The gemarra (Shabbes 21b) notes that ‘they made these 8 days a festival with halel and hoda’ah (lit. giving thanks),’ referring to Chanuka. Thus, Chanuka has been coupled with the trait of hoda’ah. Rashi there comments that hoda’ah refers to the al hanissim prayer which we insert into our benching and shmonah esrei within the brachos of hoda’ah (nodeh lecha and modim respectively.) In fact, hoda’ah is central to our lives; the first word we say in the morning is modeh (perhaps after ‘what time is it?!’), and we are known as yehudim; from the root hoda’ah. Thus, firstly, what exactly is the trait of hoda’ah? And secondly, why is it most connected to Chanuka? The following are just suggestions, so feel free to

take them or leave them. The main thing is the questions; so please let me know any answers (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) Anyway, here is a suggested answer… The Vilna Gaon comments that in order to understand any concept, one should look at the first time that word/concept appears in the Torah (for that is the equivalent at looking at the concept’s genes). So where does hoda’ah first appear in the Torah? Well, thankfully we do not have to search from the beginning of the Torah onwards, for the gemarra tells us the answer. The gemarra (brachos 7b) reports that Rav Shimon Bar Yochai taught that the first person to give what we call ‘hoda’ah’ to HaShem was Leah, when she said (Bereishis 29;35) upon giving birth to her 4th son Yehudah ‘this time I thank (odeh) HaShem.’ Rashi explains why this time; since Leah saw in ruach hakodesh that Yaakov’s four wives would give birth to a total of 12 tribes. Naturally, she assumed that each would give birth to three children. Once she had a fourth child, she saw that she had got more than she ought to have been given, and thanked HaShem. Putting all this together, hoda’ah is therefore the recognition that once got more than they seemingly deserved/thought they were entitled to. One can thus start to see why hoda’ah is so central to our Jewish lives. Firstly, it is a basic recognition of ‘thanks’ and realisation of the Source of things; in reflection of this, modeh means both ‘thanks’ and ‘admission,’ for when one thanks another, they are admitting that the other gave them something/did something for them. And at a greater level, hoda’ah is an admission that everything ultimately comes from HaShem, and so He can remove or withhold anything from us; more or less everything could be seen as more than expected and thus deserving of hoda’ah (see the bracha of asher yatzar for examples). But we are still left with our second question; why is hoda’ah most pertinent to Chanuka of all times; didn’t HaShem give us more on Pesach when he brought us out from slavery, or on Shavuos when the Torah was to be given? The trail begins with the Chofetz Chaim in his mishna berurah (670;6). He explains that the reason why there is no festive meal on Chanuka, unlike Purim, is that since the battle on Purim was for our physical survival (Hamman wanted to kill us all), we celebrate via more physical things eg seudah. In Chanuka, however, the Greeks did not want to kill us; they waged war against our spiritual observance, and so no seduah is stipulated. Rather, the days of Chanuka were fixed for halel and hoda’ah since He brought this spiritual victory. However, this itself perhaps needs a fuller explanation; if the point is that on Chanuka our victory was a spiritual lift, not a physical saviour, then why isn’t Pesach the festival of hoda’ah; on Pesach HaShem lifted us from the penultimate level of tumah to being on the way to receiving the Torah (a much greater spiritual jump than Chanuka) via unmatched open revelations and miracles. Wouldn’t Pesach be more appropriate for to stress hoda’ah? To answer this, let’s be very Jewish and ask another question. On Purim, we were threatened with physical annihilation and our response was to fast and pray; not to wage war. On Chanuka, when the threat was a spiritual one, we rose up and took arms to fight the Greeks. Why does there seem to be this dichotomy? The answer here is the dictum hakol biydei shamayim chutz miyiras shamayim. (lit. everything is in HaShem’s Hands apart from your fear of Heaven) This means that whilst one’s physical possessions, incomes, occurrences etc are planned from HaShem, one’s spiritual work is not planned/controlled by HaShem (at least in the same way.) in order to facilitate freewill. Consequently, when the threat on Chanuka was a spiritual one, we had to take matters into our own hands, and we fought. On Purim, however, when the threat was a physical one, we handed it over to HaShem via davening and fasting (R Tatz.) And Pesach is the same as Purim in that the Egyptians’ main attack against us was physical (/economic); spiritual demise was a consequence. Now, in having to get up and fight in Chanuka (for it was a spiritual attack against us), there lies a potential pitfall. One might have thought that since we got up and fought, then the victory was all down to us. After all, it was a war ranging many years with casualties; we won and got what we deserved. Thus, chazal fixed this festival as one of hoda’ah to teach us that even when it might seem that we got what we deserved because of us, it was HaShem who brought our victory and we did get much more than one would expect to deserve. This would also explain why Rashi says that Chanuka’s reflection of hoda’ah is the al hanissim prayer; for this talks predominantly about the miracle of the victory in battle as opposed to the miracle of the oil. And according to what we have said, the hoda’ah was mainly fixed for the war miracle; the miracle of the oil lasting was openly supernatural. [There is hoda’ah for that too; see Rambam chanuka 4;12.] In other words, Chanuka teaches us that hoda’ah is not only for the big open miracles, but for achievements that one might think were due to themselves too. This is taught by Rochel Imeinu too; her hoda’ah for giving birth to Yosef, her first child, was that ‘now if I break a pot at home, I can blame it on my child’ (Rashi bereishis 30;23). Is this really all she was grateful for; after having no children for so long, this is all there is to be grateful about?

The answer is that Rochel was even grateful for this small thing; and of course everything else too. Again, the point is that hoda’ah embraces all parts of life. Perhaps this is something to think about when, in aleinu 3 times a day, we say that, we are mishtachavim and modim to HaShem. Or noticing to say thank you to the many people who do us favours without our even realising (eg people who set up kiddish, baal koreh, security guard, school/shul board,etc]

So thanks for reading, and have a great Chanuka,

 

 

 

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