From the Cantor, Murray Simon
Well, here we go again! Just like Rosh HaShanah that fell this year on the heels of Labor Day, we have Hanukkah beginning this year on Thanksgiving weekend. So, you might be tempted to say, “Hanukkah is early this year!” But no, it is right where it belongs.
How come Hanukkah moves around so much? Well, it doesn’t. It always comes on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev on the lunar calendar. What is interesting to me is that this very minor Jewish holiday is not mentioned in our Bible since it occurred in the 2nd century pre-Christian era, around 167 B.C.E. The story is preserved in the books of the First and Second Maccabees which describes in detail the re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem (Hanukkat HaBayit) and the re-lighting of the menorah.
There are very few religious prohibitions during Hanukkah, unlike our major holidays of Shabbat, the High Holy Days and the Festivals of Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot. What, then, is required of us during the observance of this joyous minor holiday?
The most iconic ritual during Hanukkah is the daily lighting in the home each evening of the “hanukkiah”– the special, nine-branched menorah used just for Hanukkah. The reason for the Hanukkah lights is not for the “lighting of the house within,” but rather for the “illumination of the house without,” so that passersby should see it and be reminded of the holiday’s miracle (i.e., that the sole cruse of pure oil found in the Holy Temple, which held enough oil to burn for one night, actually burned for eight nights). Accordingly, hanukkiyot are set up at a prominent window or near the door leading to the street. I remember being in Israel during Hanukkah six or seven years ago and I was enthralled to see the hanukkiyot of each home burning in a glass display case affixed to the home’s outside wall facing the street. What a moving sight!
When we think of Hanukkah, we think of the special sights of standing around the lit hanukkiah, the sounds of singing the appropriate Hanukkah songs and the tastes of the special Hanukkah treats such latkes and sufganiyot. Then we know where Hanukkah belongs – it belongs right in our hearts!
Cantor Murray E. Simon