Why Celebrate Hanukkah?

menorah window

What is more important: placing the menorah in the window, or lighting the candles?

Rabbi Amy Wallk Katz   December 2, 2018

The Rabbis in the Talmud argue about what is the true mitzvah of Hanukkah. Every detail of the holiday matters, from the glow of the candles to the smell of fried latkes, but what is the one moment that encapsulates the entire holiday? Some argue that the core of the holiday is placing the hanukkiah (menorah) in the window so that all the world will know the miracle that saved our ancestors. Others argue that the mitzvah of the holiday is lighting the candles. The Rabbis resolve the dispute, but more interesting than their answer is the question itself.

What is more important: placing the menorah in the window, or lighting the candles?

Behind this question is a question about what Hanukkah means for the Jewish people. Placing the menorah in the window is a statement of presence: there was a brutal war, we were almost wiped out, but we made it; we are still here, and here we will remain. We publicize not only the miracle but also our presence. Placing the menorah in the window shows the world that we have no fear or need to hide. Placing the menorah in the window is a sign of permanence.

Lighting the candles is impermanent. The flames flicker, burn brightly, and eventually burn out. The candles need to be relit every night and every year. Lighting the candles reminds us that we must continually rekindle our Jewish identities.

The rabbis decided that it is lighting the candles that embodies the holiday. Thus we say the blessing when we light, not when we place the hanukkiah, and the blessing says: "Blessed are you Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us through lighting the candles of Hanukkah." The word Hanukkah itself means "dedication" or "rededication." This month let us rededicate ourselves to kindling our Jewish identities. As we prepare to light the candles tonight, let us renew our commitment to Jewish learning, Jewish art, Jewish history, Jewish literature, and our Jewish selves.

The permanence of our people is based on all Jews continually renewing themselves and their commitment to Judaism.

Hag Urim Sameah, Happy Festival of Lights!


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