Why is the holiday of Chanukah given the name “Chanukah”? The word Chanukah means a dedication as we are celebrating the historic rededication of the Temple during second Temple times. The Temple in Jerusalem had been defiled by the Syrian Greeks for foreign worship, until the Hasmonean Jews recaptured it, restoring the Temple and rededicating that space to the service of God as symbolized by the lighting of the Temple menorah.
Happy ending, right? Not exactly … The Temple ended up being destroyed only 200 years later and it remains in that state of destruction until this day. So why are we celebrating the rededication of our Temple that ended up getting destroyed shortly after anyway? That Temple that we are celebrating does not exist in our lives!
The post Temple rabbis who shaped the holiday of Chanukah were well aware of this fact, so they shifted the holiday’s observance from a Temple-based celebration to a home-centered observance. That is why the primary mitzvah of Chanukah is to light candles placed on a menorah in our home as a substitute for the candles lit in the Holy Temple.
For much of this past year due to COVID, our homes have needed to substitute for our synagogues. Although we eagerly wait a full return to our synagogues in good health, Chanukah teaches us that our homes must continually fill our lives with Jewish observances and values.
As you light the Chanukah candles in your home, reflect upon how you can further dedicate your home as a mini temple dedicated to Jewish life that brings much needed light to the world.
Adam Starr is the rabbi of Congregation Ohr HaTorah.