One of the mitzvot related to the lighting of the Hanukkah candles during this eight-day celebration, is the placement of the Hanukkiah, the special menorah used. The Code of Jewish law declares that in the days of our ancient rabbis, the Hanukkah lights were lit in the doorways that led to the public thoroughfare. Nowadays the candles are lit in the house, and if there is a window facing the public place, they should be lit there.” In the rest of world though, the placement is traditionally in the window.
“Why,” one might ask “are we told to do this?” The answer is quite simple. It is a public sign of the acknowledgment of the miracle, whether that miracle was one of a flame lasting eight days or a small Jewish army defeating an enormous foreign empire. It is a proclamation that I, as a Jew, am an active participant in this tribe of Israel. It is a statement that I am part of this history which spans well over three thousand years back in time, to the days of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob, Rachel and Leah, through to Moses, Aaron and Miriam, past King David and Solomon, past the time of the Rabbis, the time of the middle ages, the Haskala, early Zionism, the Shoa, the creation of the State of Israel, until this day… and then again towards the future of our collective Jewish children around the world… and their children… and then theirs… and then theirs… The candle states “I am.”
In the times of Hanukkah, the Jewish people were told that individuals could not “show” their Jewishness. Shabbat and Torah study were outlawed. Even brit milah was banned. Along with this Greek-Syrian wave of “anti-Semitism,” the Jewish people further struggled with the assimilation issues of the times. Why be Jewish when the dominant outside Hellenistic culture was so luring and attractive?
Times and characters have changed, but these issues remain the same in many places around the world. Hanukkah is a time to say “I am!”
Hanukkah sameach to one and all, and to all a good light. After all, it is a sign of our times.
Mark Lazar has been a professional Jewish educator for 4-plus years. He has joined the JCC team to provide creative leadership of the JCC’s new Center for Jewish Life.