Hanukkah: 8 Thoughts for 8 Nights
Co-written by Daniel Ben Yaakov and Mathias ben Daniel. This series originally appeared on JewishEyes.org and is reproduced with permission.
- Night 1: Vanquishing Darkness
- Night 2: Hanukkah, the Holocaust and Judaism Today
- Night 3: Dispelling Darkness
- Night 4: The Infinity of Light
- Night 5: The Menorah’s Two Sides
- Night 6: Monthly Renewal
- Night 7: Light as Revealed in the Scriptures
- Night 8: Darkness and the Exile
What does Chanukah mean? The usual explanation is that “chanukah” means “dedication.” But what does “dedication” imply?
“Chanukah” comes from the Hebrew word “chanak,” which does mean “dedication” or “inauguration,” but it also means “training” or “bringing up.” Proverbs 22:6 says: “Train up (chanoch) a youth according to his way; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” In Genesis 14:14, Abraham’s disciples are called “chanichim,” those whom he had “trained.” In modern Hebrew, education is called “chinuch.”
In Jewish circles, we dedicate objects and people at different times. In Biblical times, the Temple was dedicated with seven days of rejoicing. Nowadays, the most noticeable dedication in many communities is the “bar mitzvah,” when a Jewish boy becomes a Jewish man.
Too often however, the dedication of a building or a person is seen as the highest point in the life of that person or building, and everything goes downhill from there. The Temple, having been consecrated, became a place where people went to pray, and then walked away to do whatever they wished, secure in the belief that because they had put in their weekly time and made their token offerings, they had done all that G-d wanted. The Temple, instead of being a place which would inspire people to serve G-d, became an excuse not to serve G-d.
In many modern communities, the recently-declared “man,” having gone through the bar mitzvah ceremony, starts to believe that his dedication was actually a graduation; a going-away party. Therefore, after his dedication, he never darkens the door of a shul again. He has put in his time learning Torah, and now he is free to live life any way he sees fit.
In many ways, this misunderstanding is also reflected in many modern weddings. Everyone shows up to congratulate the bride and groom, and it is called “the happiest day of their lives.” How sad if that is truly the case. The wedding is not meant to be the culmination, but the beginning of a new relationship. Too often, the stories that are published or movies that are produced focus on the process of the “romance,” by which they mean the courtship that leads up to the wedding, and the wedding becomes a convenient place to end a story. But what happens afterwards? Is that not by far the greater tale? How many stories have the courage to begin with a wedding, and tell the story of the marriage; its ups and downs, and the deep love that grows between husband and wife over the years that follow? By focusing on the “romance,” many modern couples find that marriage is a letdown; and how could it not be so? They had spent their lives dreaming of the wedding, and now that is past. All is downhill from here. However, if the wedding is perceived as only the start—the opening bud of the flower of marriage—then their married life’s greatest significance is just beginning.
True dedication is not about the celebration; nor about a festive period. It is about the days and weeks afterward; the struggle to keep focused and “dedicated” to the goal, not allowing ourselves to be sidetracked. The “training” only begins with the holiday. It extends all through the year… until next Chanukah, when we look back at our accomplishments and failures, compare notes, and use the joy and festivity of the holiday to re-inspire us to make a renewed effort.
So when you kindle the lights of the menorah, and you recite the blessing, “… Who has set us apart with His commandments, and commanded us to kindle lights of dedication,” remember the full meaning of the words. Hashem is continually calling us back to rededicate ourselves to His Torah: His light.
Light as a weapon: There are many weapons in mankind’s arsenal which may be used to defeat evil. However, spiritual darkness is an evil which cannot be blown up with bombs. It cannot be beaten with a stick, nor stabbed, nor shot. Darkness can only be vanquished with one weapon: Light. With only a tiny amount of light, darkness is not just defeated, it is instantly obliterated. Are you a bearer of the light of Torah in our darkened world?
Last night we discussed darkness and light, and how even a small amount of light is the only thing that can dispel the darkness. Today, we will focus on the nature of that darkness… then, and now.
Periodically throughout history, there have been organized and concerted efforts by small groups of Jewish people to rally together to fight against obeying the Torah because of a mistaken perception that our living differently from other people was the source of our many woes and the cause of the world’s historic anti-semitism. These “reformers” not only abandoned Torah for themselves and their children, but their animosity against the Torah was so great that they tried to create laws which forbade other Jews from practicing it, even if it meant that observant Jews would be imprisoned by non-Jewish authorities for their “stubborn adherence.” The faithful were targeted by the faithless, and these attackers rationalized their actions by calling it “self-defense.”
One example of this aggressive opposition was during the time of the Maccabees. The record states:
“In those days ‘rebels against the Torah’ came forward and tried to persuade the people thus: ‘Let us go and make a covenant with the people around us, for since we have separated ourselves from them many misfortunes have befallen us.’ Those words found favor in the eyes of the multitude, and several of the people declared themselves ready and set out to go to the [Greek] king. The king granted them permission to introduce among themselves the customs of the nations. They erected a gymnasium in Jerusalem after the Greek manner; they [surgically re-attached] their foreskins; and withdrawing from the sacred covenant, they united with the nations; they abandoned themselves completely to the practice of what was evil.” (l Maccabees Ch. 1.)
Approximately 200 years after the Maccabean re-dedication (Hanukkah), there was another rejection of Torah by a few, which then spread to the masses (our rabbis called it “baseless hatred of their fellow”) which in turn brought about the Roman firestorm and the destruction of the Temple. The Jewish historian Josephus wrote extensively* and in grim detail about what a horrible time it was and the bloodshed which resulted. Jewish factions first destroyed each other and then eventually, they self-destructed from within. Jews killing Jews led to the breach of the walls of Jerusalem; Jews killing Jews led to the destruction of the Temple; and Jews killing Jews led to the exile from our Land—an exile which, although not total (as there have always been a remnant of Jews living in Israel, from the time of Joshua until today), would last for 2,000 years.
In the mid-1800s, the most widespread attack upon Torah observance in history was carried out, with far more comastating consequences. Beginning in Germany and fanning outward across Europe, hundreds of respected leaders of Jewish communities sought to “reform” Judaism, ridiculing the instructions of the Torah as “outdated,” “barbaric,” and “the source of all their troubles throughout history.” Like their Hellenistic forefathers, they made an appeal to governments across Europe to create laws which would ban Jews from studying the Scriptures and observing the commandments.
Hashem told us in the Torah itself what the results would be if we forsook His Torah (Deut. 28) and the graphic details listed in that chapter were soon fulfilled in our people within the same generation which began “Reform Judaism.”
When Jews first broke ranks and began to run to the non-Jewish governments in order to recruit them in their fight against Torah, it shocked the non-Jewish European leadership, who had never seen anything like this before. This surprising inner schism within the Jewish ranks planted the very first seeds in their minds that it might actually be possible to divide and conquer a heretofore singular people… one which had been persecuted to be sure, but were a people which had remained unified, whose moral and ethical conduct was rooted in the Torah, and therefore had remained on the whole untouchable and unchanged throughout our long history.
As Jews forsook the Torah, their ethical conduct was no longer based upon the commands of the Holy One (blessed be He). Commandments to be scrupulously honest, to never speak ill of our fellow man, and loving our neighbor as ourselves could be rationalized as laid aside. Under an imagined sliding scale of morality, a Jew was “permitted” to attack another Jew, using the laws of their host countries to do so, and as a consequence, the world’s non-Jewish leadership was filled with renewed hope that at long last, they could begin to change the basic character of the Jew and defeat him using his own inner instability.
R’ Shimshon Raphael Hirsch strongly warned the generation that founded Reform Judaism (many of whom he knew) that just as Deut. 28 laid out, oceans of Jewish blood would be the inevitable end of their fight against G-d. In a commentary which he wrote in 1838, he likened the birth of Reform Judaism to the climate of antagonism at the twilight of the 2nd Temple which began the great exile and warned that a bloody history would be repeated:
“From [the burning of] the Mountain of Zion, the wild-fire spread through countries and towns, burning to ashes all that was sublime and holy until the world was a smoking wilderness; until, finally, the fire had spent itself on a world-wide and desolate scene of conflagration. Thus the destructive torch kindled by frantic hands, having first been turned against tradition, destroyed God’s Sanctuary in the end, together with all that was noble and holy in man; and finally it comoured the torch-bearers themselves.”
The graphic fulfillment of this prophetic vision and tragic consequence of his generation’s mass defection from the ways of Hashem was seen some 100 years later with the European Holocaust, originating in the very country which birthed Reform Judaism. Ironically, some of those Jews who sought to stamp out the “separateness” of their children from the surrounding nations by blending in with them, were still alive and watched those same children consigned to the flames at the hands of the surrounding nations, in the worst disaster to ever befall the Jewish people. The detailed description of Deut. 28 was fulfilled, word for word, letter for letter.
Tragically, today there is another movement both in the Diaspora and in Israel to once again reject and attack the Torah’s instructions and to curry favor with the nations of the world instead.
Although kosher slaughter is by far the most humane way to kill an animal, there are various factions trying to outlaw it solely because of its religious nature. Aggressive campaigns to outlaw circumcision and criminalize rabbinic halachic writings are being waged all over the world. Out of a desire to be accepted as “one of the nations,” they declare their defiance against G-d’s teachings, and proclaim their trust in the United Nations rather than in G-d.
The Nations are indeed United in their hatred and betrayal of Israel, evidenced time and again. In the last session of the UN (as of this writing**), 21 resolutions were passed dealing with Israel, and only 4 dealing with the rest of the world all put together.
Although there is genocide in Sudan… although Syria’s president is threatening to use sarin gas on his own people after killing thousands of civilians and turning tens of thousands more into refugees… although Egypt’s president has declared himself a dictator… although Iran is flagrantly continuing to build nuclear weapons and is openly stating that they mean to use them to exterminate the Jewish people… and although the economies of most of Europe are on the brink of collapse as anarchy pounds at the door of Greece… nevertheless, the United Nations chooses to ignore all of these crises and instead focus its energies on fighting against Jews building houses and living in them.
Our humiliating darkness will continue, as long as Israel refuses to repent, and return to our Light: G-d’s Torah.
* Flavius Josephus (Yosef Ben Mathias) – The Jewish War 5.1.1 – 6.10.1
** first written in 5773 (2012)
How much light is necessary to dispel darkness?
Excerpt from R’ Hirsch’s commentary on Chanukah:
“[The Greeks] had profaned all the oil intended for the sacred lamp of God. The victorious Hasmoneans found but one small crucible un-desecrated; and it was enough for only one day. But in this one crucible was revealed the miraculous salvation of Divine power. For eight days the lamp was tended with it, until fresh pure oil could be prepared.” (Shabbat 21b)
Though they may rage against Jewry with fanatical frenzy, though right and left thousands and hundreds of thousands may fall away in betrayal of Jewry; nevertheless so long as they have not trampled out of existence the last spark of Judaism in the heart of the last Jew in the last Jewish village, we short-sighted mortals may quiver and tremble; but “He that sits in the heavens shall laugh; the Lord shall have them in derision.” (Psalms 2:4.)
One single pure spark, loyally treasured in but one single Jewish heart, is sufficient for God to set aflame once more the whole spirit of Judaism. And if all the oil, if all the forces that were meant to have preserved the light of God in Israel, were to be misused for the light of paganism – even then, one little crucible of oil, one heart which in a forgotten hidden corner, imprinted with the High Priest’s seal, has faithfully remained untouched and undefiled, this one crucible is sufficient to become the salvation of the entire sanctuary when the right time and hour has come. “And even though all countries were bowed in obedience to Antiochus, if every man forsook the land of his fathers and assented to the king’s command, even then, I and my sons and brothers will not forsake the laws of our fathers” – thus spoke the loyal Hasmonean heart of one single hero advanced in years – and Israel’s sanctuary was saved.
“You are the light of the world. A city that is set upon a mountain is unable to be concealed; nor do they light a lamp and put it under a grain-measure, but on a menorah, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father Who is in heaven.” – Matthew 5:14-16
As we watch the light increase night after night, we may ask questions about the reason for this phenomenon. Why do we see more light each night?
On the surface, the answer appears to be simple: There is more light because there are more candles! One candle gives off a certain amount of light, and two candles give off double that amount. However, we need to understand more about light to truly grasp what makes it so unique.
Water is a finite substance. An amount of water may only be shared until it is gone. On the other hand, light is not a finite substance. If you light one candle, it seems to a viewer or a sensor to give off only a small amount of light. But in fact, the “potential light” unleashed is infinite. It is only our receptors that seem to quantify the amount of light that is shining as finite. If two other people or two hundred others all stare at the one light, the light that each person sees will not be diminished at all. There is always enough light for everyone to take in, with no loss to the “quantity” of light that originally shone.
Furthermore, if you place a mirror (a virtual added set of eyes) next to that one candle, the light will appear to have been doubled… but in reality, there is still only one light source. Place a hundred mirrors, or a thousand mirrors, and eventually you can light up the whole world from end to end… with one candle. So the light from a single candle is sufficient to light up the entire universe. It is only the viewers who are unable to fully take it in and utilize its full potential. The light is not deficient: those seeing the light are deficient in that they cannot see the light’s full potential.
The infinity of light can be seen in the way we share a flame as well. When one candle lights another, it does not lose any of its light. It does not give half of its light to the other candle and retain the other half, but it is still as bright as before. But now a miracle has happened: Where there was only one infinite source of potential light, now there are two infinite sources of potential light! How can this be? How can infinity be doubled, since it is infinite?
Visible light exists in part, as a product of heat, and is part of the electromagnetic spectrum. The flame of a candle only opens a way for us to see it. Each candle proclaims the light, and though the candle is finite, the light it proclaims is potentially infinite. In that case, the reason we see more light each night is because more “revealing” of light is going on. The progressively increasing revelation of the light becomes easier and easier to see, and more and more difficult to ignore.
Our sages say that when G-d created Light at the beginning of time, the light which came into being was separate from any sources of light which exist today, and that G-d’s light shone from one end of the universe to the other. However, since the world was about to be affected by man’s sin, G-d preemptively hid the light away … and it will only be seen in its full glory by the righteous in the World to Come.
“And the city [Jerusalem] had no need of the sun nor of the moon, that they should shine in her: for the glory of God enlightened her, and her lamp is the Lamb.” – Revelation 21:23
Now that we are past the halfway point in the holiday, we begin to light the candles on the left-hand side of the Menorah.
In the Scripture, light is symbolic of understanding, but it is equally used as a symbol for power and ability. Therefore, we might suggest that the lights on the right-hand side of the Menorah symbolize our mind’s understanding and acceptance of G-d’s truth: His Torah. The lights on the left would then symbolize the translation of that understanding into action, putting the theory into practice… living in obedience to His light: the Torah.
There is a tradition that the first four candles on the right represent G-d shining a light down into our world, and His illuminating truth which dispels the darkness on earth. This light of revelation begins as small as one tiny flame, but progressively grows brighter as He reveals more and more of Himself to the world.
The second set of four candles (those on the left) represent our response to G-d’s light, as we begin to take on the task of shining his light through us in our physical actions. Once again the light starts off small and alone, just as we must begin our obedience somewhere and take one step at a time, even if we stand alone… but it grows unstoppably greater and is joined by others each night, until its light fully matches the light of the right-hand side. If we dedicate ourselves to obeying G-d’s teachings as much as we can, He will grant us the ability to perform them all in due time.
Throughout the eight days of Chanukah, the center candle (called the Shamash or “servant” candle) remains constant, standing as an intermediary, so to speak, between right and left, between Heaven and Earth. It was there before any of the lights were lit on either side. All of the lights are lit by this candle, and without this candle nothing would have been accomplished, either revelation or action, that was accomplished. It is really the Menorah’s main stem, and all the other lights are the branches from it. Does this position in the middle of the Menorah have a greater significance than one might first think?
“… And I saw seven golden candlesticks; and in the middle of the seven candlesticks one like the Son of man …” (Revelation 1:12-13)
Up until now, we have been fighting against the darkness, struggling to shed more light as the world around grows darker. However, tonight is the 1st day of the month of Tevet, which always falls on the sixth day of Hanukkah. From this point in the lunar cycle, G-d begins to add progressively more light as the moon’s brightness begins to wax stronger for the rest of Hanukkah’s duration. Having begun our struggle against darkness at G-d’s instruction, seemingly alone, we find that He brings help, sometimes unexpectedly, to aid us in our efforts. As the rabbis put it, “Once a person begins the effort to purify himself, he is assisted from Heaven.”
In the book of Exodus chapter 12, the renewal of the moon was established by G-d to be a monthly spiritual renewal for the Jewish people. No matter how dark it gets in the world, no matter how far we may fall ourselves, we have the assurance that G-d will always help us to get back up again, and increase the light once more.
We present today a select few of the many, many verses in the Scriptures that speak of light:
The Light of the Torah:
- “O house of Jacob, come and let us walk in the light of Hashem.” (Isaiah 2:5)
- “The Mitzvah of Hashem is clear, enlightening the eyes.” (Psalm 19:9)
- “For with You is the fountain of life: in Your light we shall see light.” (Psalm 36:9)
- “Your Word is a lamp for my feet and light for my path.” (Psalm 119:105)
- “Even the commencement of Your Word illuminates, giving insight to the most inexperienced.” (Psalm 119:130)
- “But the path of the righteous is as the shining light, that lightens more and more unto the perfect day.” (Proverbs 4:18)
- “For the Mitzvah is a lamp, and the Torah is light.” (Proverbs 6:23)
- “He knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with Him” (Daniel 2:22)
A Light to the Nations
- “In righteousness I have taken you by the hand, I have kept you and destined you to be a covenant unto the nations, to be a light unto the peoples.” (Isaiah 42:6)
- “He Who forms the light, and creates darkness; Who makes wholeness, and creates brokenness: I, Hashem, do all these.” (Isaiah 45:7)
- “For Torah comes from Me, and for My Justice I create a quiet and peaceful home, that it may be a light for the peoples.” (Isaiah 51:4)
- “For my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the nations, and the glory of Your people Israel.” (Luke 2:30-32)
- “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a people of an exclusive ownership; that you should show forth the praises of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9)
The Light of Joy
- “Light is sown for the righteous, and for the upright ones, joy.” (Psalm 97:11)
- “The light of the righteous is joyful, but the lamp is extinguished for the wicked.” (Proverbs 8:9)
- “To the Jews there came light and joy, bliss and honour.” (Esther 8:16)
- “Awake and rejoice, ye that sleep in the dust! For the dew of light is your dew…” (Isaiah 26:19)
- “Arise, shine, for your light is come, and the glory of Hashem has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and deep darkness the regimes: but upon you Hashem shall arise, and His glory shall be seen upon you. And nations shall walk by your light, and kings by the rays of your dawn.” (Isaiah 60:1-3)
- “No longer will the sun be yours for light by day; neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto you: Hashem shall be for you for an everlasting light, and your G-d for your glory. Your sun shall set no more, and your moon shall not withdraw itself; for Hashem shall be for you for an everlasting light, and the days of your mourning shall be made whole.” (Isaiah 60:19-20)
The Light of Hope
- “Rejoice not against me, O my enemy: when I fall, I shall arise; when I sit in darkness, Hashem is a light unto me. I will bear the indignation of Hashem, because I have sinned against Him, until He will take up my cause, and execute my justice: He will bring me out to the light, and I shall see His righteousness.” (Micah 7:8-9)
- “And Hashem was not willing to destroy the house of David, for the sake of the covenant that He had made with David, and as He had promised to give a lamp to him and to his sons all the days.” (2 Chronicles 21:7)
The Light Against the Darkness
- “The masses groan from the city, and the soul of the wounded cries out… [because] they rise up against the Light, would never recognize the ways of G-d, and never sought rest in His paths.” (Job 24:13)
- “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20)
- “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.” (Isaiah 9:2)
- “In Him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light has shone into the darkness, and the darkness could not comprehend it.” (John 1:4-5)
- “And this is the judgment: that Light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be convicted. But he that practices the truth comes to the light, so that his deeds may be clearly shown, for they are done by G-d.” (John 3:19-21)
- “Then Y’shua spoke again to them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
- “Do not be unequally paired together with unbelievers: For what participation does righteousness have with lawlessness? And what fellowship has light with darkness? And what agreement does the Messiah have with the one who refuses a yoke? Or what share does a believer have with an unbeliever?” (2 Corinthians 6:14)
- “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in union with the Lord: walk as children of light.” (Ephesians 5:8)
- “And this is the message, which we have heard from Him and announce to you, that G-d is Light, and there is not any darkness in Him at all. If we should say that we have fellowship with Him, and yet walk in darkness, we lie, and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Y’shua the Messiah His son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:5-7)
Our rabbis point out that when the Scripture makes a reference to “night” in prophecy, it is referring to exile; when it refers to the “morning” or the “sunrise,” it is speaking of the Redemption and Ingathering. Indeed, the biblical prophets speak to the coming of Messiah as the coming of the dawn, just after the night of the exile.
“And as the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, behold! a horror, great darkness fell upon him. And He said unto Abram, Know for certainty that your seed shall be aliens in a land that is not their own…” (Genesis 15:6)
“And G-d spoke to Israel in visions of the night, and said, Jacob, Jacob. And he said, Here am I. And he said, I am G-d, the G-d of your father: do not fear to go down into Egypt…” (Genesis 46:2-3)
It is a well-known saying that “it’s always darkest just before the dawn,” and this saying is borne out spiritually as well, by the prophecies of the Scriptures and the predictions of the rabbis about the End of Days. Before the coming of the Messiah, they say, conditions on earth will continually worsen, both in the societies of the world and (as a result) in the natural world as well. Sorrow and grief, famine and war will abound, dishonesty and disrespect of parents will be rampant, goodness and fear of G-d will be despised and targeted for ridicule, and understanding of truth will be almost non-existent.
“And you shall hear of wars and news of wars: See, [but] do not be troubled: for it is necessary for all things to take place, but it is not yet the end. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines and anarchies and upheavals in various places. All these are the beginning of the birth-pangs. Then they shall deliver you up to be oppressed, and shall kill you: and you shall be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many shall be offended, and shall deliver up one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall arise, and deceive many. And because an absence of Torah will have increased, the love of many will grow cold. But he who endures to the end, he shall be saved.” (Matthew 24:6-13)
“When you will hear about wars and instabilities, do not be terrified: For these things must take place first, but the end is not immediate … Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: And there shall be great upheavals in various places, and famines, and anarchies; and there shall be fearful sights and great signs from heaven … And there shall be signs in sun, and moon, and stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with nowhere to turn; the sea and the waves roaring; men growing cold from fear, and for expectation of that which is coming on the inhabited world: for the forces of the heavens shall be shaken. And then they shall see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draws near!” (Luke 21:9-11, 25-28)
Our mission is to increase the light, even as all around us grows darker. As we have seen from the recent new moon (on Day 6), we may be “helped with a little help” from time to time (Daniel 11:34), but in the long run the faint light in our surroundings will be only a passing phenomenon. Our light must outlast all external conditions, whether they are favorable or not. The goal of our efforts is not temporary ‘successes’ during the night, but the permanent Redemption of the morning’s dawn.
“The morning is coming, but night also; if you really wish it, return, come!” (Isaiah 21:12)
“Then we shall know, if we pursue knowing Hashem: His going forth is prepared as the morning…” (Hosea 6:3)
“Weeping may tarry for an evening, but joyous song in the morning!” (Psalm 30:6)