Chanukah celebrates what?


The miracle of Chanukah was completely unnecessary.

Every Jewish schoolchild knows the story: The Greeks had defiled the Holy Temple’s store of olive oil. So when the Maccabees liberated the Temple, they could not find ritually pure oil with which to kindle the menorah. Then, a single cruse of uncontaminated oil was found, enough to keep the menorah alight for a single day. Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days, until new oil could be prepared. To this day, we commemorate the miracle by kindling the Chanukah lights on each of the festival’s eight days.

Strictly speaking, none of this was necessary. The law which forbids the use of ritually impure oil in the Temple would not have applied under the circumstances which then prevailed. According to Torah law:

“The prohibition of impurity, if affecting the entire community, is waived.”

—If the entire community, or all the kohanim, or the all Temple’s vessels, are ritually impure, it is permissible to enter the Temple and conduct the Temple services under conditions of impurity.[1] Nevertheless, G-d wished to show His love for His people: He suspended the laws of nature in order to enable them to rededicate the Temple without any compromise on its standards of purity—even if it be a perfectly legal and permissible compromise.

Going Overboard

Every Chanukah, we reciprocate in kind. How many lights must be kindled on the Chanukah menorah? One on the first night, two on the second, etc. Wrong. According to the Talmud, this is he law:

The mitzvah of Chanukah is [fulfilled with] a single light for each household. Those who do more than is obligatory, kindle a single light for each individual. Those who do more than those who do more than is obligatory… kindle one light on the first day and add an additional light on each succeeding day[2]

There are Jews who buy the cheapest tefillin on the market, who give the absolute minimum that the laws of charity mandate, who employ every halachic exemption and loophole they can lay their hands on. But when was the last time you saw a single light in the window of a Jewish home on the sixth night of Chanukah? On Chanukah, we all “do more than those who do more than is obligatory” – after all, G-d did the same for us.

Fanatical Educator

The word “Chanukah” comes from the word chinuch, which means “initiation.” Chanukah celebrates the renewal of the service in the Holy Temple after it was liberated from the Greek defiler, purified, and rededicated as the seat of G-d’s manifest presence in our world.

Chanukah thus serves as a model for all initiations, including the most significant initiation of all—education, a child’s initiation into life (indeed, chinuch is also the Hebrew word for “education”). The uncompromising insistence on purity and perfection which Chanukah represents imparts an important lesson regarding the essence of the educator/initiator’s task.

Compromise is anathema to education. To a mature tree, a gash here or a torn limb there is of little or no consequence. But the smallest scratch in the seed, the slightest nick in the sapling, results in an irrevocable deformity, a flaw which the decades to come will deepen rather than erase.

Virtually every life is faced with demands for compromise—some tolerable, others not. The educator who wishes to impart a set of values and priorities that will weather them all, must deliver, in word and example, a message of impeccable purity, free of even the slightest and most “acceptable” equivocation.

Based on an address by the Rebbe, Chanukah 5714 (1953)

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe by Yanki Tauber


[1] Talmud, Pesachim 79a; Mishneh Torah, Laws of Entering the Temple, 4:12.

Free Chanukah Guide

The Kabbalah of Chanukah

Your free guide to a meaningful Chanuka with insights from Rabbi Simon Jacobson, author of the best-seller Toward a Meaningful Life, and Rabbi Yanki Tauber, author of Inside Time.


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