Chanukah – Lights of Joy

In honor of the upcoming shloshim of Rebbitzin Evelyn Yachnes, Chana Chaya bas Chaim A”H. Sponsored by some family members  who would like to sponsor the insightful divrei Torah of Rabbi Dovid Shmuel Milder. It is extremely appropriate that this venue should be a zechus for our mother whose ideals are closely connected to the lessons and mussar that Rabbi Milder expresses so well. Thank you so much for this opportunity.

“What is Chanukkah?  That [which] our Sages taught: On the 25th of Kislev – the days of Chanukah, they are eight, not to eulogize on them and not to fast on them, for when the Greeks entered the Temple, they polluted all the oils in the Temple, and when the Chashmonaim dynasty overcame and defeated them, they checked and they found but one cruse of oil that was set in place with the seal of the High Priest, but there was  only [enough] to light a single day. A miracle was done with it, and they lit from it for eight days. The following year [the Sages] fix those [days], making them holidays for praise and thanksgiving” (Gemara Shabbos 21b).

When the Greeks entered the Beis Hamikdash they seemed to have defiled everything inside, including all the utensils used to prepare and process the sacrifices, as well as the Shulchan, etc. Chazal even say the Greeks sacrificed a pig on the Holy Alter. Why then does the gemara emphasize the oil and menorah?

Chanukah literally means dedication. This holiday specifically celebrates the rededication of the Second Beis HaMikdash in the times of the Chashmonaim after they recaptured it from the Greeks.

There were actually seven dedications recorded in Jewish History. The medrish Pesiksa Rabasi DiRav Kahana states, “How many Chanukahs are there? There are 7 Chanukahs. They are:

  1. The dedication of the heaven and earth, as it says, ‘Thus the heaven and earth were finished’ (Breishis 2:1). What chanukah was then? ‘And G-D set them in the firmament of heaven to give light’ (Breishis 1:17).
  2. The dedication of the wall, as it says, ‘And at the dedication of the wall of Yerushalayim’ (Nechemiah 12:27).
  3. The dedication of the exiles [when they rebuilt the second Beis HaMikdash], as it says, ‘And they offered up for the dedication of this House of God’ (Ezra 6:17).
  4. The dedication of the kohanim where we light [the Chanukiah].
  5. The dedication in the World to Come as it says, ‘I will search Yerushalayim with candles’ (Tzephania 1:12).
  6. The dedication [of the Mishkan] by the princes [of each tribe], as it says, ‘This is the dedication of the alter’ (Bamidbar 6:84).
  7. The dedication of [the first] Beis HaMikdash, that which is referred to in Tehillim ‘A Psalm – a song for the dedication of the Temple – by Dovid’ (Tehillim 30:1), (Psiksa Rabasi DiRav Kahana, Piska DiChanukah, paragraph 2).”

The Pesiksa DiRav Kahana repeats this list but in a different order, at the end of the chapter in paragraph seven. The order is chronological, ending with the dedication in The World to Come which will come at the end of days. The Maharz”u says that the medrish repeats the list in order to end off the chapter with words of blessing, as it says, “And the dedication of the World to Come which it will also have candles as it is written, ‘And the light of the moon shall be like the light of the sun, and the light of the sun shall be sevenfold’ (Yeshayahu 30:26).”

The Rada”l, Rav Dovid Luria zt”l, has his explanation of the repetition of the list. He says that at first the purpose of the list was to show the 7 times the word chanukah, dedication, was used. It is just that by the creation of the world, and what will happen in the World to Come, the word chanukah is not used, but since there were and will be candles, that is enough because they are normally lit for the joy of light of the dedication. Then the list is repeated to emphasize that each dedication had lights and candles, including the dedication of creation which had the celestial lights – the sun, moon, and stars. There was also a special light throughout the seven days of creation shining for the joy of dedication. The dedication of the Mishkan by Moshe Rabbeinu and the dedication of the first Beis HaMikdash by King Shlomo (as well as the second Beis HaMikdash) had the lighting of the menorah. By the dedication of the wall around Yerushalayim it states, “To perform the dedication with joy” (Nechemiah 12:27), referring to candles for joy as it says, “It was light and joy.” The paragraph concludes with the Chanukah of the Chashmonaim which was with candles and the dedication in the World to Come which will be with candles. (Click here and here for Hebrew sources.)
We see from here that, by definition, a proper dedication must be done with candles or a controlled light substance like the sun, moon and stars. Hence, Chanukah, the rededication of the Beis HaMikdash after it was defiled by the Greeks, is commemorated with lights, for that is what is most important in a dedication. For this reason, it would seem, it was worthwhile for Hashem to make a miracle to ensure the dedication takes place properly and with the utmost joy.

Why are lights so important for a dedication? It would seem from here that light has the inherent value of bringing joy. It is known that the ability to see clearly with proper lighting makes people feel more comfortable and happier. In places where it is cloudy and gloomy, or the sun does not come up for parts of the year, it is known that people there are more prone to depression and sadness. In fact, the Shulchan Aruch says that one who cannot afford to buy both Chanukah and Shabbos candles should buy Shabbos candles for the sake of peace the house. The Mishna Berura adds that nowadays, when we light our candles inside the house, it is better to buy a candle for Chanukah, because you won’t be sitting in the dark, and even though you are not supposed to benefit from the Chanukah light, it is considered a time of danger nowadays and the  candle can be lit for Chanukah on the table inside, though one will inevitably gain benefit from it. However, most poskim hold one should not differentiate between the times of the gemara and today so even nowadays if one can only afford one candle it should be for Shabbos(Mishna Berura 678:1:2).

Light sheds piece of mind and happiness to all within its arc. It is most appropriate to have a beginning or even a reopening with lights in order to start with a sense of joy. Thus, Chanukah had to commemorate the miracle of lights because there is no inauguration without lights. Chanukah celebrates that feeling of joy, magnified by Hashem’s miracle, which was radiating from the lights.

May we feel a sense of renewed happiness in our lives this Chanukah!