On Chanukah, we recite the prayer of “Al HaNissim”, wherein we say that after the Maccabees defeated the Greeks, they purified the Bais HaMikdash and lit the Menorah in the courtyard of the Bais HaMikdash. But why was the Menorah lit in the courtyard if its usual location was inside the Bais HaMikdash?
To better understand this, we can reflect on current events. When the Chofetz Chaim Zt”l wrote about the telephone, which was invented in his time, he determined that the invention resulted from a low level of faith was reached in his generation, where people ceased to understand how prayers could be heard in Heaven. Consequently, Heaven demonstrated how words could be heard far away. The same can be said of all the latest technology. These are all Heavenly gifts meant to teach us spiritual lessons and to strengthen our faith in Divine Providence.
Technology continues to advance at an increasingly rapid pace, revealing possibilities that have existed but remained hidden in nature since creation. Today, a person can whisper into a small device in his hand and instantly be heard anywhere on the globe, even in outer space beyond the moon. The voices of billions are broadcast by wireless waves that do not mingle with one another. Computers and countless machines with voice-recognition software can “understand” the difference between various words and perform assorted tasks to the point where the correct “code” can even send a rocket to the Moon. Military drones can operate via verbal codes without human hands touching them during their operation to the point where entire wars can be fought with speech.
These are entirely messages from Heaven. This generation is so feeble with lack of faith in the words of the Torah and the teachings of our Sages that the power of speech must be explained with these “revelations”. Most people do not what they cannot see, and they become engaged in the secular culture that teaches that words are meaningless since they have no physical material. This causes people to ignore their obligations to recite words of Torah and prayer, and to violate and show disrespect for Shuls, which results in speaking forbidden words in general.
So technology comes to teach us how powerful our words are. This can give us greater faith and bring us to understand what the Torah teaches us about the power of speech. Today we can truly comprehend that even if we cannot see the words we speak, that words have an effect long after they are spoken. They remain in the atmosphere and have an actual physical effect on the entire world. Words can build and words can destroy. This is only a small percent of the tremendous revelation of spiritual power that all will see when Moshiach arrives and the entire world will be filled with knowledge of Hashem.
Faithful Jews like ourselves already know the spiritual power of speech. Just like anyone who produces a new device also provides an operator’s manual, so too the Creator of the World, Who knows all the secrets of the Creation He made, gave us His Owner’s Manual, His Holy Torah, to teach us how to properly use the world He made for our own benefit. There are many positive and negative Mitzvos connected to speech, and following the Torah makes the world work in the best way, as the Torah writes: “if you walk in My laws… I will give your rains in the proper times.”
A fundamental concept in how speech influences the world is explained to us in the words of our Sages, especially in the Holy Zohar, which discusses this at length in many places. When Hashem created the world, He did so in a way so we would not be embarrassed when we receive good from Him. The existence of the world is solely dependent on the power of holiness, which generates from Heaven. Hashem sends Jewish Souls, which are a “piece of God from Above,” to the world, where one of our main purposes is to learn and pray, and to sing to Hashem in honor of His Kingdom. The spiritual power of every holy word we recite comes from the soul and is immediately attached to its source in the Higher World. This connection brings the power of Holiness down into this world to give life to all of Creation. This is like a wire transferring electricity from its main source into an electrical device. Through this merit, someone who speaks holy words receives a reward in this world and in the world to come.
On the other hand, Hashem also created forces of impurity, which spread through speaking forbidden words, thus polluting the atmosphere. Nowadays, there is unfortunately no longer any shame connected to speaking even the most vulgar words publicly. This causes evil thoughts to increase in the world, including thoughts of violence and murder, which may result in wars and destruction to the world.
The solution to this problem is to bring more words of Torah and prayer into the world to combat the words of impurity, particularly to study Torah and to pray in Shuls. The pure innocent children studying in Yeshivos and Jewish schools bring holiness with every word and purify the atmosphere immensely. Just as a little bit of light chases away a lot of darkness, so too a little bit of Torah and prayer bring great peace to the entire world.
The Ancient Greeks were dedicated to spreading the teachings of natural sciences across the world in their time. Because they could not measure the power of speech through the scientific method, they sought to uproot the Jewish belief in the supernatural power of words of Torah and prayer. They defiled the Bais HaMikdash where the Levi’im sang to Hashem, and they closed the shuls and Yeshivos. However, the Maccabees defeated them because of their tremendous faith in the power of Holy Speech that brings life to all of Creation. They continued to study and pray while hidden away in caves or other hiding places. Through this, they conquered the power of the impurity of the Greeks, and the wanton sinners were placed into the hands of the students of Torah.
Having this explained, it is simple to understand why the Maccabees celebrated their military victory by lighting the Menorah and reciting the words of Praise and Thanksgiving to Hashem specifically in the Courtyard of the Beis HaMikdash rather than inside. They wanted to demonstrate that holy words do not stay only inside the Bais HaMikdash, but have influence and illuminate the entire Creation, even outside and beyond. In the merit of this faith, they defeated the Greeks.
This is also the reason why it is customary to light the menorah either by the door or at the window. This is to demonstrate that holy words do not remain inside at the location they were said. I heard that when the Rebbe Rayatz of Lubavitch zt”l came to America, he asked that the windows of his shul be open during Torah learning and prayer, to demonstrate that the words go out and purify the atmosphere.
Therefore, in this Holy season, we need to contemplate the importance of the words we speak. This is the only way we can defeat our foes both materially and spiritually, as the Haftarah for Chanukah says, “Not by strength and not by power, but by My Spirit, says Hashem.” The new weapons of war that were recently invented, which operate wholly by speech, are only effective for learning lessons of the tremendous power of speech. For this reason, everyone is obligated to strengthen oneself in understanding these matters, especially when it comes to prayer. We cannot allow the Yetzer Hara to influence us to come to shul late and to leave early. Rather, we must daven properly from beginning to end, without interruption, and answer “Amen, Yehei Shmei Rabbah,” which is the cord that brings abundant blessings to the one who says the words, and to the entire world.
May we all share a happy and spiritual Chanukah.
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