The Chazon Ish zt”l once raised an issue at a simcha (apparently on Chanukah) about the five miracles mentioned in Al Hanissim. It is understood that the victory of the “strong into the hands of the weak and the many into the hands of the few” are, by definition, miraculous phenomena. However, why are the victories of “the impure into the hands of the pure, the wicked into the hands of the righteous, etc.” necessarily miraculous? Surely, some of the pure might be stronger than some of the impure. Perhaps some of the righteous might be mightier than the wicked.
The Ponovezher Rov, who was also present at this event, offered an answer, with which the Chazon Ish apparently concurred. This was no conventional military war. It was a battle of the spirit and, therefore, it could not be won with physical might. Even if by some odd coincidence, tzaddikim had trained for war, obtained powerful weaponry and were prepared to triumph, the war could not have been won in this way, because the conflict was actually being waged on a different plane entirely. Yavan wanted to uproot the Torah from Klal Yisrael, and overcoming that malevolent plan could only be accomplished through strengthening our own kedushah and taharah (quoted by Rav Paltiel Burstein zt”l, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Chochmas Shlomo, in Mishulchan Melachim, Chanukah 2:204; see, also, Rav Chaim Kanievsky in Siach Chanukah UPurim, page 19).
With this insight, we can begin to understand the importance of Shabbos Rosh Chodesh Chanukah. The Sefas Emes (Chanukah 5647, s.v. isa, as elaborated upon in Ohr Gedalyahu, page 30) explains that the goal of the Yevanim was to eradicate the distinction bein Yisroel la’amim. In order to do that, they issued decrees against Rosh Chodesh, Shabbos and bris milah, which each proclaim this divergence. The Torah teaches that even the Jewish body, not just the soul, is holy, and so laws of limitation and abstinence apply in everyday life. The Greeks, on the other hand, contended that just as their various philosophies are merely theoretical, so is the Torah limited to hypothetical discussions and academic conjecture. On the surface, it seemed as if their peripatetic discussions in the Lyceum were identical to the arguments of the chachomim in the bais medrash. Little did they understand, then or now, that our studies define the essence of our lives – ki heim chayeinu ve’orech yameinu – and theirs represent the ephemeral chatter that changes with the passing winds and evolving intellectual fashion.
Rav Gedalya Schorr zt”l goes on to explain that the institution of Rosh Chodesh demonstrates the Jewish dominance over time itself (see the Rogatchover, as elucidated in Mefaneach Tzefunos). Rosh Chodesh is not simply a superficial manifestation of the calendar beginning of a month, but an actual change in the fabric of the universe. This change is created by the bais din that declares Rosh Chodesh and supersedes what appears to be the reality of a scientifically declared new month. The Yevanim sought to deny any power greater than that of the physical universe, which they believed to be supreme, for they believed in olam kadmon, a universe that had always existed, not requiring a divine act of creation (see Kuzari 1:1, Genizi ed., page 13).
Rav Shamshon Rephael Hirsch zt”l (Bamidbar 28:11) points out that the first mitzvah in the Torah is to sanctify the new moon, because the concept of renewal goes to the heart of what it means to be a Jew. Unlike many of the ancients, who believed that man was doomed to his destiny, mired in his evil traits, Judaism teaches that man can always change, always discover hidden recesses of greatness, and always strive and reach higher goals and aspirations. This was anathema to the Greeks, who believed in a steady state universe and a steady state of man. Thus, they had to fight Rosh Chodesh with every weapon and decree they could invent.
Shabbos, too, represented the greatest threat to the collective cherished beliefs of the Greeks. A day when religion denies involvement in the normative processes of the universe, a day that is given to the Jewish people exclusively (Shabbos Shacharis Shemonah Esrei and Sanhedrin 58b), is so offensive to the Greek philosophers that they must legislate decrees against the practices of this holy day.
The Ramchal (Derech Hashem 4:6:2) explains that while Shabbos helps us avoid the worst of the materialistic aspects of the world, it does not remove us entirely from the physical universe. The Sheim MiShmuel (Vayishlach 5671) adds that our neshamah yeseirah, the enhanced Shabbos soul, helps us become elevated to a higher level of kedushah, despite eating and drinking (see Rashi, Beitzah 16b).
The Alter of Kelm (Chochmah Umussar 2:33) actually sees in the gift of Shabbos a repudiation of the philosophers. Despite all their discussions and debates, they are never certain of anything. We, however, through the power of Shabbos being one-sixtieth of Olam Haba (Brachos 57b), gain absolute clarity from each succeeding Shabbos. Therefore, since “there is no joy such as the resolution of doubts, every Shabbos brings more and more joy to a person.”
Rav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler zt”l (Michtav M’Eliyahu 2:13) concludes that Shabbos “comes to free us from the negativity of the purely physical…so that one can arrive at the profound understanding that can only come from tranquility of the soul” (2:295). The Greeks not only opposed all of this, but were threatened by it to the point that they had to ban what they could not begin to fathom.
Now, since we are already in the midst of the special kedushah of Chanukah, let us not forget how this Yom Tov itself is the antithesis of the Greek philosophy. The Greeks believed in the tyranny of the Sevens and did not recognize the primacy of the Eights. The Maharal (Ner Mitzvah) explains that the seven days of creation represent the physical visible world. The Eights represent everything holy, which transcend the bonds of this world. Thus, bris milah on the eighth day represents the triumph of Torah over the bodily desires that can destroy a person.
Furthermore, Rav Tzadok Hakohein of Lublin (Pri Tzaddik, Mikeitz, Number 12) explains that on a Shabbos such as this one, each one of us experiences a three-fold kedushah. On Shabbos, we know that Hashem sanctifies us (Shemos 31:12), and on Rosh Chodesh, the rosh bais din declares the day to be mekudash, so that we gain an added dimension of kedushah (Rosh Hashanah 20a). Chanukah, too, adds its own kedushah, which flows from the primordial First Light. This triple incandescence transmits light into the mundane days of the week, enabling each of us to live with kedushah even in the days beyond Chanukah if we allow ourselves to be uplifted by this amazing Shabbos ahead.
As we know, three constitutes a chazakah, a recurring pattern, which can be presumed as established fact. This Shabbos, by concentrating on accepting and absorbing the triple kedushah that is being offered to us, we can achieve incredibly high levels of ruchniyus, which will, hopefully, help bring us the light of Moshiach Tzidkeinu.