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 ūüėČ

(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 ‚ÄúChanukah‚ÄĚ) – from their battles against Syrian-Greeks on the 25th of Kislev. 25 is spelled out chof-heh – the FINAL TWO HEBREW LETTERS of ‚ÄúChanukah.‚ÄĚ (source: Kol Bo; Abudraham; Tur; Ran).

2.¬†The Hebrew word “chein” (the FIRST TWO HEBREW LETTERS of the word ‚ÄúChanukah‚ÄĚ) 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 (‚Äúchanukah‚ÄĚ) of the Altar, [a centerpiece of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem]‚Ķ 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 (‚Äúchanukah‚ÄĚ) 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: ‚ÄúEight Lights, and the Halachah [a.k.a. Jewish Law] ¬†follows the School of Hillel.‚ÄĚ (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 ‚ÄúOhr Haganuz,‚ÄĚ 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 [‚Äúchinuch‚ÄĚ] 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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Day Three and the Light Still Shines!

Why do we light the Chanukah lights the way we do?

According to the Talmud, we are only required to kindle one light each day of Chanukah. Nowhere are we told that we must kindle more lights. So why do we kindle eight lights? And why do we begin the first night with only one light, and then add a light each succeeding night?

It has long been customary to beautify a mitzvah, or commandment, when possible. Beautification is not meant to alter the meaning or direction of the commandment, rather to reveal the beauty and wonder of what we are doing. When it came to the mitzvah of Chanukah light, the sages desired that the light show the world that we celebrate a miracle that took place over eight days. The next question was how to do that.

Well, this all goes back¬†millennia¬†to the time of two men who are listed among the names of our greatest sages: Hillel and Shammai. Each was head of his own academy, or “house” of study, Beis (house) Hillel and Beis Shammai. Although both men were very learned leaders and wise men in the study of Torah, they often formed differing opinions and in true Jewish fashion, an argument would ensue. One of their more famous arguments concerned kindling the Chanukah lights.

According to Beis Shammai, one begins with the maximum potential of the light, meaning that to begin the holiday people should kindle all eight lights. On each succeeding night, one less candle would be lit signifying the number of days left in the holiday. One begins lighting with the maximum potential, and gradually decreases till the last night when only one candle is lit.

Beis Hillel on the other hand, argued we should light according to “realized potential,” or actual days celebrated. Thus, on the first night since we realize the first day, we light the one candle, the second night we light two candles, etc. until the eighth night we light all eight candles.

At first glance it appears that Hillel won the argument. But things are not always as they appear! When two men of such great knowledge and stature among Jewish religious leaders of all time form opinions on an issue, every effort is made to figure out ways in which to observe the rulings of both men. While the assembly of religious leaders voted to follow Hillel’s teaching on the Chanukah lights, the Talmud tell us that Shammai’s reasoning and analysis was generally deeper and sharper than Hillel’s. So, why do we follow Hillel’s model of lighting the Chanukiah?

The sages tell us that Hillel’s argument was good for the pre-Messianic times. We are looking ahead at how the light grows and increases the nearer we approach those days, and therefore we light each day looking forward to increased potential, adding light and excitement each day till we realize all eight days.

Shammai, on the other hand, is more appropriate for the Messianic times when the world has reached a higher level of being, or realized it’s full potential. In that case, we start with the maximum and light according to how many days are left.

Obviously we have not reached the messianic age yet, so we light according to Beis Hillel,  but we look forward to the messianic days when we can light according to Beis Shommai.

It’s Chanukah, Come Light the Menorah. . .

Last night was the first night of Chanukah. Good friends joined us last night to help celebrate this holiday (a minor holiday for Jews, nothing like Christmas for Christians.) Neither Lori nor Heather had ever celebrated Chanukah so I had the privilege of teaching them a little about this special celebration. Richard worked late, but when he got home, we lit the candles and Richard even sang a few bars of a time-honored Chanukah song.

The menorahs¬†depicted in this photo were purchased a few days ago. Our silver menorahs are in storage and I was a bit sad that we couldn’t use them. But the sadness did not last very long, because we celebrate miracles and light on this holiday, not the trappings or elaborate Chanukiah. So, when we lit the candles last night, the light was a beautiful reminder of that time long ago when the Jewish people weren’t sure there would be light in the Temple, but through a miracle, the flame was lit and that flame lasted not one day, not two days, but eight days it shed its light for the people to see.

Here is what the Talmud has to say about Chanukah:

On the twenty-fifth day of the month of Kislev begins the days of Chanukah, which are eight, on which lamentation for the dead and fasting are prohibited. For when the Greeks (Assyrians) entered the Temple, they defiled all the oils therein, and when the Chashmonayim (Hasmonean dynasty) prevailed against them and defeated them, they searched and found only one cruse of oil which had the seal of the High Priest, which contained oil sufficient for one day’s lighting only; yet a miracle occurred and they lit the Menorah (the Temple candelabrum) for eight days. The following years, these days were appointed as a holiday to sing praise and offer thanks. [Shabbes 21b]

Last night the festival began. On the first night we kindle one light. Each of us lights our own menorah. What you see in the photo above is that there are two kindled lights in each menorah;¬†the light that is higher than the other, set apart from all other lights is called the shamash. The shamash is the “guard” light, and it is used to light the Chanukah lights. If one needs light to see by, we see by the shamash, not the Chanukah lights that are strictly for remembering the miracle that happened there (Temple in Jerusalem).

One other rule is that the Chanukiah should be lit by the doorway (or in our case, by the window) for all passersby to see. This is the one holiday that is¬†“advertised” for the public. We do that to draw attention to the miracle that God performed on the first Chanukah, so that people will ask questions and give us the opportunity to share how God performed a miracle in the Temple.

So, come back each day of Chanukah and I hope to share more of our celebration with you. Thank you Lori and Heather for joining us last night, eating latkes with us, and in general enjoying the laughter and chatter of friendship.