הרב יצחק רפפורט, שליחנו לשעבר בפולין ונורווגיה, שולח לנו חומר עשיר לחנוכה, מה שיכול לעזור לקהילות בכל הרמות. יישר כוחך!
CHANUKAH – the WHAT, the WHY and the HOW
We're approaching one of the most joyous holidays in the Jewish calendar – Chanukah. Chanukah in the Jewish calendar begins on the 25th of Kislev and concludes on the 2nd or 3rd of Tevet (due to the fact that Kislev can have 29 or 30 days). In the Gregorian calendar Chanukah occurs somewhere between the end of November and the end of December.
What is the story with Chanukah?
Known as the Festival of Lights, Chanukah is an eight-day long celebration and commemoration of the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt during the 2nd century BCE. The word 'Chanukah' means dedication. The holiday is observed by the kindling of lights, usually using a special nine-branched candelabrum called 'chanukiyah', one light on each night of the holiday, progressing to eight on the final night. An extra light called a 'shamash' (Hebrew: "guard" or "servant") is also lit each night for the purpose of lighting the others, and is given a distinct location, usually above the other candles.
The source for Chanukah is in the Talmud, in tractate Shabbat folio 21. The Talmud tells us that after the forces of Antiochus IV Epiphanes had been driven from the Temple (in 165 BCE), the Maccabees discovered that almost all of the ritual olive oil had been profaned. They found only a single container that was still sealed by the High Priest, with enough oil to keep the menorah in the Temple lit for a single day. They used this oil and miraculously it burned for eight days, the time it took to have new oil pressed and made ready. An eight day festival was declared by the Jewish sages to commemorate this miracle.
A question arises as to why this specific miracle is celebrated by a holiday while none of the multitudes of biblical miracles are. In truth, the holidays of Chanukah and Purim were both among a series of holidays established during the era of the Second Temple in appreciation of G-d’s saving the Jewish nation from some impending danger and they were all recorded in a book named “Megillat Taanit.” When the Second Temple was destroyed our Sages cancelled all the holidays listed in Megillat Taanit with the exception of Chanukah and Purim. Why were these two singled out? Some Rabbis suggest that Purim and Chanukah were singled because they were the prototypes of all the other holidays. Purim represented the physical saving of the Jewish people while Chanukah represented the spiritual salvation of the Jewish nation.
Another commonly raised question refers to the number of days Chanukah is celebrated – eight. If we're celebrating that a can of oil which could only last for one day lasted for eight days it would be more logical to celebrate Chanukah for seven days – as the first of the eight days wasn't miraculous. Also to this question many answers have been suggested. Among those it's been noted that the number eight has special significance in Jewish theology, as representing transcendence and the Jewish people's special role in human history. Seven is the number of days of creation, that is, of completion of the material cosmos. Eight, being one step beyond seven, represents the Infinite. Hence Shemini Atzeret, the festival celebrated for only one day right after Sukkot, is according to Jewish tradition a festival for Jews only, unlike Sukkot when all peoples were welcome in Jerusalem. Similarly, the rite of brit mila (circumcision), which brings a Jewish male into G-d's Covenant, is performed on the eighth day. Hence one may see Chanukah's eight days as a celebration of monotheistic morality's victory over Hellenism.
In terms of the practical fulfilling of the mitzva of lighting Chanukah candles the Talmud presents us with three options as to how this should be performed:
The law requires only one light each night per household.
A better practice (mehadrin) is to light one light each night for each member of the household.
The most preferred practice (mehadrin min ha-mehadrin) is to vary the number of lights each night from one to eight.
As the purpose of the candles is to publicize the miracle (see Rashi) the lights are to be placed outside one's door or in the window closest to the street. The great Ashkenazi halachic authority Rema (Rabbi Moshe Isserles; Krakow 1520-1572) wrote that due to the dangerous times the Jews lived in, the candles should be placed on a table inside the house and not next to the window. It seems that most Ashkenazi Jews have reverted to the original custom of placing the candles (at least) on the windowsill, although there is also a fair number who still keep to the words of the Rema despite the fact that the reason for what the Rema wrote – danger – seemingly no longer applies.
The candles are placed from right to left but lit from left to right, so that one firstly lights the 'newest' candles – i.e. the candle of that particular day. This practice is understandable in light of the fact that the original halachic requirement was to light only one candle per night and household. On the question of whether to light one chanukiyah (Chanukah candelabrum) per household or one chanukiyah per member of the household, traditions differ between Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews. It's interesting to note that there has been a crossover in the tradition from medieval times to the times after the Spanish inquisition. Among the medieval Talmudic commentators we see that the Sephardi ones hold the opinion that one must light one chanukiyah per member of the household, while the Ashkenazi ones hold the opposite. Later on, however, we see that the later Ashkenazi rabbis sided with the Sephardi Talmudic commentators and vice versa, leading to the currently most common tradition, where Sephardim light one chanukiyah for the whole household and Ashkenazim light one chanukiyah per member of the household.
It's been suggested that this difference on the practical level is an outcome of a deeper, theological difference of opinion and of interpretation (this idea comes from Rabbi Zevin's 'Moadim Be-Halacha'). When the original obligation was established – to light one candle per household – what did it achieve? Rabbi Zevin suggests that it symbolized fire which symbolizes strength. Walking down the street in a Jewish town one would see a light burning in every window and one would feel the sense of strength and unity. But times were bad for the Jewish people, especially in terms of Jews assimilating to Hellenism. Hence, when walking down the street in that Jewish town one might have been struck not by the light of the many candles but by the lack of light. That, in turn, would be depressing and hardly a sign of strength. The Rabbis therefore, Rabbi Zevin postulates, increased the commandment of Chanukah candles, demanding one candle for every member of the household. As religious Jews presumably had more children than Hellenized Jews this still provided a feeling of strength – walking down the street and seeing dozens of candles, albeit not in so many windows. Lighting a candle for each member of the household even more underscored the symbolism of strength. But assimilation got even worse and at some point the Rabbis realized that stressing the strength factor of the Chanukah lights was too excluding and that they wouldn't beat assimilation by stressing Jewish military victory. What they had to do instead was to try bringing non-observant Jews back to the Torah. Lighting a Chanukah candelabrum – a chanukiyah – stresses the relatively 'small' miracle of a can of oil lasting for eight days instead of one, and the aspect of military victory is diminished. A candelabrum also does not make one think of fire but rather of light – and light is a unifying force. The question is, however, how far did they go in their change? If one lights only one chanukiyah per household then clearly the aspect of fire and strength disappears altogether. A candelabrum will always symbolize light and not fire. If one, however, lights one chanukiyah per member of the household then, although the aspect of light is more underscored than that of fire, the fire aspect is still, slightly, there to see. Did the Rabbis wish to completely eradicate the aspect of fire and strength from the Chanukah commandment or did they merely wish to make the aspect of light and hope more visible? We cannot be sure and the Talmudic commentators differ.
The Rema, who advocated to light one chanukiyah per member of the household nevertheless stressed that the candles must be enough apart in order for it to be clearly recognizable that one is lighting the first, second, third, etc. Chanukah candle – and not just a jumble of lots of candles standing together. This concern was due to the fact that Jews, during the Rema's lifetime, mostly didn't have proper chanukiyot but rather simply lit the amount of candles of their household times the day of Chanukah (i.e. in a family of four – 1st day four candles, 2nd day eight candles, 3rd day twelve candles, etc.). It was then a concern that one – in order to perform the mehadrin min ha-mehadrin level of the mitzva – should group the candles in separate groups so that they indicate which day of Chanukah it was. Today when pretty much everybody owns their own chanukiyah and where the structure of the chanukiyah in itself shows which day one is at – the concern is no longer very relevant.
Hanukkah lights should burn for at least one half hour after it gets dark. The custom of the Vilna Gaon, observed by many residents of Jerusalem as the custom of the city, is to light at sundown, although most Chassidim light later, even in Jerusalem. Many Chassidic Rebbes light much later, because they fulfill the obligation of publicizing the miracle by the presence of their Chassidim when they kindle the lights. Inexpensive small wax candles sold for Chanukah burn for approximately half an hour, so on most days this requirement can be met by lighting the candles when it is dark outside. Friday night presents a problem, however. Since candles may not be lit on the Shabbat itself, the candles must be lit before sunset. However, they must remain lit until the regular time—thirty minutes after nightfall—and inexpensive Chanukah candles do not burn long enough to meet the requirement. A simple solution is to use other, longer candles, or the traditional oil lamps. In keeping with the above-stated prohibition, the chanukiyah candelabrum is lit first, followed by the Shabbat candles which signify its onset.
A DEEPER PERSPECTIVE ON CHANUKAH – Its Name and Meaning
The Kedushat Levi, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdyczów, draws our attention to the word 'Chanukah' and to its possible meanings. 'Chanukah' in essence means 'inauguration' but the commentators saw in it a hidden acronym: 'chanu k”h' – they rested on the 25th (of Kislev) – חנו כ”ה – חנוכה. In the case that Chanukah is to be understood as 'they rested of the 25th, asks Rabbi Levi Yitzchak, why is there such a assymetry between the name of Chanukah and the name of Purim? If Chanukah is called Chanukah because it happened on the 25th – then why isn't Purim called 'chanu-yud-daled' – חנו י”ד – 'they rested on the 14th (of Adar) – as that's when Purim happened?
Firstly Rabbi Levi Yitzchak explains to us the esoteric concept of specific days that are holy. Until the Maccabbees the days of the 25th Kislev to the 2nd or 3rd of Tevet were just normal days. But from the time of their reconquering and reinauguration of the Temple these days received a special spiritual aspect connected only to them and for the rest of all time. (This may also answer the question we asked in the article above – why the Sages cancelled all the quasi-holidays enumerated in Megilat Taanit except for Chanukah and Purim. If Chanukah and Purim forever have this special spiritual aspect, then obvously the Sages wouldn't cancel these holidays.) This spiritual concept is even hinted to in the holiday addition to the regular prayer, when we thank Hashem for all the wonders that he did for our forefathers 'ba-yamim ha-hem ba-zman ha-ze' – literally meaining: 'in those days (and) in this time'. 'Those days' – yes; but not only then – also 'bazman haze' – in this (present) time.
Secondly the Rebbe tells us that miracles (supernatural phenomena) are G-d's way of showing us that the world is indeed His creation and that it is completely and totally in His hands. A supernatural phenomenon – such as that of oil burning for eight days when it could only last for one day – happened on Chanukah but not on Purim. Hence Chanukah received the name 'chanu kaf-hey' – 'they rested on the 25th (of Kislev) – meaning that they could rest from their – and our – usual effort of leading a G-d-fearing life without actually „seeing” that G-d controls the universe. There and then they „saw” that this was the case and they could therefore „rest”. This would not be relevant to the Purim story where there was no open supernatural phenomenon, which is why Purim is called Purim and not 'chanu yad' – 'they rested on the 14th (of Adar). In passing the Rebbe notes that this might also be the reason for why we on Purim read the Book of Ester, while we on Chanukah don't read anything.
A DEEPER INSIGHT ON CHANUKAH – the Role of a Kohen & Our Relationship with G-d
The usual military hero in Judaism is King David. The davidic dynasty is meant to be the eternal royal family of the Jewish people and thus when we in the Chanukah story encounter a kohanitic family – the Chashmonaim – leading and winning a battle and later becoming kings – we might find this a bit troublesome. Many things have been written on this issue, among them something very interesting from Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech Shapira of Dinov (1785-1841), a chassidic master who was a pupil of the extraordinary Choze (Seer) of Lublin. Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech was told by his master that he was actually a descendant of the tribe of Yissachar, which led him to name one of his books 'Bnei Yissachar' – the sons of Yissachar. In this book the Rebbe touches upon the issue of the Chanukah victory coming through the initiative of Mattityahu Kohen Gadol (High Priest). Why specifically through the High Priest? Here the Rebbe turns to kabbalistic sources which tell us, among other things, about what spiritual aspect the different physical things and beings in this world represent. The Kohen Gadol represent chochma – wisdom. Chochma is also the spiritual aspect through which Hashem created the world, as the Targum Yerushalmi translates the Tora's first phrase 'Bereshit bara Elokim et hashamayim ve-et haaretz', into 'Bechuchmeta bara Elokim et hashamayim ve-et haaretz' – 'Through the spiritual aspect of wisdom Elokim created the heavens and the earth'. Now what's the relevance of the Kohen Gadol being the spiritual aspect of chochma and how does it connect him to the creation of the world which was done through the same spiritual aspect? Here the Rebbe says that the fundamental evil the Hellenists wanted to do, was to exchange the wisdom of the Torah for Hellenistic wisdom and that the Kohen Gadol, representing the spiritual aspect of G-d's wisdom, was hence the natural vessel for defeating the Hellenists in this aspect.
I would like to take the words of the Rebbe one step further. Let us take note of the fact that the Kohen Gadol – who is steeped in ritual more than any other person and whose obligation to keep ritual purity is greater than that of any other person – nevertheless represent the very down-to-earth aspect of spirituality known as wisdom. Wisdom, as we all know, requires study and hard work and doesn't fall like manna from heaven. By G-d creating the world through the spiritual aspect of chuchmeta – wisdom; we learn that also we are supposed to relate to Him and his creation with wisdom. The ideal is not to sit physically idle while attempting to be spiritual and waiting for G-d's reaction. The ideal is to get our hands dirty, so to speak, by using our minds and physical abilities to make this world into what Hashem envisioned for us to make it into. The Hellenists, who also subscribed to some notion of 'the-world-beyond', were adamant about separating between that 'beyondness' and the physical world. For them the physical world could be only physical. Judaism teaches the opposite: we are not supposed to separate the holy from the profane – we are supposed to make the profane into something holy. This can obviously only be accomplished by a person who has achieved chochma – wisdom; and the more chochma a person has, the more spirituality will he be able to find in his physical existence. The Jewish message that our physical reality, without changing magically into something non-physical, nevertheless embodies the spiritual, is something hard to commit to. It's far easier to conceptually separate between the physical and the spiritual and to consequently allow oneself carte blanche in the physical realm, waiting for the spiritual realm to magically assert itself should it want to be heard. I believe that Hashem chose the aspect of chochma in relation to the only person who was ever allowed to enter the holiest place on earth and even that only once a year – the Kohen Gadol entering the Holy of Holies in the Temple on Yom Kippur; as well as choosing chochma as the vessel through which to create the earth – in order to drill and instill into our hearts and brains the obligation to be „thinking” servants of Hashem and not lemmings who walk mindlessly in whatever direction they are being led. The author of the Zohar wrote that the gates of chochma would open at the onset of the 57th century and we can all confirm that the last 170 years have indeed been years of enormous leaps and bounds forward in wisdom, giving us today the possibility of performing things that we ourselves, or our parents, not many years ago, would have considered as impossible. One opinion in the Talmud says that there will be no physical difference between the times that we live in now and the times of the Messiah with the exception of us becoming an independent kingdom under the rulership of the Messiah – as opposed to current times in which we lack such independence. From this opinion in the Talmud we may conclude, as did the great scholar Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan zt"l, that the various miracles mentioned in the prophets which are to happen before and at the time of the Messiah's coming – are not supernatural per se but rather technological advances based on our receiving greater insight into G-d's creation. The prophetic writings mention fruits which will increase manifold their normal size – we all know that this is already possible through genetics. When tradition mentions the cessation of Chava's curse at the times leading up to the coming of the Messiah – then let me point to the effects an epidural anesthesia administered correctly has on a woman who is giving birth. The examples are plenty but the message is one: we, the Jews, are not supposed to foresake intelligence for the sake of religiosity. Quite the contrary – we're supposed to pursue intelligence so that we can use it leshem shamayim (for the sake of Heaven). It's a great challenge but challenges are part of the deal in being human. The high priest Matityahu was able to leave the serenity of the Temple in order to become a field marshal. The challenge required of us is much smaller. Let us hope that we perform it as well as he did.