Hanukkah is the only feast that originated in the land of Israel.
Pesach originated in Egypt; Purim in Persia; Shavuot and Sukkot in the wilderness. Hanukkah, however, happened Poh – פה – here, in Israel. The Holy Temple was cleansed and rededicated and the miracle of the menorah lights occurred. Light broke in and overcame the darkness of the Greco-Roman idolatry and materialism.
The golden menorah represented the Presence of God and the light of His Truth. The details of the menorah are significant, e.g., the almond decoration. Almonds, in their shape, resemble eyes and the light of the menorah enables us to see reality in the light of the Word of God.
The main purpose of lighting the Hanukkah lights is to see them, and not to use them for any practical purpose besides enjoying and sharing their radiance with others. We, therefore, place them by a window or outside the front doorway when possible. We see the lovely dancing lights and enjoy their beauty and remember; “He Who watches over Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps.” As the late Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach (z”l) said, “HaShem’s eyes are glued to this Land – and ours should be too.”
He also said something I had not considered before: “The downfall of the world is, ‘And the woman saw that the tree was good for eating’ (Gen. 3:6). The way Chava (Eve) looked at the tree was the beginning of all darkness.” She was deceived by the serpent to see things differently from the way God had intended and instructed. That is one of the enemy’s chief goals until today – to distort our perspective and understanding of life through lies, distortion and illusion.
To bring healing to Eve’s mistake, women have the blessing of lighting the Shabbat candles which cause darkness to flee and bring the peace and light of God’s Presence into the home in a special way. Lighting the candles of the hanukkiah, however, is about “seeing the light” and the redemptive healing of Hanukkah is “…when we fix the way we look at anything in the world.”
I love author Daniel Gordis’ description, in his book Here to Stay, of his family’s first Hanukkah after they had made Aliyah to Israel. Soon after arriving, Daniel and his family spent Hanukkah with five other families in the Negev desert:
Standing around the flames that were struggling to stay alight in the gentle desert wind, we huddled together to try to block the breeze so that the candles would not blow out. This is it, I found myself thinking; this is the ‘kibbutz galuyot,’ the “ingathering of the exiles” that the [Jewish people] have talked about and dreamt of for two thousand years.
With the chill of the desert night getting stronger and stronger, we found ourselves huddled closer and closer together. I looked at my kids. For centuries, Jews had been trying to make sure that the lights did not get extinguished, that Jewish life would somehow continue. And here were my kids, living this wonderful moment, part of this small band of people drawn to this one place, just to keep the flame alive.
Hanukkah miracles all over again, I thought. And now, because my kids live here, they not only celebrate them — they’re part of the miracle.
The beautiful menorah in the Holy Place stood for the light of God’s Word – His Torah – His truth and teachings for mankind. When we study the Scriptures throughout the year we need to be asking ourselves, for example: “What am I learning from this Word? Is it making me more holy? Am I walking in its ways to the best of my ability? Am I aware of the miracles that surround me every day?”
But… at Hanukkah, as Shlomo Carlebach also reminds us, we are to see the lights in grateful delight and to simply be.
“No calculations, no expectations; I’m just looking at the light and I’m so glad it’s there.”