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The Chanukah Spirit

Each of our Jewish Holidays comes with a special message and has a distinct way that it impacts upon the life of every Jew.  Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are times of introspection and repentance; Sukkos and Pesach are seasons that strengthen our emunah, belief in Hashem, while Shavuos and Purim emphasize the supremacy of Torah in every Jewís life.  The twelve New Moons of the year highlight our belief in the ability to always turn over a new leaf and also firm our conviction in the ultimate renewal of the world with the coming of Moshiach, speedily in our days.  The Seventeenth of Tammuz with the ensuing three week period capped-off by Tisha BíAv, the saddest day of the year, train us to focus on the loss of our Temple, the sorry state of our exile, and the fact that G-d too is very unhappy with the state of affairs of His Jewish children.

But, what is the special message of the Chanukah festival?  In what way should it impact upon us and our children?

The Gemora, in the second perek of Masechtas Shabbos, teaches us that when the Jews vanquished the Syrian-Greeks, we dedicated the Temple and experienced the fabulous miracle of the Menorah.  Still, they did not declare Chanukah immediately.  Rather, the Sages waited until the next year and only then established the beautiful holiday of Chanukah for all time.

The obvious question is why didnít the Sages immediately declare the festival the very same year that the miracles occurred?  The Kedushas Levi and the Sfas Emes both answer that the Chachomim, of blessed memory, wanted to experience for themselves the days of Chanukah when it came around the next year.  Only in that way would they be able to divine what special powers lay lurking in the days of Chanukah.  When they experienced Chanukah in the next year, they found that the treasure that Hashem planted in the days of Chanukah was the special power and ability to praise and thank Hashem, and therefore the Gemora concludes that they established eight days of Chanukah for Hallel and Hoda-ah, praise and thanksgiving to Hashem.

Thus the special power of Chanukah is to aid us in excelling at the art of prayer.  This makes Chanukah one of our most important national holidays since the posuk teaches us that the very reason that the Jewish People was created was to praise the Lord, as it states, ìAmzu yatzarti li tíhilasi yísapeiru ñI have created this nation to relate My praise.î  Indeed, Chanukahís lesson is so fundamental that it was already planned from the beginning of Creation.  This is why the twenty-fifth word in the Torah is the word ohr, light, to hint to the fact that there will come a time when, on the twenty-fifth day of Kislev, there will be the great miracle of light.

The month Kislev is spelled chof-samech-lamed-vov.  These letters can be rearranged to spell the two Hebrew words, ësoch lo,í which means a ëtotal of thirty-six.í  This is very fitting since the sum total of candles that we light on Chanukah is six-six.  But the words ësoch loí also mean ëto gaze to Him,í which is also very fitting since this is the meaning of Chanukah: to focus on praising and thanking Hashem.

Furthermore, the sign of the zodiac of the month of Kislev is the keshet, the bow.  This is very appropriate since the rainbow is the sign that Hashem hearkened to the prayers and sacrifices of Noach and promised to never again destroy the world.  Furthermore, the Targum Onkelos translates ëubakashti,í and with my bow (mentioned by Yaakov Avinu), as ëubiva-usi,í with my prayer, further proof that the bow is linked to prayer.

The Heroes of Chanukah also point to the message of prayer.  How unlikely that the Kohanim, whose sole job was ministering to Hashem and to the spiritual needs of our people, would all of a sudden become masters of artillery and at vanquishing generals.  But the Kohein is the symbol of Divine Service, ambassador of our connectivity with Hashem.  Thus it was very appropriate that Hashem should use them as the agents of our miraculous delivery since He wanted to herald in this festival the special message of servicing Hashem through the medium of prayer, our alternative to the Divine Service in the Temple.

In a similar vein, Rabbeinu Ephraim explains that the term ëtzadikí refers specifically to one who excels at prayer.  We know the Chanukah enemy was Yavon, the Syrian-Greeks.  When we add the letter ëtzadikí to the beginning of the word Yavon, presto, we come up with the word Tzion, portraying vividly how the power of prayer led Zion (the Jews) to conquer their Greek enemies.

The Kitzur Shulchan Orech teaches us that eating on Chanukah is not a seudas mitzvah, a meritorious banquet, unless we accompany the meal with zímiros, songs to Hashem.  I believe this unusual requirement is for the following reason.  Eating is not really a fitting celebration for Chanukah since it was part of the ways, through sumptuous feasts and banquets of wine, which the Syrian-Greeks succeeded in Hellenizing many Jews.  However, if we synthesize the eating with songs to Hashem, then it bears the appropriate message for our Chanukah festivities.

As we reach the awesome day of Zos Chanukah – which is considered to be the final seal of judgment, I would like to wish all of my wonderful readers and their families, that we all be blessed with good health, happiness, and everything wonderful.