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The History of Chanukah

The Menorah Files

How to Celebrate Chanukah


Thoughts on Chanukah

   Short tidbits

Long(er) Essays

   The Heroines of Chanukah

The Secret of Chanukah

The Greatness of Peace - The Purpose of Light

Being P.C. or C.P.

The Big Collision

The Shape of The Menorah

Let There be Light

Two Miracles: Two Modes of Commemoration

A New Level of Awareness

The Message of The Chanukah Lights

Why The Maccabees Rebelled

Increasing The Amount of Candles Lit on Chanukah

Reliving Chanuka

Chanukah and Moshiach

Chasidic Discourse - Mai Chanukah

Q & A

Letters From the Rebbe

Children's Corner

The Significance of Chanukah

 Two Miracles: Two Modes of Commemoration The Message of The Chanukah Lights

A New Level of Awareness

The Dedication of the Altar

In addition to the Maccabees' military victory over the Greeks and the miracle of the Menorah, Chanukah commemorates the rededication of the Beis HaMikdash [1] and its altar after it had been defiled by the Greeks. [2]

Accordingly, the name Chanukah is derived from the word chinuch which means not only "education" but also "dedication".

Dedication is also the theme of the passages which the Sages chose for the daily reading of the Torah during Chanukah. [3]

They describe the inaugural offerings brought by the tribal leaders of the Jewish people for the dedication of the altar in the desert, [4] offerings which opened up new spiritual possibilities for our material world.

Why was the Chanukah Miracle Necessary?

The concept underlying the dedication of the altar helps us understand the Maccabean rededication of the Beis HaMikdash.

The kindling of the Menorah (like the offering of communal sacrifices) may be practiced in a state of ritual impurity when there is no other alternative. [5] Why, then, was the Chanukah miracle necessary?

Among the answers offered to this question [6] is that this leniency applies only to sacrifices brought upon an existing altar and to lights kindled upon an existing Menorah. However, when the Beis HaMikdash, the altar, and the Menorah all had to be rededicated because they had been defiled by the Greeks, this leniency could not be relied upon.

The oil used for rededicating the Menorah had to be ritually pure: the source of spiritual light for our world cannot be established through divine service that is acceptable only after the fact.

On the contrary, the rededication of the Beis HaMikdash requires divine service of the highest level attainable. This was achieved by the mesirus nefesh ("self-sacrifice") of the Maccabees in their struggle for purity.

Making Our World a Dwelling Place for G-d

To the superficial observer, our world appears to function as an utterly physical entity, with no obvious connection to G-dliness or spirituality.

This is the case because G-d desired "a dwelling in the lower worlds," [7] meaning that He wanted His presence to be revealed in a setting where, by nature, He is not recognized.

The very nature of the material framework which He created obscures spiritual awareness and breeds self-concern.

A radical change, the introduction of a new approach to existence, is necessary for the world to serve as a dwelling place for G-d. [8]

The construction of the Sanctuary and later, the Beis HaMikdash, ushered in this new approach, for these structures served as "dwelling places for G-d," places where His presence was openly revealed. [9]

To inaugurate a structure of this type, a heightened level of divine service is required; this is what is meant by chinuch - "dedication".

A Focus on Children

Chinuch, as has been mentioned, also means "education".

The introduction of radical changes also takes place in the education of a child.

Education is not intended to merely enable the child to progress somewhat within his existing cognitive framework, but to introduce him to new approaches and effect pervasive changes in his nature.

For this reason, at the beginning of his formal education (and at the introduction of each new stage in his development), the child is given presents which, like the additional sacrifices offered to dedicate the altar, will stimulate his growth [10] throughout this lifelong endeavor.

In the spirit of Chanukah, [11] he will "always advance higher in holy matters."

This, too, is the motivation underlying the cherished custom of giving children the gifts of pocket money known as "Chanukah gelt." [12]

To Dedicate the World

"Educate a youth according to his way; even when he grows old, he will not depart from it." [13]

The points outlined above remain relevant as youths mature and start homes of their own, for every Jewish home is a "sanctuary in microcosm" [14] which must be dedicated to serve as a source for the diffusion of Divine light.

Through our efforts in the study of Torah, in the service of prayer, and in giving tzedakah, we continuously spread G-dly light throughout the entire world.

Chanukah in particular reminds us to spread the "lamp of a mitzvah and the light of the Torah," [15] even when darkness appears to envelop our surroundings.

Chanukah thus represents "the dedication of the world," [16] for the world was created for the sake of the Torah, [17] and the miracles of Chanukah make it possible for this purpose to be fulfilled.

Thus, as the light of Chanukah spreads throughout the world, we become conscious that the world is G-d's dwelling place, and thereby hasten the coming of the Redemption, when we will dedicate the Third Beis HaMikdash.

May this take place in the immediate future.


  1. (Back to text) Shibalei HaLeket, sec. 174; see also Torah Or, Parshas Vayeishev 29d.

  2. (Back to text) Darkei Moshe and Rama (Orach Chayim 670:1); Maharsha, Chiddushei Aggados, on Sanhedrin 21b; Torah Or, loc. cit.

    According to the Rama, it is because of the dedication of the Menorah that Chanukah should be celebrated by festive gatherings and feasts.

  3. (Back to text) Bamidbar, ch. 7.

  4. (Back to text) See Yalkut Shimoni, Melachim, sec. 184, which states that the twenty-fifth of Kislev also marks the date of the completion of the Sanctuary erected in the desert. Although the Sanctuary was not erected until Nissan, G-d promised this day, the twenty-fifth of Kislev, that He would repay it at a later time. That debt was duly paid with the Maccabees' dedication of the altar on that date.

  5. (Back to text) Zevachim 22b; Rambam, Hilchos Bias HaMikdash 4:9.

  6. (Back to text) Gilyonei HaShas, Shabbos 21b. See also the essay on "The Message of the Chanukah Lights," which offers an alternative resolution to this question.

  7. (Back to text) Midrash Tanchuma, Parshas Bechukosai, sec. 3; cited in Tanya, chs. 33 and 36.

  8. (Back to text) See Likkutei Sichos, Vol. VI, Parshas Shmos.

  9. (Back to text) Moreover, the physical substance of the world itself was included in G-d's dwelling, as is reflected in the change in its halachic status. From the time an article was consecrated for use in the Sanctuary or the Beis HaMikdash, it could not be used for mundane purposes.

  10. (Back to text) See the Rambam's Commentary to the Mishnah (Sanhedrin

  11. (Back to text)0:1); Or HaTorah on Chanukah, pp. 299b, 934b.

  12. (Back to text) Shabbos, loc. cit. See the explanation in the essay on "The Message of the Chanukah Lights."

  13. (Back to text) HaYom Yom, entry for 28 Kislev. The importance of this custom may be seen in the preference for giving children Chanukah gelt several times during Chanukah. See Hisvaaduyos 5747, Vol. 2, p. 123, footnote 23 and sources cited there; see also the Sichah of 22 Kislev, 5749.

  14. (Back to text) Mishlei 22:6.

  15. (Back to text) Cf. Megillah 29a. See the essay entitled "Every Home a Chabad House" (Sichos In English, Vol. 34, pp. 39-48.)

  16. (Back to text) Mishlei 6:23.

  17. (Back to text) Shelah, Torah SheBichsav, p. 301b (in the Amsterdam edition).

  18. (Back to text) Rashi on Bereishis 1:1.

 Two Miracles: Two Modes of Commemoration The Message of The Chanukah Lights

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