In middle of פרשת אמר we have what is known as the פרשת המועדות, where the Torah delineates our national holidays in calendrical order. Beginning with Pesach, moving to שבועות, then ראש השנה, followed by יום כיפורand סוכות. It doesn’t discuss the קרבנות that are brought, that is dealt with in פרשת פנחס, in this week’s parsha the Torah discusses the איסור מלאכה and the מצוות that we are to do on those days. Well, right after the Torah finishes discussing the yom tov of סוכות, which ends the cycle of biblical holidays, we get a commandment to take olive oil and light the menorah. Literally this is referring to the menorah in the בית המקדש, but an almost exact replica of the text that’s in this week’s parsha already appeared in פרשת תצוה when the Torah was discussing the vessels of the בית המקדש. So why would the Torah repeat itself here?
It seems like the Torah is hinting that if you follow the calendar past סוכות you’ll get to Chanukah which isn’t a biblical holiday but is still hinted to here. That is a pretty neat idea, but what does it mean? Why would the Torah do that? And if the Torah is including non-biblical holidays, why stop with Chanukah? Why not include Tu B’shvat, Purim, Lag Ba’Omer, and any other celebratory days? also, why include Chanukah here and not in parshas Pinchas? I think there is something unique to Chanukah that had it get included here that can teach us something amazing about ourselves as the Jewish nation.
Before discussing the holidays, פרשת המועדות begins with Shabbos, and although that is in fact a time that we meet up with Hashem it is categorically different than the rest of the holidays. The גמרא tells us that Hashem told the מלאכים that the Jewish people have the power to control the calendar and when they set the new moon and the new year, they set the dates of yom tov into place. But Shabbos comes whether we want it to or not, that Hashem has already set into motion. Yom tov is man-made and Shabbos is God-made. And I think that Shabbos is included in this פרשה as an introduction of sorts, almost like a book end to hold up what comes after it. And I think that the mitzva to light the menorah which suspiciously sounds like a mention of the yom tov of Chanukah is the second book end holding together the מועדים. I think to get a deeper understanding of how we can control time by way of the מועדים we need to understand these two “bookends” and we’ll also walk away with a new understanding of Chanukah.
When you read the Pesukim about the menorah here, one concept keeps coming up. The concept of purity. I learn R’ Noach Weinberg’s 48 Ways to Wisdom with my wife and his definition for purity is the simplest one there is. Think of pure silver or gold. Purity means that there is nothing foreign mixed in, the pure thing is free of anything that is not itself. When the Torah talks about the menorah you see this come up a lot. The menorah itself was made of one piece of pure gold, the olive oil used was only the purest part of what came out of the olive, and it needed to burn uninterrupted for the entire night. The menorah itself is called the מנורה הטהורה, and it was to be used consistently without any breaks in the flames that burned there.
Chanukah was a celebration of man-made purity. A small group of men which had the purest intentions band together to find one pure jug of oil and light the menorah in the purest way they possibly could, even if it was in middle of a defiled בית המקדש with an aluminum menorah.
I think Shabbos at the front of פרשת המועדות is the equal and opposite version of purity. Shabbos is Hashem’s purity, it is the completion of the week. Hashem finished creation at the exact perfect moment of sunset, something that we know we can’t possibly replicate. Actions that aren’t perfect are not permitted on Shabbos, and even speech that isn’t refined is frowned upon. Shabbos is the culmination of all of creation and it is when everything comes together in harmony.
Shabbos kicks off פרשת המועדות to show us that Hashem in His Essence is infinitely pure and holy in a way that we can’t fathom or begin to touch. But Hashem doesn’t want to be in שמים by Himself, He wanted to create us and give us a chance to meet Him on our terms. So, he gave us the מועדות, a man-made version of what He created on that 7th day, and this is why the number 7 keeps popping up when the Torah discusses the מועדות. We are in charge of setting the calendar, and we accomplish a lot for these holidays, but we need Hashem’s help to imbue these days with commandments and holiness. After the Torah goes through the entire calendar there is a hint to a holiday that wasn’t biblical. A holiday that man set up and tried his very best to be as perfect as he could without Hashem’s help. There was no prophecy and they were standing in a defiled and ransacked בית המקדש, their beautiful perfect pure gold menorah had been stolen and they had to weld an aluminum one on the spot. To the naked eye it looked as far as possible from perfect, but from Hashem’s point of view this was a perfect accomplishment, and so Hashem gives them a little bit of pure oil and then bends nature for them, so they can experience Godly purity, but this was a man-made holiday with man-made purity at its core.
I think it is the contrast between Shabbos and Chanukah that frames the holidays and what our mission in the world is. We will never be as pure as Hashem, but our job is to find small places where we can try our best to emulate that purity, albeit only transposed through the lens of this world. And when we do, sometimes Hashem will smile down on us and give us a little piece of His purity.