Chanukah 5780

Holiday #6 (268) Chanukah 5780 Dec. 22-30
Chasidut (short) Kabbalah Laws & Customs
Come to ASCENT for Chanukah and "The Festival of Light!" Dec. 26-28

(To receive thoughts seasonally for the upcoming holiday by e-mail --sign up here!


(short) - Chanukah


Chan-u-kah  n.  Hebrew name of the Jewish festival of lights.
Etymology: 1. ‘inauguration’(of the re-purified Temple). 2. ‘rest on the 25th’ (chanu means ‘they rested’; the last two letters, chof and hei, numerically equal 25; the 25th of Kislev is the first day of Chanukah).

The Maggid of Kosnitz offers another interpretation. Vowelled differently, Chanukah can be read: "chinuch - hai"–"educate the...". The Rebbe explained: From a certain perspective, Chanukah is the first holiday of the new year. Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot constitute a consummation of the previous year, even though they are situated at the beginning of the new one. If we put our full energy into both the spirit and the mitzvah details of Chanukah, the first holiday of the new year, G-d gives Chanukah the power to "educate the" year - to ensure that the succeeding holidays will also be celebrated in the best fashion.

(long) - Chanukah

Avraham Sutton (from Ascent Quarterly #37)

That the overt miracle of Chanukah, the lighting of the Menorah, lasted for eight days, is not accidental, but intrinsic. The Torah informs us that G-d created the world in six days and ceased working on the seventh, the Shabbat. The number six can thus be said to represent the natural world that was created in six days (time) with its six spatial directions (east-west, north-south, up-down). The number seven represents G-d's immanence, the hidden presence of the Divine at the heart and core of this world. In other words, Seven is the very soul of Six, permeating it, instilling it with (transcendent) holiness, and elevating it to its perfection. The next number, eight, represents G-d's transcendence above and beyond this world. Like all miracles, Chanukah happened from the level of "eight", that which is beyond natural law. However, being the last miracle of its kind until the coming of Moshiach, Chanukah had to embody Eight in a unique, special way. It had to breathe Eight.

In Hebrew, the word shmonah (eight) has the same exact letters as hashemen (the oil), neshama (soul), and mishnah (transmitted teaching). As recorded in the Talmud, the Syrian-Greeks had entered the Temple and sullied all its oil. This oil represents the deepest level of the Jewish soul. It represents the Jew's potential to awaken from the deepest slumber of exile, to come to life even (and perhaps especially) under the most trying circumstances. Only one jar of pure oil was found, sealed with the seal of the Kohen Gadol (high priest), the holiest Jew who embodied the level of Eight by virtue of the eight special garments he wore when serving in the Temple.

The siddur informs us that it was Mattityahu the Chashmonai and his sons who rallied the Jews to defend the Torah and fight against the Greeks. The name Chashmonai has two components, the letter chet, the eight letter of the aleph-bet, followed by the word for oil, shemen. Thus, the Cha-shemonai family embodied the power of Eight.

Eight days, Oil and a family of Eights.

"Eight" beckons us to transcend the constrictions of time and space, to see through a world that disguises G-dliness and threatens to engulf our souls in materiality. Eight calls us to see miracles in the order of nature, in confusing events of our individual and collective lives, in the hidden pathways of Divine Providence that guides us.

Eight can rouse us from our collective slumber. By reminding us of the time when G-d did indeed overtly "interfere" with and "alter" the "natural" course of history, it quickens our anticipation of the revelation of G-d's salvation that we await in our time.

Rabbi Avraham Sutton, a popular guest lecturer at Ascent, is one of the original main researchers for the Discovery seminars, the editor-compiler of Aryeh Kaplan's Inner Space and the translator-editor of a new siddur, The Wings of Heaven. This article was adapted from Niflaot #2.

Some Laws and Customs - Chanukah



1. On the first night (Sunday, Dec. 22), one light is kindled at the right end of the menorah.
2. On the next night a light is added to the left of the first one and both lights are kindled, and similarly each night until eight lights are kindled on the eighth night.
3. Each night an additional light is kindled--called the shamesh--which is used to light the other ones and then placed above them.
4. The lights are kindled left to right, starting with the newest light.
5. The lights must burn for at least half an hour after dark.
6. If available, olive-oil lights are preferable to wax candles.
7. Before kindling, make sure there is enough oil (or big enough candles) to burn for half an hour (or more if lit before nightfall–see 5).
8. In our times, the menorah is placed:
a. On the outside of the front door, opposite the mezuzah (Jerusalem practice)
b. In a door frame inside the house, opposite the mezuzah (Chassidic practice)
c. In a window facing a public thoroughfare (common practice)
note: in an apartment more than ten meters above the street, practice c. is of questionable validity.
9. The lights should be in an even row –no curves, no height variations. They should be well-spaced so their flames do not appear merged (and if candles, that they do not melt each other).
10. On the first night, immediately before kindling, all three blessings (found in every prayerbook) are said.
11. On the subsequent nights, only the first two blessings are said.
12. No use should be made of the lights shed by the Chanukah candles, such as reading by their light.
13. For the Friday night of Chanukah, the lights must be kindled before sunset and before the Shabbat candles are lit. Additional oil (or larger candles) should be provided to ensure that they can burn until half an hour after nightfall.


Chag Samayach - Have a joyous holiday!

The ASCENT staff

Last year's Chanukah page

for more Kabbalah insights on Chanukah

Redesign and implementation - By WEB-ACTION