From the upcoming MeOros Kedushas Levi on Moadim
Using The Light of the Channukah Candles
To explain with the aid of heaven the statement of our sages (Shabbos 21b) regarding the dispute about the Channukah candle, one opinion is that it is permitted to use its light and one opinion is that it is forbidden to use its light.
To explain this by way of a parable: There was a great king who visited the home of a pauper, naturally when a great king visits we see his honor and grandeur and wealth. Even the pauper is gladden and rejoices at seeing this display of the king's wealth and grandeur since he has never seen such a thing before him in his life. However if the pauper is wise then he does not rejoice over the king's wealth, realizing that to the king, this display of wealth is but a mere pittance compared to all the wealth he actually has, rather he rejoices at the opportunity to host the king as a guest in his abode.
So is our case, when the Creator does miracles for people, there are those who rejoice at the favor itself and for the actual miraculous act itself that was done, just like the pauper he rejoices at seeing the king's display of his wealth and grandeur, so does he rejoice at Hashem's loving kindness for doing him a favor. Then there are those who do not rejoice over the miracles, knowing that the Holy One created all of the worlds and has the power to do anything, but rather he rejoices over the miracles because through them it is demonstrated that Hashem clothes Himself in man by doing miracles for him, and this causes him to rejoice, since such a great and grand King dwells within him, clothing Himself in man, so to speak.
This is the meaning behind the aforementioned dispute, "One says it is permitted to use its light," this corresponds to he who rejoices over the fact that Hashem does miracles. He rejoices a joy connected to this world, being thankful for Hashem's favors, since this world exists for pleasure and benefit therefore his opinion is that it is permitted to use the light of the Channukah candle [which we light to commemorate the miracles]. "One says it is forbidden to use its light," this opinion corresponds to the one who rejoices in Hashem Himself, at his merit to have Hashem clothe His light in man, and he does not think of himself or any favors that he received, and since he is not thinking of himself or about this world at all rather he is thinking about the world above this one [the spiritual world], and there in that place there is no pleasure since "no eye has seen G-d," (Yeshaya 64:3) and therefore he is of the opinion that "it is forbidden to use or benefit from its light," (since the Channukah candle symbolizes the miracle and he does not derive pleasure or joy from the miracle but from Hashem's presence, he forbids use of the light for mundane things related to this world, since its light is set aside for a mitzvah , for a spiritual purpose and not for mundane use, just as he rejoices in a spiritual sense rather than a mundane one. Whereas the other opinion rejoices in the physical benefit derived from Hashem's miracles, therefore he permits using the Channukah light used to commemorate the miracle even for physical mundane activites.)
The Channukah War – Our Miracles
During Shemone Esrei we recite (in Birkas Modim) "regarding Your miracles which are with us daily."
It says "with us" specifically, this means that what we do causes Hashem to do miracles for us. As opposed to the next statement "and regarding Your wonders and favors which are with us all the time, evening, morning and afternoon," where the words "for us" are absent and missing from this statement because here we are not the cause, rather Hashem sends His abundant kindness so to speak with no need for an awakening from us here below.
I shall explain this to you with the help of heaven, the miracles during the Exodus from Egypt were done by Hashem due to His great kindness with no awakening from us down here below. However that is not the case regarding the miracles on Channukah which were somewhat caused through our actions as well, since Chashmonai and his sons fought the soldiers of Antiochus the wicked may his name be blotted out and erased from memory.
This is the reason why on Channukah we have the custom after lighting the candles to recite "VaYehi Noam," since that verse (Tehillim 90:17) says "and the work of our hands is due to us," which hints at the miracle of Channukah which is somewhat considered our handiwork due to the battles fought, nonetheless the verse concludes saying that Hashem "is the action of our hands," since the Holy One is the reason that our handiwork succeeded altogether that we emerged victorious and won the war.
Why is the Miracle of Channukah Distinct?
I asked the following question in my sefer Kedushas Levi1 which I authored: (Channukah 1st Kedusha; Purim 4th Kedusha #1) Why did our sages enact a commemoration for the miracle of Channukah, yet not for the miraculous victories of Gideon and Chizkiah?
A possible answer is that the downfall of Sancherib and Sisera both occurred during the time of Pesach as is mentioned in the Aggadah literature and the Midrashim (Shemos Rabbah 18:5; Poetic Liturgy Az rov Nissim – recited at the conclusion of the seder from the Hagadah Shel Pesach and in some communities on YomTov during the Amidah) [and therefore no additional commemoration is needed since there is already a festival in place to thank Hashem].
However is this is true, [that no additional commemoration is needed since Pesach suffices] why did the sages enact Purim as a commemoration to the downfall of Haman since he too was hung on Pesach as well?! (Megillah 16a; Esther Rabbah 8:7)
The answer is explained by the statement of our rabbis in the Gemarra Megillah (7a) "Esther sent a message to the sages asking them to establish her plight as a holiday for generations." Our sages surely would have established a commemoration eeven without her request in order to praise and thank Hashem. However the sage's reasoning was that since Haman was hung on Pesach, why establish a separate and distinct commemoration for this miracle? During this time we are anyway praising and thanking Hashem for the Exodus from Egypt. Therefore Esther asked them, "establish my plight as a holiday for all generations," and commemorate the month on which they drew lots, "the very same month which was transformed from anguish to joy," (Esther 9:22) and since the primary miracle of Haman's hanging was on the festival of Pesach, therefore she needed to ask the sages to establish her plight as separate and distinct holiday for all generations to come.
(See also KL Derushim on Purim sv Zehu Shebiksha this is why Esther asked to be established for all generations to come, where the KL explains that her request was that she not be simply included on Pesach [translator's note "as we in fact do with the custom to eat saplings on Purim to commemorate Chagai, Zecharia and Malachi's miracle, and to eat dairy on Channukah to remember Yehudis, both these miracles are included in another holiday and have no distinct holiday commemoration of their own."] And this is the meaning of the verse "the very same month which was transformed from anguish to joy," (Esther 9:22) Use this month to commemorate the miracle and do not include it in Pesach.)
The original first printing of the Kedushas Levi printed by rav Levi Yitzchak himself was a collections of teachings and discourses on Channukah and Purim divided into chapters which Rav Levi Yitzchak named Kedushos – sanctities, describing the different levels and dimensions of sanctity for each of these miraculous holidays. The Kedushas Levi on the Torah and his discourses on the other festivals and holidays were printed later posthumously by his sons under the same title Kedushas Levi. Thus when the Berditchever refers in his writings to Kedushas Levi, he is referring exclusively to the work on Channukah and Purim.
How Many Candles Do We Light Above and Below?
On Channukah we light thirty six candles, and "through the actions of those down here below we awaken an action on high in response" (Zohar I 77b) and correspondingly on high there are lit also thirty six candles. If we add the thirty six physical candles to the thirty six spiritual lights which are lit on high we have a total of seventy two candles, which corresponds to the Divine name whose gematria is seventy two, Blessed is He.
(The Zohar teaches that the four letter Divine name Y"H"V"H known as the tetragrammaton can be written in one of four ways by spelling each letter out: Yud is written as Yud Vav Dalet, Hay can be filled with either Alef, Yud or Hay and spelled as Hay,Yud, Hay,Alef or HayHay. The same with vav. So that when the four letter Divine name is filled and spelled with Yuds its gematria is equal to seventy two. Yud is spelled: Yud Vav Dalet = 10&6&4 = 20. HayYud = 10&5=15, VavYudVav=6&10&6=22 , HayYud = 10&5=15, together they equal 72 which is the gematria of chessed – loving kindness. Ches=8, Samech=60, Dalet=4, together = 72.)
If we add the shamash, from each night [the additional candle used to light the others] then we have a total of forty four candles which we light on Channukah, and there are another forty four lights on high which correspond to these, so the total between the earthly candles and supernal lights is equal to eighty eight, the gematria of Pa"ch. This hints at the verse (Tehillim 124;7) "The Pach or trap broke and we escaped," the trap or Pach of Antiochus kingdom broke and therefore we light Pach, eighty eight candles above and below.
This is why the Arizal writes (Pri Etz Chaim Shaar Channukah Chap. 4) that the acronym spelled by the initial letters of the verse (tehillim 33:20) "My soul waits yearning for Hashem – Nafshi Chiksa LaShem," spells Nachal which is the gematria of eighty eight or Pach (Nun=50, Ches=8, Lamed=30 = 88) and so is the acronym of the blessing recited over lighting the candles "LeHadlik Ner Channukah," also spells Nachal which is the gematria of eighty eight, study it at length. The acronym of the blessing recited over the Channukah candles is equal to eighty eight alluding to the Pach or eighty eight candles which are lit above and below as we explained.
Channukah Miracles Bound by Time and Performed by Women
The reason why on Channukah and Purim we recite the blessing "who did miracles," and on Pesach a time when a miracle occurred as well we do not recite it. It seems to me that the reason is because the miracle of Channukah and Purim both occurred through a woman (Shabbos 23a; Pesachim 108b).1
It seems to me that sometimes Hashem performs supernatural miracles as He did in Egypt with the ten plagues and by splitting the sea, and sometimes He performs miracles within nature as He did on Channukah when [Yehudis] fed the enemy milk and he slept and she killed him.1 Similarly regarding Esther [the miracle was clothed in nature] since first Achashverosh favored Haman and afterwards Esther (Esther Rabbah Intro 9). We see that these miracles occurred within the bounds of time and nature.
This is the meaning of "He did miracles for our forefathers during those days in this time," this is true regarding Channukah [and Purim] whose miracles occurred within the bounds of time and nature. However the miracle of Pesach was supernatural and above time, therefore we do not recite this blessing since the miracle is supernatural and above the natural order of time.
This is why the miracles occurred through women, since they are the aspect of receivers, and Hashem is the giver and transmitter and the world is the receiver. We have already explained elsewhere that a miracle done within the bounds of nature and time is like a receiver as well and therefore it was performed by a woman who acts as a receiver.2
On Purim it was through Queen Esther . The Ran in his commentary to Shabbos 23a (pg 10a in the pages of the Rif) explains that on Channukah, Yehudis the daughter of Yochanan fed the enemy fermented milk and cheese, and when he was drunk she decapitated him. See also Rema in his gloss to Shulchan Aruch O.C. 670:2.
The Story of Yehudis on Channukah (Shabbos 23a Ran [page 10a]).1
Generally speaking when the tzadikim wish to uplift the sparks they must sometimes transgress Torah prohibitions in order to do so as Gideon did (Temurah 28b-29a) when we relate that seven [our version of the text reads eight] things were permitted that night in regards to the altar the Gideon built (Shoftim 6:25-27).2 And the reason for this is because at that time Bnei Yisroel were worshipping idols and foreign gods and therefore when a tzadik wished to do some righteous act and raise and uplift them to Hashem he needed to act as they had acted in order to be able to break the klippos (the husks and shells of impurity).
Similarly regarding the miracle of Devorah, where Yael the wife of Chever the Kayni occupied Sisera and killed him as it says "he bowed and lay dead," (Shoftim 5:27; Nazir 23b; Hurayos 10b)2. And then at that time they were not worshipping idols, therefore there were no Torah transgressions similar to Eliyahu and Gideon (see Nazir and Hurayos ibid). The only thing they needed was to be redeemed and therefore it says "he bowed and fell dead." And that generation did not carry the sin of idolatry heaven forbid as is said in the Gemarrah (Megillah 14a) " 'And she sat beneath the date palm of Devorah,' (Shoftim 4:5) just as a date palm has only one heart so did the Jews in that generation have only one heart towards their Father in Heaven."
Regarding Channukah there was a redemption and therefore Yehudis fed him cheese, the wicked one desired her, and therefore she did what was needed to bring about the needed redemption.
The story of Yehudis is mentioned in several primary sources among the Rishonim, see for example Rashi and Ran to Shabbos 23a, Tosfos and Meiri to Megillah 4a, who write that the miracle of Channuka was performed through a woman, named Yehudis (some say she was Yochanan Kohen Gadol's daughter) and that she fed the enemy leader milk until he was intoxicated and that she decapitated him. In Jewish Law the miracle is mentioned as well by the Rema on Shulchan Aruch O.C. Siman 670:3 that there is a custom to eat cheese on Channukah to commemorate the story of Yehudis who fed our enemy milk.
The entire story is found in the apocrypha called Maaseh Yehudis. There she is known as Yehudis Bas Beeri, a leader of the Jewish resistance to the Greek King Eliporni who sought to concquer jerusalem with 120,000 men. She tricked the wicked king Eliporni into falling in love with her. He invited her to a feast and when they were alone and he was intoxicated by milk and wine she stole his sword and with two blows decapitated him, she handed his head to her maidservant and then reported her deed to the Jewish resistance. The enemy's morale was crushed at their leaders death and they fled. Thus the Jews were victorious thanks to her courage and cunning.
The story of Gideon's altar was a special command that Hashem gave to Gideon to build an altar from idolatrous components and offer a sacrifice from animals that had been worshipped, set aside seven years, designated and fattened especially to be used for an offering to idolatry. Normally all these involve various prohibitions which the following Gemarra in Temurah enumerates, however, in Gideon's case Hashem directly commanded him to do this. Our text of the Gemarra in Temurah 28b-29a reads [this explanation and translation follows the commentary of Rashi and Rabbeinu Gershom] : "R. Abba Bar Kahana said eight things where permitted on that night (when Gideon offered sacrifices on that altar), [that are normally forbidden, and they are:] 1. That the offerings slaughtered outside the temple courtyard, 2. The offerings were offered at night, 3. That Gideon was a non Kohen, 4. That he did not use special vessels for the offerings. 5. That the vessels used had been used in serving the idol of the Asheira Tree, 6. That the Asheira itself was cut down and its wood used for the pyre, 7. That the offering itself was set aside for idolatry and 8. That it had been worshipped as an idol."
Yael is praised for her self sacrifice in allowing the wicked Sisera to be with her in order to kill him and save the Jewish army and the entire nation thereby. The topic discussed in Nazir 23b and Hurayos 10b is that of Aveira LiShma – "R. Nachman Bar Yitzchak taught, Great is a transgression done LiShma – with pure and sincere motivations," is a difficult one. At best we should take note that all the examples quoted by the gemarra are of great tzadikim and tzadkaniyos and that we are not on their level and cannot ever try to imitate them, therefore while they may have needed to sin or transgress the Torah's laws and prohibitions, it was done to save the entire Jewish people.