The Hidden Meaning of Chanukah

Rabbi Reuven Mann

Chanuka has emerged as one of the most widely celebrated holidays on the Jewish calendar.  It is not too difficult to understand the reason for this phenomenon.  Chanuka is a happy time and not very "difficult" to observe.  There are no restrictions in terms of "prohibited labor" as there is on Shabbat and other holidays.  One can do whatever one pleases. The basic mitzvah is to light the Menorah each night, recite the blessings and sing a few songs.  It also has become a time of gift giving and festive gatherings.  The "user friendly" ritual requirements make Chanuka rather pleasant and easy to observe.  However we should not be content with a superficial observance of this chag but should seek to understand and appreciate its deeper meaning.

Chanuka is devoted to the celebration of miracles.  We light the candles to signify the miracle which took place in the Beit Hamikdosh, where oil enough to burn for one day lasted for eight days.  We are also required to recite the Al Hanissim prayer which recounts the miracles involved in the struggle against the Greek Empire and praises G-d for the victory.  This blessing describes in very minute detail all of the aspects of the military victory.  It would seem that in expressing gratitude to Hashem more attention is paid to the military triumph than to the miracle of the lights in the Holy Temple.  The question arises: why does the battlefield success assume center stage in the special thanksgiving prayers of the Holiday?

The Rambam says that the mitzvah of the Chanuka lights is very beloved and that a poor person should even sell his garment in order to obtain candles for the Menorah.  At first glance it is difficult to understand why such a severe demand is placed upon a poor person.  What is it about this mitzvah that warrants imposing such an economic hardship on one who lacks means?  Rabbi Soloveitchik explains that the story of Chanuka which the Menorah symbolizes contains a sanctification of G-d's name and to accomplish that we must even sell our very clothing.  I believe we can now have a greater appreciation of the importance of the military victory which is so minutely described in Al Hanisim.  In it we thank Hashem who "delivered the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the impure into the hands of the pure, the wicked into the hands of the righteous, and the arrogant into the hands of the students of your Torah.  And for Yourself You made a great and holy name in Your world..."  The wicked claim that there is no G-d but that human might is all that counts.  When the evil triumph G-d's name is "diminished" as people lose faith that there is a Supreme Being who governs the world according to justice.  However, when the righteous and the pure who are weak and few in number prevail against the wicked in spite of their overwhelmingly superior physical might, the name of Hashem is exalted.  For then people see that human might is an illusion and that Hashem rules the world with kindness and compassion for those who act righteously and fulfill His will.  Chanuka is the holiday whose main theme is the sanctification of the name of Hashem in His world.  May we enjoy and be uplifted by its message.

Shabbat Shalom and a Freilichen Chanuka