SALT - Wednesday, 27 Kislev 5779 - December 5, 2018

  • Rav David Silverberg
            In the Al Ha-nissim section which we add to the text of Shemona Esrei and birkat ha-mazon during Chanukah, we thank and give praise to God for granting the Chashmonaim a miraculous victory over the Selucid Greeks, and we describe how He “delivered the mighty in the hands of the weak, the many in the hands of the few, the impure in the hands of the pure, the wicked in the hands of the righteous, and plotters of evil in the hands of those engrossed in Your Torah.”
            Already the Beit Yosef (O.C. 682) noted that the final clause in this passage – “plotters of evil in the hands of those engrossed in Your Torah” – does not appear to fit the pattern that otherwise runs throughout this segment.  Until this final clause, we list pairs of direct opposites: powerful/weak, many/few, impure/pure, and evil/righteous.  In this final clause, however, we speak of “zeidim” – those who intentionally sow evil – being defeated by “oskei Toratekha” – those who engage in Torah study.  How, the Beit Yosef asks, does the term “zeidim” represent the opposite of “oskei Toratekha,” just as, for example, the term “temei’im” (“the impure”) represents the diametric opposite of “tehorim” (“the pure”)?
            The Beit Yosef offers a cryptic answer, suggesting that this final clause is based upon King David’s proclamation in Sefer Tehillim (119:51), “Zeidim helitzuni ad meod, mi-Toratekha lo natiti.”  King David here professes that although the “zeidim” – evil people – mocked and ridiculed him for his devotion to God’s law, nevertheless, “I did not turn away from Your Torah” – he remained unwaveringly loyal.  The phrase in Al Ha-nissim, “zeidim be-yad oskei Toratekha” is structured based on this verse, with the “zeidim” presented as the adversaries of those committed to Torah.
            Still, however, we might wonder how these two groups – “zeidim” and “oskei Toratekha” – represent polar opposites, like the previously mentioned pairs in Al Ha-nissim.
            The answer, perhaps, is that the term “zeidim,” as implied in this verse in Tehillim, refers specifically to cynics who ridicule the Torah.  As opposed to the more generic term “resha’im,” which is used in reference to generally wicked people, the term “zeidim” appears to refer to those who engage in, as King David describes, “helitzuni ad me’od” – the relentlessly taunting of those who commit themselves to Torah study and observance.  And thus, indeed, the term “zeidim” represents the opposite of “oskei Toratekha.”  Rav Soloveitchik explained that when we recite the berakha each morning on the command “la-asok be-divrei Torah” (“to engage in words of Torah”), this refers to something far more than merely the intellectual exercise of Torah study.  The term “eisek,” the Rav asserted, refers to emotional involvement and passion.  He cited as a prooftext the term “hit’asku” used in reference to the fierce struggle between Yitzchak and the Pelishtim over a well of precious water which Yitzchak’s shepherds discovered during a period of drought (Bereishit 26:20).  This verb denotes intensive engagement, a goal which a person pursues with fierce emotion, passion and fervor.  If so, then indeed, the terms “zeidim” and “oskei Toratekha” are diametric opposites of one another.  The first speaks of those who reject the value and significance of Torah, who find it worthless and consider it a waste of time, whereas the second speaks of those for whom Torah is their passion, their life’s mission, their highest priority.  Passionate engagement is truly the diametric opposite of cynicism and scorn.  And on Chanukah, we celebrate the miraculous triumph of the Chashmonaim’s passion over the cynicism of the Greeks and their Jewish supporters, and we commit ourselves to maintaining our own passionate commitment to Torah learning and observance even when this commitment is subject to the cynical derision of the “zeidim.”