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chicago institute of women's learning
midwest center for jewish learning

Chanuka

Celebrating the Rededication: A Chanuka Lesson

Mrs. Emma Katz 

On Chanuka we light the Menorah for eight nights, commemorating the miracle of the Menorah in the Temple. When the Jews returned to the desecrated Temple after it had been defiled by the invading Greeks, they could only find one flask of oil for the Menorah. That small flask, which was only enough for one day, lasted for a full eight days until new oil was produced.  Ever since then, on the 25th of Kislev, Jews have been publicly lighting Chanukiot to publicize this great miracle.

Rabbi Yosef Karo, author of the Shulchan Aruch, is troubled by this explanation. Understandably this was a great miracle, that oil that could barely stay alight for one day stayed lit for a full eight days.  However, the miracle was really only for seven days, because there was enough oil to light the menorah for the first day. Therefore, only the seven subsequent days were miraculous, and the holiday should only be celebrated for seven days.  Why do we then celebrate Chanuka for eight days? Over the years there have been many answers given to this. Rav Simcha Zissel Ziv, the Alter of Kelm, wrote that the fact that fire consumes oil is in itself miraculous, and therefore, the extra day is coming to teach us that what we usually attribute to the principles of nature is also the will of G-d. Others have noted that Chanuka celebrates two miraculous events, that of the aforementioned story of the oil, and the miracle of the defeat of the powerful Greek army by the hands of the small band of Chashmonaim. Therefore, say these commentators, the extra day is celebrating our belief that with the help of G-d, we can defy all odds and predictions.

There is another answer given that can teach us a completely different lesson.  The Midrash Bamidbar 13 says that Aaron and his sons completed the construction of the Mishkan on the 25th of the month of Kislev but that G-d delayed the “Chanukat HamizBeach”  the concentration of the Alter until the Month of Nissan. Therefore G-d “repaid” the Month of Kislev in the days of Matisyahu and made a “Chanukah then.”  The Midrash is telling us that when Matisyahu and his men rebuilt the sullied and ravaged Temple, it was deemed to be a new “Chanukat HamizBeach” and rededication of what was, and just like the initial dedication of the Mikdash in the days of Aaron and his sons was a total of eight days, so to was the dedication in the days of Matisyahu.

This is an interesting idea, and it perhaps is a satisfying reason to celebrate Chanuka at least in the days of the temple, but why do we still celebrate Chanuka nowadays if we understand it in this new light that it is a tribute of the rededication? We don’t celebrate the initial dedication of the Mikdash, nor do we do anything in honor the much lauded Chanukat Hamizbeach of King Solomon. The Talmud in Moed Kattan relates that the grand opening of King Solomon’s temple was so joyful that on that year, the Jewish people did not observe Yom Kippur because they were involved in festive rejoicing. And yet, we do nothing today to mark that occasion?  Why then, do we spend eight days commemorating the rededication and rebuilding by Matisyahu in the present day?

Rabbi Norman Lamm answers this question with a powerful lesson for our lives. He writes that when things are new, they are attractive. People are easily excited by novelty, and therefore, its no surprise that there was such joyous celebration when the temple was first inaugurated. The Navi documents that hordes of people gathered from everywhere for the opening of Solomon’s Temple.   Yet, says Rabbi Lamm, when the novelty fades, and the adrenalin wears off, that is when the real work starts. Passion is easy when people are intrigued by a new project, however, to enthusiastically and restart and rebuild is much more difficult. We can learn from the holiday of Chanuka, that just like the miracle of Chanuka grew as the days went on, so too, our excitement and passion should grow over time.  We observe the rededication as opposed to the original dedication, to motivate us to maintain our passion that we naturally begin a process with throughout our experiences. May this Chanuka be a holiday in which we only grow in our excitement from the new year, and renew our passion and excitement for Judaism each day.

Sukkot

Sun, June 7 2020 15 Sivan 5780