We Kindle the Seventh Light of Chanukah!

Chanukah, the origin of the name “Chanukah”:

There is no one origin of the name “Chanukah!” When I looked up the origin of the word, I found many opinions and possibilities. I thought it would be interesting to list a few of the suggested origins here, and then you can pick the one that sounds best for you 😉

(The following information was collated by Rabbi Nosson Scherman and can be found at http://www.torah.org.)

1. The name Chanukah was given in commemoration of the historical fact that the Jewish fighters rested – “chanu” (the FIRST THREE HEBREW LETTERS of the word “Chanukah”) – from their battles against Syrian-Greeks on the 25th of Kislev. 25 is spelled out chof-heh – the FINAL TWO HEBREW LETTERS of “Chanukah.” (source: Kol Bo; Abudraham; Tur; Ran).

2. The Hebrew word “chein” (the FIRST TWO HEBREW LETTERS of the word “Chanukah”) denotes grace. Thus ‘Chanukah’ could be meant to allude that the Jewish warriors found Divine ‘grace’ on the 25th of Kislev. (source: Noam Elimelech).

3. One of the most direct explanations of the name Chanukah is that it is related to the dedication (“chanukah”) of the Altar, [a centerpiece of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem]… We learn in the Talmud (Avodah Zarah 52b) that the Hasmoneans removed and stored away the Altar-stones which the Greeks had polluted with idolatry, and had to build a new Altar. That is why the festival is called ‘Chanukah’ which means ‘dedication.’ (source: Maharsha to Shabbos 21b; See also: I Maccabees 4:44-9 and II Maccabees 10:2-4).

4. The name Chanukah refers also to the dedication of the Second Temple, which occurred on almost the same calendar date (see the Book of Haggai 2:18). It is because of this consecration (“chanukah”) of the Second Temple that the miracle of the lights that happened in that season – generations later – is called Chanukah. (source: Rabbi Yaakov Emden).

5. Homiletically there is an allusion in the Hebrew name Chanukah to the fact that we conduct ourselves on Chanukah in the manner advocated by the School of Hillel. Hillel holds that we begin on the first night with one light, and add additional lights on each of the subsequent nights. (As opposed to the practice of the School of Shammai, who begin with eight lights and subtract one light on each of the subsequent nights). The initials of Chanukah spell: “Eight Lights, and the Halachah [a.k.a. Jewish Law]  follows the School of Hillel.” (source: Abudraham; Ateres Zekeinim; Pri Megadim).

6. Kabbalistically, at the time of the lighting of the Chanukah candles, there is a revelation of part of the “Ohr Haganuz,” the great light hidden away since the beginning of Creation – the light of Messiah. And that is why the festival is called Chanukah – because it is a spiritual preparation [“chinuch”] for our destined Redemption. (source: Bnai Yisas’char).

Whew! That is a lot of information! And there is more, but I’ve already begun to overwhelm you (or at least myself!), so I’ll stop here. No one is really sure what the origin of the word came from, but the possibilities, endless as they are, suggest nothing short of dedication, teaching and learning, and spiritual preparation, all attributes of the wonderful holiday of Chanukah!

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10 thoughts on “We Kindle the Seventh Light of Chanukah!

  1. This is wonderful, thank you! Nancy Hatch sent me your way after I waxed lyrical over the etymology of words, and one Yiddish one in particular. The meticulous symbolism woven into this one word – chanukka – is really quite breathtaking.

    1. Kate, I am soooo glad you appreciate the symbolism and complexity that goes into words, Hebrew especially. My thanks to Nancy for sending you my way. Have a great holiday season (what’s left) and a fabulous new year! 🙂

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