Chanukah – Beyond the Facade

By Yered Viders

Our homes are illuminated with the timeless Chanukah lights and the timeless message they convey. Looking at the lights, I wondered why the B’nei Binah (“Men of Insight”) — whom we acclaim in Ma’oz Tz’ur for establishing the Festival of Chanukah — selected such a mundane way of commemorating the historic miracle. Light a candle. That’s it?

Imagine Jewish leadership instituted a Festival to commemorate the recent miracles associated with the Gaza attacks. What would be a fitting, meaningful tribute? What commemorative event could really drive home the message of emunah, bitachon and Hashem’s secure watch over His People and His Land? A parade? A military re-enactment? No, I got it. Let’s turn on our living room lights at sunset and leave them on for 30 minutes!

Truth be told, while we associate candles with “special events,” in days of antiquity, candles were just a means of illumination. They were the modern-day equivalent of the 60 watt bulb that enabled our forefathers centuries ago to remain productive after the sun had set. Of all the ways of commemorating the miracles of Chanukah -– what’s so significant about the seemingly insignificant candle?

Lest the rarefied days of Chanukah be lost in a torrent of doughnuts and latkes, it behooves us to consider this point.

The answer, I believe, is to train our powers of perception to register what lies beneath the service. The symbolism. The depth. The “more than meets the eye.” As oppose to the “what you see is what you get” philosophy of the Greek regime. Yavan thinking was staunchly averse to attributing anything spiritual to nature, history or the human condition. Face value. One dimension. Reality begins and ends with what’s tangible.

To uproot this sinister mindset, our forefathers — true B’nei Binah — crafted the perfect “ritual” to highlight the centrality of what lies beneath the surface. If you want — it’s just a candle. It’s just a mundane, functional way of illuminating the home. On the other hand, if you choose, it’s so much more than just a candle. It’s a “symbol,” and if you double-click on that symbol you can tap into deep spiritual reservoirs brimming with timeless lessons of emunah, bitachon, mesiras nefesh and the Jewish People’s unique capacity to live above nature and history. Behind that flickering light you can discover all the fundamentals of faith that have sustained us throughout the centuries.

For better or for worse, we live in a non-thinking generation. Many scholars have noted that the attractive “-isms” of generations past have imploded upon themselves, leaving only a few misguided souls truly championing a particular philosophical outset. What, then, has filled the void and competes with our capacity to think deeply into matters? The media, for one. We are bombarded with advertisements and “tidbits” of information on seemingly every nook and cranny of our environment. Our human interactions are quite often at a shockingly shallow level as we jot off the next text while waiting at a light. We are a headline-society without, seemingly, the time, patience or interest for plumbing the depths. Are we under military attack? No, thankfully not; but our precious minds that have the capacity to seek emes and our Yiddishe eyes that have inherited the capacity to identify Hashem behind the opaque crust of nature and history are threatened everyday with the allure of the superficial view.

To spur us on in this fight for depth, we have a tremendous debt of gratitude to the Sages who instituted Chanukah –- not just that they saw fit to give us the enlightened days to endure the winter (and the long winter of galus) but the manner in which the B’nei Binah established the celebration: encouraging and inspiring us to retain our behind-the-scenes perception in a world where façade masquerades as the coin of the realm. Let us live up to the challenge of the Chanukah lights and may we merit to see depth in ourselves, in one another and our world at large.

One comment on “Chanukah – Beyond the Facade

  1. It is interesting that Chazal tells us in various Midrashim that Adam HaRishon was terrified when the days got shorter and shorter. He was afraid that this would continue until there was no daylight at all, and that would last forever (sort of like what happens past the Arctic and Antarctic Circles at the winter solstice, but everywhere and for all time). Suddenly, the days started getting longer again. Once Adam HaRishon realized this, a few days past the shortest day of the year, he made a festival out of it.

    Now, this festival of Adam HaRishon isn’t commanded anywhere in the Torah or the Shulchan Aruch. In fact, pagan societies and the ancient Romans celebrated this time, when the days start getting longer, and it ended up being adopted by the early Xtians for their celebrations.

    Isn’t it possible that the Jews of that time, still fighting the Misyavnim (the Gemara informs us that the wars lasted for many years), needed to celebrate at first in secret, so they took on a time when the pagans were also celebrating? And that the Sages agreed to this choice of date because the next year they felt a certain Kedushah at this time, they realized it was an auspicious time, a time of Nissim.

    Lighting candles then, would be very apt, because Light is at the center of this celebration (the lengthening of daylight, the return of the sun, the gradual banishment of darkness). Lighting candles which outwardly pretend to celebrate the outside world’s Festival of Lengthening Days but actually secretly celebrate the Jewish world’s Festival of Rededication of the Holy Temple, and the miracles involved with the seemingly hopeless survival of the Jewish people, would be a very practical way to mark the holiday.

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