Chanukah: To Thank and Praise

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By Rabbi Naftoly Bier

Both in the added prayer in שמונה עשרה, the Amidah and ברכת המזון, Grace after Meals, of על הנסים, where we recount the miracles of the Chanukah story; we articulate our obligation להודות ולהלל, to thank and to praise. We also mention this phrase in על הנסים, when we light the menorah. Simply, הודאה means to thank while הלל is to praise. What’s the difference?

  1. הודאה, to thank, is for one to recognize that they have benefitted, or to clearly perceive what has transpired.
  2. הלל, to praise, is to take the time and effort to evaluate and comprehend every nuance of what has transpired.

How much effort, thought, deliberation, dedication, caring, love, selflessness, magnanimity, and financial costs were required to actualize one’s actions towards another.

Another idea:

  1. הודאה; to with clarity, unequivocally discern that one has been the beneficiary of Hashem’s benevolence, of His caring, loving devotion and commitment.
  2. הלל; in turn to make oneself subservient to one’s Creator – for its logical and imperative to respond in kind to His singular, steadfast constancy. This is the true definition of הלל; that we with passionate fervor recite on the ימים טובים, holidays and Chanukah, “הללו עבדי ה’, Let us praise, we the subjects of Hashem.”

Why is it that only on these aforementioned days do we say הלל? In fact, the Talmud teaches us that we are not allowed to say it on other days of the year for it is “inconceivable” for us to honestly mean what we are declaring! (שבת קיח: ורש”י שם)

The days of saying Hallel, truly praising Hashem, are junctures of time when we focus on the meaning of those days, both their historical perspectives and the eternal, spiritual metaphysical dynamic that suffuses and invigorates us. This in turn raises one’s awareness of Hashem’s unabated, singular love and caring of Klal Yisroel. When one truly, with certainty and conviction, inculcates oneself with this reflection, one can praise Hashem with full vigor and meaning.

The ultimate manner of “praising Hashem” is to develop oneself into a “צלם אלוקים”, a person who emulates Hashem’s ways, in turn bringing “נחת” to Him, for all will say, “This person reflects the Creator” – This is a meaning of “Praise you servants of Hashem, praise the name of Hashem.” (Psalm 113)

The Rambam, הלכות יסודי תורה, Laws of the Fundamentals of Torah, chapter 2:12, states: “It is a mitzvah to love and fear this glorious and awesome G-d, as (Deuteronomy 6:5) states: “And you shall love G-d, your Lord” and as (Deuteronomy 6:13) states: “Fear G-d, your Lord.”

“What is the path [to attain] love and fear of Him? When a person contemplates His wondrous and great deeds and creations and appreciates His infinite wisdom that surpasses all comparison, he will immediately love, praise, and glorify [Him], yearning with tremendous desire to know G-d’s great name, as David stated: “My soul thirsts for the Lord, for the living G-d.” (Psalms 42:3) When he [continues] to reflect on these same matters, he will immediately recoil in awe and fear, appreciating how he is a tiny, lowly, and dark creature, standing with his flimsy, limited wisdom before He who is of perfect knowledge, as David stated: “When I see Your heavens, the work of Your fingers… [I wonder] what is man that You should recall Him.” (Psalms 8:4-5)”

Constant observance of His benefactions is the key to dedicate oneself to follow His will.

When one constantly “stands in awe” of Hashem’s supervision of His world one logically concludes that even if an action that one is required to do, will cause excessive stress to oneself and others, one has to do it.

The Torah states: (12:9) “And Yosef remembered the dreams which he dreamed and he said to them (his brothers) you are spies.” For twenty years he was in Egypt. Why didn’t he send a letter to his dearest father to inform him that he is still alive? The Ramban answers that due to his understanding that the dreams were a message from Hashem, it had to become a reality, precluding him from relieving his father from constant sorrow. Rav Shlomo Wolbe explains this is what is meant by “דרך ארץ קדמה לתורה,” what is logical and intuitive precedes all of Torah. One is responsible to act accordingly, if I have an obligation there is no other path of behavior.

The book of Genesis, ספר בראשית is called ספר הישר, the book of proper behavior. (שמואל ב:א-י”ח)

Yosef HaTzaddik dealt with sensitivity and honesty. He didn’t “charge his brothers for the food,” he invited them for a sumptuous meal, honoring them with respect. At the same time he wouldn’t reveal himself due to his clarity of his responsibility.

When the חשמונים decided to wage battle, they could have said it’s impossible to be victorious. When it came to light the menorah, once again, they only had oil for one day. Nevertheless, they taught that inadequacy is never an answer. If this is what has to happen, then do it; for Hashem will enable its actualization. Even if not, one must still follow the logic that this is the only path possible.


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