip and that same spiritual dilemma: How can I say Hallel this year, just two months after our brethren were murdered, maimed and abused, and while our soldiers (including my son) are fighting in the trenches of Gaza?

This dilemma deepens as we discover that the central theme of Chanukka is “shevach” – to praise God. Indeed, the Al HaNissim prayer concludes, “…and established these eight days of Ḥanukkah in order to give thanks and praises unto Your holy name.” We fulfill this mitzva of shevaḥ vehodaa through various activities, such as publicizing the miracle (pirsumei nissa), lighting the neirot Ḥanukka, and through the recitation of Hallel each day.

Interestingly, Rambam discusses the laws of Hallel in the first of the two chapters dedicated to the laws of Ḥanukka (Hilkhot Megilla VeḤanukka, chap. 3), rather than among the laws of prayer or Yom Tov. Rambam chose Hilkhot Ḥanukka as the most suitable context for the laws of Hallel because the laws of Ḥanukka are essentially the laws of “shevaḥ vehodaah.”

The Talmud lists the eight days of Ḥanukka among the eighteen days (twenty-one days in the Diaspora) on which we recite the full Hallel (Arakhin 10a). However, unlike the other days, which are distinguished by a unique korban, and a prohibition of melakha, the gemara explains that Hallel is recited on Chanukka “because of the miracle.” Some Acharonim (Maggid Mishna, Ḥatam Sofer) suggest that the Hallel of Ḥanukka may actually be a greater obligation than the Hallel recited on the festivals, as the obligation to recite Hallel in response to divine salvation originates “midivrei kabbala,” in the words of the prophets. What miracle is worthy of eight days of praise and thanksgiving?

The Rambam (ibid. 3:1) describes the miracle of Chanukkah:

The Jews suffered great difficulties from them, for they oppressed them greatly,
until the God of our ancestors had mercy upon them, delivered them from their
hand, and saved them. The sons of the Hasmoneans, the High Priests, overcame
[them], slew them, and saved the Jews from their hand.

They appointed a king from the priests, and sovereignty returned to Israel for more than 200 years, until the destruction of the Second Temple.

The Rambam implies that in addition to being saved from persecution and oppression and to the miracle of the single cruse of oil, which lasted for eight days, we observe Chanukka for eight days in order to praise God for the restoration of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel.

This year, with great apprehension and even difficulty, I will say Hallel all eight days of Chanukka. Unlike during the atrocities of the Holocaust and other attacks and persecutions throughout Jewish history, we now have the ability to defend ourselves and build our own future, with the help of God, in the Land of Israel. We are thankful, just as our ancestors were over two thousand years ago, for the gift and responsibility of Jewish autonomy. B’ezrat Hashem, we will succeed and build a better and brighter future for the Jewish people and Medinat Yisrael.

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