Happy Chanukah, Happy Hanukah, and חג אורים שמח are some of the different greetings we wish each other on Chanukah.
What is really the big deal with Chanukah? I mean, why all of the celebration, the candle-lighting, and reciting Hallel every morning? Just because there was a really cool miracle thousands of years ago and the oil lasted for eight days and nights mean that now we have a holiday? Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for holidays. But is there some sort of deeper meaning to all of this celebrating?
The Torah law states that with regard to the commandment to kindle the menorah in the Beis Hamikdash (Temple), if only impure oil is to be found, we may use that for the menorah service in the Beis Hamikdash. If that’s the case, an interesting question arises. Why was there a need for the miracle that one lone jar of pure oil be found and that it burned eight times longer than it naturally can? This question was asked by a great Torah scholar of the 18th century in Germany, the Pnei Yehoshua.
I’d like to preface my answer with an interesting anecdote from Parshas Vayeshev. Yosef was going through what one would imagine as being probably the lowest part of his life. He was just sold into slavery to strangers by his own flesh and blood, his entire set of brothers. He was taken to Egypt on a wagon which was driven by traders who normally were involved in the fuel business; selling tar. Tar can be quite foul-smelling and for a young teenage boy being sold into slavery, a foul-smelling trip would just be the “cherry-on-top” for this experience. The Torah notes that instead of carrying tar, this time, these businessmen were carrying pleasant smelling spices. The Midrash explains that Hashem purposely gave Yosef a small break, so to speak, in this gloomy situation. The question arises: With all of this tragedy, some pleasant spices are going to make the difference?!
Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz OBM, Dean of the Mir Yeshiva (Poland-Jerusalem), shares a fascinating thought to answer both questions we asked. In the gloom and metaphoric darkness that Yosef, the Jews of the time of Chanukah, and ultimately all of us experience, we have the knowledge that Hashem will be there for us. He sends these small glimmers of light, of sweet and pleasant-smelling spices to accompany us in the seemingly dark moments. It’s like a kiss from a parent letting us know it will all be all right; I’m right there with you in every situation holding your hand, working on making it pleasant even in those tough moments.
Maybe when we say Happy Chanukah we can have that in mind. In Hebrew, they say חג אורים שמח- it’s that glimmer of light for which we are thankful.
Happy Chanukah & חג אורים שמח!