Sunday, December 17, 2006

Ahl Hanissim--Thanking God for War

In Ahl Hanissim, we thank God for nissim, niflaos, gevuros, yeshu’os, and milchamos (wonders, empowerment, salvations and battles). Someone asked Harav Mordechai Eisenberg, (currently of Marlboro, New Jersey,) why do we thank Hashem for milchamos? It’s like a recovered patient being grateful for the disease. Yes, 'milchamos' could be interpreted as meaning “having fought for us”, as Rashi explains Moshe’s promise to the Jews at the Red Sea, “Hashem yilacheim lachem v’atem tacharishun” (Shemos 14:14). Still, the word milchamos seems out of place, once “wonders, empowerment, and salvations done for our forefathers” were mentioned. If it was going to mention milchamos, it should have said it before yeshu’os- thank you for fighting for us and for saving us. Once yeshu’os was mentioned, milchamos seems out of place.

The Gemora in Bava Basra 17a says that four people died only because of the sin that came about through the serpent in The Garden of Eden. “Arba meisu b’etyo shel nachash.” These were Binyamin, Amram the father of Moshe, Yishai the father of David, and Kil’av a son of David. If we were to intentionally search for four obscure tzadikim in Tanach, we might come up with a similar list. We know very little about any of these people: this one had a famous father, and the other had a famous son, and Binyamin is, perhaps, the brother whose personal decisions and behavior we know least about. Usually, he is mentioned as the subject of the actions of others, or for having not done something, rather than what he actually did. Why is it that we know so little about these people? If they were such spectacularly great men, would we not know more about them?

Perhaps the answer is that Odom ein tzadik bo’oretz asher ya’aseh tov velo yechta– if a person lives isolated and insulated from the world, and never faces severe challenge, he may be a perfect tzadik, but he will not be a world changer. To grow, to be an 'oseh tov,' you need nisayon, challenges that take you to the edge of what you think you are capable of withstanding. The days of Mashi’ach are called “yomim she’ein bohem cheifetz,” because they will be quiet times of communing with Hashem, unchallenged by physical and spiritual enemies of our faith. The figures we know of in Tanach, the individuals who left an indelible mark on us, are the ones who had to fight and strive and overcome.

The Seleucids wanted to impose their anti-Jewish philosophy on the Jews, and the milchama, the decision whether to fight for what you believe, to find out whether you actually believe it, was a tremendous stimulus for growth. Of course, if we had lost the war, the tragedy would have outweighed the spiritual bravery encouraged by the battle. But since there was a teshu’a, we give thanks for not only the tehu’ah, but we thank Hashem even for the Milchama. This idea is also expressed in Tehillim 23:4, Mizmor Ledovid, where it says “shivtecho umish’antecho heimo yenachamuni. We thank Hashem both for His staff, the challenges and confrontations He puts in our way, and also for His support and assistance.

(From the drasha I said at my Daf Yomi's Chanukah party, upon receiving a Tzofnas Pa'anei'ach ahl Hatorah. Thank you!)

I just saw the the Ponovezher Rov asks the question, brought, I think, in one of the likut sefarim on Chanuka.  He answered that the war with the Yevanim and the Misyavnim never ended, and it has been a long and bitter war.  It is almost beyond human endurance to continue fighting.  We thank the Ribono shel Olam for giving us the strength and courage to continue the battle.


  1. My Rebbe was masbir ע"פ the Sifsei Chaim that the point of Chanukah is the "Rest" that after the war everyone was able to back to their normal Torah lifestyle. The war was the היכא תמצא to acheive that status quo, but the real thanks is more like "now that we took care of those יוונים we can go back to our learning, i.e. rest." See my post here..

    Fraylichin Chanukah.

  2. Amram being the father of Moshe and the leader of klal yisroel in mitzrayim was hardly an obscure figure.However although he did no averos he did make a 'wrong chesbon' by not having children till Miriam corrected him.(2)Shaul H'Melech never did an avero till he became king at age 52.Since all averos he did had to do with the melucho I'm assuming(a) your vort is valid(b) had he not become king he would been the 5th obscure person in tanach (he is mentioned before he became king)to die b'atoy shel nochosh.