Chanukah: For All and For Us
Rabbi Yehoshua Grunstein
The private and public symbiosis of the Chanukah candles is vital in halakha: why are they lit in the home, but facing the outside?
Both the Talmud and Rambam’s code illustrate to us the story that lead up to the catalyst of this mitzvah; the lightning of the candles for eight days. It seems the Ancient Greeks strived to omit the Jewishness from the Jews both privately, inside their homes and publicly, in the Beit Hamikdash.
Therefore, since the aim of the Greeks was to destroy the Jewishness of our nation; privately and publicly, we purposefully commemorate the miracle of Chanukah echoed through the Chanukiya. It is connected to the home, but it is facing outwards towards the street. Here we learn that a Jew is both internal and external, and that it is vital to annually express the importance of their Jewish-ness privately and publicly.
The private expression of a Jew manifests itself through the different aspects of a Jewish home such as: keeping kosher, Shabbat and placing mezuzot on the door. The external expression is displayed by: being honest in business, paying taxes, and respecting the community around you.
Before Chanukah, Yaakov’s story is read in the weekly Torah portion. When enter-ing Shechem he conveys this idea (Beresheit 33/18):
“ויחן את פני העיר”; אמר רב: מטבע תיקן להם, ושמואל אמר: שווקים תיקן להם, ורבי יוחנן אמר: מרחצאות תיקן להם (מסכת שבת דף ל׳׳ג:)
“And he (Yaakov) encamped before the city;” Rav said; he made a monetary system of coins for them. Shmuel said; he made a marketplace for them. Rabbi Yochanan said; he made bathhouses for them (Tractate Shabbat 33b.)
Here Yaakov teaches us that while staying internally Jewish (pre-Sinai), he was also at the forefront of promoting social justice. He made a monetary system, a market and a place to keep proper hygiene. The items on this list, while being external, all have roots inside the Torah.
So, once a year we publicly declare that we are Jews defying the Greek’s attempt to encourage assimilation, to separate between Jews and Judaism. Within modern assimilation a Jew prioritizes Jewishness second and acting like everyone else first. The Chanukiyah is placed inside the home but facing the public, exemplifying that our values should prevail in both; one should not prioritize one over the other.
There is a halakha of “הדלקה עושה מצווה“ / Lighting the lights is the mitzvah; that if the candles were lit in a place that they were most likely to stay lit, for the obligatory time, there is no need to relight (code, OC 675/2). While promoting Torah values of honesty and justice to the world, we need not allow the latest ‘fashion’ or ‘fad’ to ‘blow out’ our Jewishness. We have no excuse not to better our world even if these passing tends may influence us. The story of Chanukah illustrates that we have an obligation to express Jewish values both privately and publicly and we must ‘weather the storm’ to help promote a better tomorrow for everyone.
Rabbi Yehoshua Grunstein is the director of Training and Placement for the Beren-Amiel and Straus-Amiel Emissary Programs