This year I have the honor to bring to your attention a unique anthology of essays related to Chanukah published by the OUPress. This work, titled “The Light That Unites: A Chanukah Companion. Blessings, Teachings, and Tales,” brings together works of such esteemed sages and masters as Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, zt’’l; Rav Avraham Isaac Kook, zt’’l; the Lubavitcher Rebbe, zt’’l; and Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, zt”l.
Its eight chapters, reflecting the eight days of Chanukah, are further segmented into 36 subsections, one for each of the 36 candles that are lit over the holiday. I call this book a kol bo because it includes just about everything that you would need for this festival’s observance: the full blessings and songs which accompany the candle lighting rituals, and detailed commentary into the customs unique to this festival.
Each day of Chanukah is represented with a teaching keyed to the lighting that evening, together with learned insights and commentary. Also, this work contains additional prayers and Psalms to further enhance the holiday’s spiritual nature.
The author, Rabbi Aharon Goldscheider, was ordained by Yeshiva University. His previous holiday-themed work, a Pesach haggadah, “The Night That Unites,” was published to great acclaim in 2015.
What follows is the text of the book’s preface, written by the distinguished scholar and commentator Rabbi Menachem Dov Genack, general editor of the OUPress.
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The mitzvah of kindling the Chanukah candles is formulated in an odd manner in the Gemara (Shabbat 21b). The basic mitzvah is stated as “ner ish u’beito,” one candle is kindled for the entire household each night of Chanukah. The performance of the mitzvah is thus expressed as the obligation of the household, rather than in the customary form of an individual obligation.
One could ask why the Gemara formulated the mitzvah as a household obligation rather than an individual obligation. The answer is that our Sages wanted to emphasize a fundamental aspect of the Chanukah holiday — that, at its core, it celebrates the sanctity of the Jewish home and the Jewish family. They wanted to stress the importance of the Jewish household, and to teach us that Chanukah was not only about the battle to defend the Beit Hamikdash but also a battle to defend the Jewish family.
There is an external Beit Hamikdash, but there is also an internal Beit Hamikdash, the Jewish home. As the Torah tells us, when the Almighty pronounced His commandment for the Jewish people to construct the Mishkan, the tabernacle in the desert, He said, “Let them make Me a Mikdash, and I will dwell among them.” The Shechina, G-d’s presence, dwells among the Jewish people in their homes, and each Jewish home is imbued with the qualities of the Beit Hamikdash. While the Greeks defiled the external Beit Hamikdash with pagan worship, they also viciously sought to desecrate the internal Beit Hamikdash, the Jewish family.
Maimonides, in recounting the historical background that led up to Chanukah, states (Hilkhot Chanukah 3:1), “the Greek authorities imposed evil decrees on the Jews, and prohibited their religion, and did not permit them to study Torah or perform mitzvot, and took hold of their wealth and their daughters, and entered the Beit Hamikdash and defiled it.”
Maimonides’ reference to the Greeks’ taking hold of the Jewish daughters is an allusion to the infamous practice that a bride was first subjected to rape by the governing official before being permitted to unite with her husband. The Greeks, perceiving the significance of the Jewish home and realizing that as long as its sanctity was intact they could never defeat the Jews, waged war against the Jewish home as vigorously as they tried to vanquish the Beit Hamikdash. Chanukah celebrates the Jewish victory in both theaters of that war.
Indeed, the Jewish family and the Jewish home have been viewed by our tradition as a microcosm of the Beit Hamikdash. Just as the Beit Hamikdash served as the beacon of Torah and Jewish identity on the national level, the Jewish home has served, on a more intimate level, as the bulwark of Torah values and means of transmitting the mesorah, our tradition, from generation to generation.
Our Sages clearly perceived the critical role played by the Jewish home and its innate similarity to the Beit Hamikdash. They saw, for example, that the homes of the Matriarchs and Patriarchs partook of the same qualities as the Beit Hamikdash. Rashi, in his commentary on Chumash (Bereishit 24:67), quotes the Midrash that the tent of Sarah our Matriarch was endowed with three wondrous qualities: the Shabbat candles miraculously remained lit from one Shabbat to the next; the challah she prepared expanded far out of proportion to the ingredients she used; and clouds of glory continuously hovered over the tent.
These wondrous qualities of Sarah’s tent, the home she shared with Abraham our forefather, mirrored the sanctity of the Mishkan, the tabernacle in the desert that was the forerunner of the Beit Hamikdash: the flames of the Menorah remained lit continuously; the lechem hapanim — the loaves of show bread used in the service — stayed warm long after they would been expected to cool; and the Divine Presence, in the form of a protective cloud, constantly rested above.
The identity of the Jewish home with the Beit Hamikdash is the reason our Sages insisted on expressing the mitzvah lighting the Chanukah candles in its basic, most elemental form of observance — ner ish u’beito — as a household obligation. We must always remember the dimension of Chanukah which celebrates the victory of the Jewish home, its sanctity, unity, and everlasting vitality.
OU Press is proud to present “The Light That Unites.” Rabbi Goldscheider has assembled an outstanding collection of material that will surely enhance the nightly experience of lighting Chanukah candles, and “The Light That Unites” will thereby further strengthen and enrich the Jewish home, a central theme of the Chanukah celebration.