In his book Likutei Halachot, Rabbi Nosson of Breslav relates the Hebrew word Chanukah (rededication) to the word chinuch (education). In fact, he teaches that the essence of the holiday of Chanukah, remembering the Maccabean victory over the Greeks and their attempted influence on Judaism, represents the education of an individual towards avodat Hashem (service of God).
How so? The first step is in waging a war against our evil inclinations – our desires for the mundane and the physical as opposed to for that which is spiritually nourishing. Once that war is won, and the Greeks are kicked out of the Temple so-to-speak, we are ready for step two.
The second step is in shining a light internally to brighten our path forward. And that is a light that gets brighter with each passing day. As a matter of fact, Rabbi Nosson points out that each night’s light provides the foundation for the next. After all, you can’t have a second night of chanukah without recognizing the first that came before it – the lighting of the chanukiyah is not just moving a candle, but adding a new candle each night. The light is cumulative. Each night adds light to the previous one until the eighth night which is the brightest of all.
Another teaching about light comes from Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heschel of Apt, who utilizes the famous teaching that a soul is like a candle. The job of a person is to burn as brightly as possible, warming and inspiring others with their light. They can then burn brightly themselves to warm and inspire others.
Importantly, sticking together is key since candles burn brightest when next to each other. The job of the Jewish people, then, is to stand as close together and burn as brightly together as possible so that our light can conquer all of the shadows around us. Chanukah is the holiday that reminds of what our goal really is and the steps towards achieving it, but it’s up to us to internalize that message and allow it to brighten our souls in the process.
Rabbi Gotlib and the JET Team