The Missing Festive Meal of Chanukah, By Rabbi Elisha Friedman

Maimonides describes the Biblical character Job thus: “But when he knew God with a certain knowledge, he admitted that true happiness, which is the knowledge of the deity, is guaranteed to all who know Him and that a human being cannot be troubled in it by any of all the misfortunes in question. While he had known God only through the traditional stories and not by the way of speculation, Job had imagined that the things thought to be happiness, such as health, wealth, and children, are the ultimate goal. For this reason he fell into such perplexity and said such things as he did.” (Guide for the Perplexed 3:23)

In my interactions with Rabbi Dr. Chaim Schertz I was always struck by how he was the living embodiment of this passage and the Maimonidean ideal of one who treasures knowledge of God above all else. I have read many lovely sentences describing this idea, but with Rabbi Schertz I saw it lived. He valued the study of Torah above all else and that learning in turn sustained him and comforted him through many difficulties. It is my hope that the learning in these articles brings his neshama merit and satisfaction; and meets his high standards.

One of the big conundrums regarding Chanukah is the lack of any obligation to have what is a basic staple of every other Jewish holy day: a festive meal. According to the Shulchan Aruch’s rulings, Shabbos, festivals and even Purim, necessitate a festive meal to accompany them; only Chanukah does not (O.C. 670:2). Why should Chanukah be different from all other holidays?

One might further expand the scope of this question. All other special days on the Jewish calendar are hybrid days, some of the commanded rituals are spiritual (shofar, succah, megillah), others are physical (eating, enjoyment, resting). On Chanukah all of the rituals, all the obligatory practices (Menorah, Al Hanisim and Hallel), are spiritual. Why is only Chanukah a totally spiritual day?

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Chanukkah: How Fire Silently Changes Everything, By Rabbi Elchanan Poupko

Nothing marks the holiday of Chanukkah as much as the flickering flame of the Menorah. Despite the fact that this holiday marks a notable military victory too, it is the miracle of the Menorah that dominates the day. Why? Contrasting this holiday with Purim it seems like they have many similarities while at the same time Chanukkah takes on a much quieter tone[1]. No noise, loud singing, or Megillah reading. Just a candle. Considering the outstanding military victory the Maccabees experienced on Chanukkah one would expect more celebratory rituals boasting the great victories that took place during that holiday.

The great 16thcentury philosopher and Kabbalist Rabbi Yehuda Loew—the Maharal of Prague—argues that the essence of this holiday can be captured in the words of King Solomon: ”Ki ner mitzvah v’Torah ohr, the mitzvah is a lamp and Torah is the light” (Proverbs 6:23). Any mitzvah we do is likened to a candle and the Torah in its entirety is likened to light. Why a candle? A candle represents the non-tangible connecting to the tangible. The flame exists through its connection to the candle and the candle only has meaning if it is sustaining a flame. Similarly in our own human experience, the spiritual connects to the physical.

This is the exact opposite of what Greek cloture championed[2]. Greek culture was the epitome of physicality; the body was to be worshiped, physical strength idolized, Greek gods represented various aspects of the physical world, and anything different was to be shunned. Alexander the Great charmed the world with the beauty of Greek culture and by its compelling logic. Indeed, there was a lot to be impressed by; the compelling logic and philosophy, the architecture, and the military strength were overwhelming.

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Personalized Pe’rsum, By Moishy Rothman

As we approach the mitzvah of hadlakat nerot, we are confronted with a hard truth. Being that we are in the Galut, due to external and social considerations, we are forced to light inside our homes. We assume, and rightfully so, the ideal Mitzvahof Chanukahis to be done outside. Lighting the menorah is a means of actualizing Pe’ersumaiNisa, publicizing the miracle to the masses. Naturally, lighting in one’s private domain can be seen as an act antithetical to pirsum. However, upon a further analysis of the Halacha, the reshuthayachiddoes seem to play a major role in the mitzvahof Chanukah, informing the attitude we should have when we light today, inside our homes.

The Gemara Shabbos(21b) offers two understands of the requirement to light “Ad She’tichle Regel Min ha’shook.” This refers either to a specific time zone for lighting or a way to gauge how much oil should place in each cup. As for this halacha, is this timeslot unpassable or is it just a recommendation? The Rashbaunderstands this an ideal time, allowing for a greater awareness of the miracle; however, like any other mitzvahwhich is performed during the night hours, it may be done throughout the entire night. The Rambamhowever understands that this is a maximum limitation. After the time passed one may not light anymore. Following the Rashba’sruling, nowadays, the Ba’ali Tosefosexplain, given our situation, we light inside, and thus, the demand to light within the timeframe of the Gemarais null since lighting Nerot Chanukah still produces pe’rsumfor the people in his house. It seems that Tosefotunderstand the nature of publicizing the miracle today has shifted from a public forum to a more private setting.

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The Miracle of the First Night, By Zachary Greenberg

The story of Chanukah is one of the most famous stories in Jewish history and basically all Jews know how the ending goes; The Jews won and couldn’t find any pure oil because the Greeks had defiled all the oil, except one jar. Miraculously that one jar lasted eight nights which was long enough for the Jews to get more pure oil. In remembrance of this miracle, we light the Menorah for eight nights representing the miracle of the one jar that lasted eight nights.

There are two major questions that arise as a result of this. Firstly, why did the Greeks defile all the oil, wouldn’t it have been a lot quicker and effective to either destroy it or use them for their own benefit? Secondly, it makes sense that we celebrate the miracle for nights 2-8, since that was the miracle of the candle lasting, but the first night seemingly isn’t a miracle at all?

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Chanuka: How the People of the Book Celebrate Victory of the Sword, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

Hanukkah is Judaism’s most universal holiday with deep resonance for all Americans.

Our great country was founded by refugees who escaped religious persecution in Europe and were prepared to cross an ocean in order to found a colony where they could worship as they chose. Indeed, freedom of religion applied as a principle of colonial government goes back to the Maryland Toleration Act of 1649, which provided that “No person or persons … shall from henceforth be any waies troubled, molested or discountenanced for or in respect of his or her religion nor in the free exercise thereof.” By 1777 Thomas Jefferson himself had drafted The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, one of only three achievements Jefferson instructed be put on his tombstone.

For Jews, however, practicing our religion has never been as straightforward. Throughout history we have had to fight and die simply to observe our faith. Hanukkah represents a triumphant moment in the second century B.C.E. when that struggle was victorious.

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Hanukkah: Turning the Blazing Fire into an Illuminating Flame, by Rabbi Riccardo Shmuel Di Segni

 

It is well known that, despite the importance of Hanukkah, there are only few pages in all the Bavli devoted to this holiday, mainly in Massekhet Shabbat (21-24). The most common explanation is that at its origin Hanukkah celebrates the victory of the Hasmonean family, priests who illegally became kings and persecuted the Pharisees.

However, other explanations are possible, and one of them is actually hidden in another page of Talmud where the name of Hanukkah is not even mentioned. In Massekhet Avoda Zara (8a) the names of some pagan holidays are quoted, among them Saturnalia and Kalenda. The Talmud explains that the former occurs eight days before the winter solstice, the latter eight days after. The Talmud then tells the story of the first man, Adam, who saw that the length of the day light was progressively shortening, and was afraid that the sun light will disappear as a punishment for his sin, until he discovered that at a certain point the length of the day was again widening; he therefore established those days as holidays for thanking God, but the generations after him turned this celebration into a pagan cult. The Talmud quotes Saturnalia, but already in those times a similar celebration connected with the sun was widespread, the Dies natalis soli invicti, the birthday of the undefeated sun, next to become one of the sources of the future Christmas. In that Talmudic page, the never said link to Hanukkah, feast of the light(s), is that this is exactly the same period of the year with the same length (eight days). And there could be there also other allusions, as to the known controversy between Bet Shammai and Bet Hillel on the way of kindling the lights in decreasing order (8 to 1) or increasing.

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Hannukah: Why a Local Military Victory, and a Small Jar of Oil Continue to Inspire Millions Around the World to This Day, By Rabbi Elchanan Poupko

Hannukah: Why a Local Military Victory, and a Small Jar of Oil Continue to Inspire Millions Around the World to This Day

Why celebrate Chanukah? It is easy to understand why we celebrate Passover, Shavuot, Sukkot, and even Purim; all of these holidays mark an even that has a direct impact on who we are. And yet, Chanukah marks two separate miracles, neither of which have any impact on us. The Maccabee revolt in 163 BCE lasted hardly until the year 63 BCE when the Romans occupied Judea, and cannot be considered something that we still benefit from. The oil lasting eight days? Indeed a miraculous event, but in what way does it impact us today? So why celebrate more than 2150 years later when the events it marks have little to no impact on us?

Commentaries wonder furthered: why it is that Jews around the world light the appropriate amount of candles every day of Chanukah despite the fact that Jewish law mandates only the lighting of one candle per day, per household? The stipulation to light more than one candle a day is only for the Mehadrin, those who choose to go the extra mile who light one candle for every member of the household. And so, the common Jewish custom[1] is that we light candles corresponding to the number of days of Chanukah, AND corresponding to the number of family member, something that is far from required but is rather a way of over-observing the laws of Chanukah, why?

To understand this we need to look at the historical background of Chanukah. The Jewish people have returned from their exile in Babylon and have lost the blessing of prophecy not long before. The Jewish people find themselves in a situation similar to those described by the Prophet Amos (8:10) not long before:” Behold, days are coming, says the Lord God, and I will send famine into the land, not a famine for bread nor a thirst for water, but to hear the word of the Lord.” The Jewish people felt spiritually abandoned by the disappearance of prophecy and clear leadership.

It is in that time that Hellenistic culture, with all of it’s power, sweeps through their country. For the first time the Jews meet an occupier, that admires their culture. The Greeks admired the Jews as a “nation of philosophers”. The Greeks do not aspire to destroy the Jewish Temple, just to modernize it. They do not reject the rights of Jews as citizens, quite to contrary, they seek to “empower” the Jews, educate them, and help them understand the beauty of Hellenistic culture. The Greeks are supersessionists, not seeking to uproot all that is Jewish.

And indeed, many Jews follow this trend. They became Hellenized, they began worshiping Greek gods, they adopted Greek culture. You did not need to reject your nationality or history to become Hellenized, you just needed to adapt.  It was the first time someone invaded, not the Jewish heartland, but the Jewish heart. It was the first time another culture has made it’s inroads with the language Jews understood better than any language: books and ideas.

Violating the Temple was just another example of what the Greek invasion looked like. It was not about destroying the Temple, it was about “modernizing”[2] it to worship Zeus. It was not about taking away the Menorah and its oil, it was about taking away its meaning and purity.

And so, the first Maccabee revolt and its success, did not only symbolize a military victory, but it signified an ability to maintain the Jewish spirit, in the face of cultural supersessions. It was the first time the Jewish people had experienced and invasion of the spirit, and were triumphant.

This also answers the question discussed by so many commentaries, why it is that Maccabees insisted on searching of a pure jar of oil, despite the law that permits using an impure one in the absence of pure oil? This is because the Maccabees were not looking for a compromise of the spirit; they were seeking its victory.

This is also why it is common custom for Jews around the world to follow the Mehadrin min HaMehadrin custom of lighting one candle per person per night and not just follow the strict letter of the law. On a holiday symbolizing the victory of the spirit and our ability to maintain our uniqueness in the face of the most intimate threats, we rejoice in going the extra mile, in our ability to serve Hashem in the most dedicated way, despite having ways out and the ability to compromise.

This may also be the reason that of all Jewish holidays, Chanukah is also the only one in which there is no instituted food related celebration. Yes, of course there are the latkes, sufganiyot, and more, but there is no obligation to celebrate with a celebratory meal. In a holiday that signifies the victory of the spirit we find nourishment in the most metaphysical element we can see: pure light. Happy Chanukah!

 

https://mspace.lib.umanitoba.ca/bitstream/handle/1993/31671/Arksey_Keaton.pdf?sequence=3&isAllowed=y

http://lib.cet.ac.il/pages/item.asp?item=14316

http://www.pnimi.org.il/holidays/chanukah/198-rectifying-greek-philosophy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Shulchan Aruch OC 671:2

[2] Special thanks to rabbi Uri Sharki for his eye opening explanation of this matter.