ישיבת כרם ביבנה

The Meaning of "Chanukah"

הרב קלמן מאיר בר

Many reasons are given for the name, "Chanukah." Some say that it is because of chanu bk"h (they rested on the 25th) of Kislev. Others say that it named after the chanukat hamizbe'ach, since on this day they rededicated the Altar. An novel reason, not found in earlier sources, is given by R. Yaakov Emden in his book, Mor U'ketziah. He suggests that it is on account of the chanukat hamikdash, the dedication of the Second Temple, which occurred on this date about two hundred years before the Hasmoneans, as we find in the book of Chaggai. Based on this he answers a number of additional questions, amongst them why we celebrate eight days, and not seven (the well-known question of the Beit Yosef). He explains that the first day corresponds to the celebration of the Second Temple that was in the days of Chaggai.

Even though Rav Emden indicates that this is a proper reason, in our humble opinion it is somewhat difficult to assume that the Hasmoneans – who were about two hundred years after the building of the Second Temple – would suddenly remember to commemorate the dedication of the Second Temple. We will try to explain the connection in a somewhat different manner.

Did the Shechina (Divine Presence) dwell in the Second Temple? The Gemara, in Masechet Yoma, and Rashi, in his commentary to Chaggai, address this issue in regards to Chaggai's prophecy urging the people to build the Temple. Chaggai turns to them and says, "Go up to the mountain and bring wood and build the Temple; I will be pleased with it and I will be honored (ve'ikavda) – said Hashem." (Chaggai 1:8) The word ve'ikavda is written without the final hey. The Gemara in Yoma explains that the lack of the hey corresponds to the five things that were present in the First Temple but lacking in the Second Temple: the Ark, the urim vetumim, the heavenly fire, the Shechina, and ruach hakodesh (holy spirit). Thus, the Second Temple lacked the hashra'at haShechina. It lacked the heavenly fire on the Altar. Yet, later on in Chaggai's prophecy, when the people feel inadequate compared to what existed in the First Temple, the prophet encourages them and consoles them, "There will be one more; it is a small one. I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land." (2:6) Rashi explains that this prophecy relates to the days of the Hasmoneans, which will be in another two hundred years, when it will become evident that the Shechina dwells in this Temple. This is difficult, though, since Rashi himself cites the Gemara that the Shechina did not dwell in the Second Temple!

Why, indeed, did the Shechina not dwell in the Second Temple? R. Yochanan (Yoma 10b) explains based on the pasuk, "May G-d beautify Yefet, but He will dwell in the tents of Shem" (Bereishit 9:27) – the Shechina dwells only in the tents of Shem and not in the tents of Yefet. The Second Temple was "the tents of Yefet," since it was built by King Cyrus of Persia. Clearly this does not mean that Cyrus or his men actually built it, but rather that Am Yisrael lacked political and spiritual independence in their land. Whatever was "Persian," whatever was "Greek," was considered beautiful and authentic, whereas whatever reminded of Jewish culture was considered archaic and out-of-style.

The tendency was to be part of world culture. Even Yehoshua the kohen gadol – his son intermarried with the daughter of the Cutite leader. The bond between Knesset Yisrael and its G-d was very loose; the bond between the nation and its Torah was very weak. This was a culture of the G-d of Yefet. Under such circumstances the Shechina does not dwell.

The first time that Israel regained political independence since the First Temple was during the time of the Hasmoneans, as the Rambam writes, "The reign of Israel returned for over two hundred years until the destruction of the Second Temple."

But not only the political independence. The Hasmoneans led the nation to return to its roots, to return to its sources, to return to its culture. Thus, they reverted the Temple back from the tents of Yefet to the tents of Shem, and thus the Shechina returned to dwell in the Second Temple. Indeed, in the first Temple, the dedication of the Temple was with much splendor and glory. In contrast, the dedication ceremony of Second Temple, as described in the Book of Ezra was very plain, since the Temple was without the dwelling of the Shechina.

Only now, after two hundred years, when the Shechina returned to the Temple – then they celebrated the dedication of the Second Temple a second time with splendor and glory, celebrating the Shechina that returned to Israel. Indeed, Chanukah is named after the dedication of the Second Temple – the second version, when the Shechina returned to it. How fitting it is that Chanukah is celebrated through the lighting of the Menorah – since the Menorah symbolizes the dwelling of the Shechina, as the Gemara in Masechet Shabbat 21b says that the lighting of the Menorah in the Temple is determined by our behavior. If our Temple is a house for the tents of Yefet – then the Shechina is beyond us. However, if we incorporate within us the culture of our ancestor Yisrael – then there is testimony that the Shechina dwells in Israel.

We, in footsteps of Chanukah, should light many lights and ignite all the sparks of holiness, and uplift the pillar of fire that will lead Israel through the dark nights of the winter, until we achieve the great light – "Ohr chadash al Zion ta'ir venizkeh chulanu bimeheira le'oro" (Light a new light over Zion and we will all merit speedily for its light.)

 

 

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