Shiur provided courtesy of Naaleh.com
Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein
The Gemarrah recounts the origins of the Chanukah Festival. The menorah that the Maccabees lit with just enough oil for one day lasted for eight days. The following year the Sanhedrin established these eight days as a permanent festival of Hallel/praise and hoda’ah/thanksgiving. Rashi explains that “praise” refers to reciting the Hallel prayer for all eight days of Chanukah, and thanksgiving refers to inserting the Al Hanissim prayer in our Amidah and in the Birkat Hamazon after meals. However, our sages did not prohibit work on Chanukah as is prohibited on other holidays.
Our first order of business is to understand what hallel and hoda’ah mean and how they differ from each other. Metikut Hamoadim defines the difference between the two. While Hallel is an exuberant acclamation of wonder and gratitude for all the surprising salvations Hashem performed for us, hoda’ah is an introspective gratitude, a quiet, peaceful acknowledgment of all the good Hashem has done for us. The celebration of Chanukah incorporates both these aspects. The main action for our celebration is the lighting of the candle, an action that exalts God’s name and inspires gratitude.
However, this mitzvah is done at night, while the Sanhedrin established the celebration of Chanukah for eight days, to include the daytime as well. How do we celebrate during the day? By incorporating the Hallel prayer into our morning prayers, and including the Al Hanissim both in the Amidah and in Birkat Hamazon.
While every one of our holidays has multiple reasons and aspects, Chanukah is unique in that its only characteristic is spirituality, writes Rav Aharon Kotler zt”l. We recognize that since everything in existence belongs to Hashem, we thank Hashem for everything. This gratitude and glorification of His Name is in fact the purpose of all creation.
Taking this idea one step further, Rabbi Mintzberg z”l in Ben Melech explains that just reciting these additional prayers at their appropriate times is not completely fulfilling the mitzvah of hallel and hoda’ah in its fullest extent. The entirety of each day of Chanukah is meant to be replete with expressions of gratitude throughout the day, for the days were instituted as “days of Hallel and Hoda’ah.” While Sukkot is the “time of our rejoicing” and its mitzvoth are sitting in the sukkah and reciting the blessing over the four species, and Pesach is the time of our freedom celebrated with the rituals of eating matzah and bitter herbs, Chanukah are the days of hallel and hoda’ah, with the mitzvah of lighting the Chanukah candles. How does lighting the candles symbolize the essence of praise and gratitude?
Citing the Rambam, Rabbi Mintzberg continues. Lighting the candles is a precious mitzvah whose very purpose is to continue to praise Hashem. Is it also a mitzvah to have a seudah/festive meal on Chanukah? Only if one incorporates words of praise and gratitude as part of the menu.
Here we can also notice a difference between Purim and Chanukah. One of the mitzvoth of Purim is in fact eating a festive meal. The essence of Purim is simcha umishteh/joy and partying/drinking. After all, these were two elements of the unfolding of the miracle of Purim. The essence of Chanukah, on the other hand, is praise and gratitude to Hashem for the miracles He has done for us, thus arriving at rededication to our service to Hashem and His Torah. His Name became great and is praised throughout the world through these miracles, and we, Your Nation Israel, must express gratitude for our salvation.
Chanukah, like Purim, is a day of rejoicing, but neither has its own holiday prayer as do the Biblical holidays. That is why, explains Rabbi Mintzberg, that if one forgets to say Al Hanissim in the Amidah, one is not required to repeat the prayer. However, since the essence of the day is praise and gratitude, if one forgets to recite Al Hanissim in Birkat Hamazon, a prayer of gratitude for his meal, he is required to add a special verse towards the end of Birkat Hamazon to offer the special gratitude of this day.
Authentic gratitude is not a lip service “thank you,” but emanates from a deep desire to give back. It is an acknowledgment derived from introspection that we’ve received more than we deserve, and we therefore rededicate ourselves to Hashem. Hallel too must burst forth with passion, with passionate song that moves us, whether we are praying with the congregation or individually. Therefore, although we need to be grateful every day, Hallel is reserved for special days, so it will not lose its ability to energize and uplift us. When we realize the great good Hashem does for us in every aspect of our lives, we will be inspired to perform the mitzvoth with great joy as a means of strengthening our relationship with Hakodosh Boruch Hu. These are days not of merely reciting Hallel and hoda’ah, but of experiencing acknowledgment and gratitude.
Rabbi Strickoff quoting the Sochatachver Rebbee z”l suggests an amazing reason for hallel and hoda’ah being the essence of the Chanukah celebration. Going back to the ancestors of Bnei Yisroel and the Greeks, we recall Shem and Yafet, two of Noach’s three sons. When the flood had subsided and everyone exited the ark, Noach planted a vineyard, got drink on wine, and exposed himself in his tent. Ham, father of Canaan, went into the tent, saw his father’s nakedness, and went out to gleefully reveal this to his brothers. Their response was in complete contrast to Ham’s actions. They took a garment, entered the tent backwards so as not to see their father’s shame, covered their father, and said not a word. Therefore, Shem and Yafet were rewarded with extra sanctity of the eyes and mouth.
However, during the Greek Empire, the Greeks profaned their eyes by exalting the sight of the human body, choosing to engage naked in sports and encouraging others to do so as well. They then lost the sanctity of their eyes and mouth, and this sanctity was transferred to Bnei Yisroel. When Bnei Yisroel. millenia later, were victorious over the Greeks, the essence of the holiday that commemorates this victory should be celebrated with the eyes that see the light of the candles and the mouth that sings God’s praises.
How does lighting the candles reflect the idea of praise and gratitude? Rabbi Rothberg in Moda Labinah uses a verse from Tehillim 100 that includes both words: “Enter His gates with thanksgiving, His courts with praise, give thanks to Him and bless His Name.” Rabbi Rothberg notes that gates, in the plural, refers to two related emotions, acknowledgement and gratitude.
What is a gate? A gate is the dividing line between an inner and outer area. When one is outside the gate, he is in danger. When he enters, he is safe. But he understands that it is Hashem Who is responsible and Whose hands keep him safe. He appreciates Hashem and is grateful. Then he is ready for the next step, connection to Hashem and singing His praises. In this context, the Chashmonaim established the recitation of Hallel a year after the victory and the miracle of the oil.
The menorah is lit outside where everyone can see its light. But we may only see them, not use them for any practical purpose. These candles reflect the light within, the neshamah/soul and remind us of His presence. While the candles themselves symbolize our inner world, they are lit outside, in sight of the physical, public domain. After the candles are ignited, we continue by singing Hashem’s praises.
Our victory over the Greeks was much more than a military victory, writes Rabbi Moshe Shapiro in Reflections and Introspection, Chanukah and Purim. It was a victory of our philosophy over the Greek world view. The Greeks believed there was no Creator, that the world always existed and will always continue to exist. All things in existence always existed in one form or another and will continue to exist forever, although they may change. If there was no Creator and no beginning, and all existence flows naturally and change occurs naturally through cause and effect, there is no one to thank and no reason to thank. There is also no meaning to life itself. If all existence is through the inexorable laws of nature and cause and effect, there is also no possibility for miracles.
Our belief in a Creator through Whom everything exists, Who created a beginning to existence itself, flies in the face of Greek philosophy. If there is a Creator, we have Him to thank for our existence. We acknowledge that nature itself and the laws of nature exist only through His will, and He can change nature as He wishes.
It is in this context that the candles are a perfect symbol for Chanukah, continues Rabbi Shapiro zt”l. One may think that the burning candle always exists as is until the oil is consumed. The fact is that the candle is different at each moment of its existence. It is constantly consuming itself. The oil it used a moment ago is not the same oil it is now utilizing and burning. Even the wick is a slightly different wick. Although the fire appears to be the same, it is always changing, remaining lit only as long as the oil continues to feed it. Understanding the essence of the candles gives us the insight that our entire existence is only through Hakodosh Boruch Hu infuses us with life at each moment of our existence. Therefore, I thank Him and praise Him. When I light the candles, adds the Sifsei Chaim I thank Hashem both for the open miracles and for the wondrous, hidden miracles of our very existence.
There is a unique aspect to the mitzvah of lighting the Chanukah candles that exists with no other mitzvah. While we may enhance and beautify every mitzvah [from the verse in Song of the Sea, “This is my God and I will beautify Him”], it is only with regard to lighting the Chanukah menorah that we are told to perform the mitzvah in the most beautiful of beautiful ways. That is because the essence of Chanukah is to glorify and beautify the day, and to give thanks, writes Rabbi Dovid Cohen. Therefore, in many families every member of the family has his own personal menorah to light. But since praise and gratitude are the mitzvah of the entire day, not just the night, every blessing we recite on this day should be enhanced and recited with greater focus and appreciation. Even the practice of giving each other gifts should raise in us an awareness of the greatest Giver of gifts, and our thanks extend to Him as well as to the giver of the wrapped gift.
The Greeks sought to break the walls of our relationship with God. They contaminated all the flasks of pure oil to contaminate the special relationship with Hakodosh Boruch Hu that fuels our lives. But we need to continue to thank Hashem for all the good in our lives that we often take for granted, our families, our friends, and extend extra warmth and love to them on these special days.
Rav Scheinerman notes another unique aspect of Chanukah. It is the only holiday on which we recite the complete Hallel even though there is no unique offering on each day (as there is with Sukkot). That is because the essence of the day is the verse from Tehillim that we recite towards the end of Hallel, “You are my God ve’odekah/and I will acknowledge/thank you. You, my God, I will exalt You. Give thanks to Hashem, for He is good…”
It is hard to constantly be aware of all we need to be grateful for, of the need to acknowledge Hashem’s presence in our lives at every moment, but for these eight days of Chanukah let us try to have a heightened awareness of Hashem’s existence and His presence in our lives.