Chanukah lights fulfil a double purpose

December 11, 2017 by Rabbi Raymond Apple
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Rabbi Raymond Apple explains….

Rabbi Raymond Apple


The Lubavitcher Rebbe said that the Chanukah lights fulfil a double purpose.

They are a source of light within the house, and they also symbolise the duty of bringing light to the world outside.

This is suggested by midrashic sources which speak of the Jewish people as the world’s shammash, its “servant light”.

The Midrash itself is based on the teachings of the prophet Isaiah, who says God has appointed us as “a light unto the nations”.

The world needs the light of morality, ethics and truth to be brought to its dark corners, part of the messianic process that hopefully will lead the whole of mankind to redemption and fulfilment.

It’s hard to be the world’s shammash, not only because of the weight of responsibility but because inevitably it brings criticism and accusations of national egotism.

Other cultures and groups do not like our claim to be the world’s moral teacher, but there is not too much evidence that they have done the job better themselves.


Chassidism explains why Hallel is said on Chanukah and not on Purim.

It says that on Purim the body of the Jew was saved, whilst on Chanukah it was his soul.

The freedom of religion which Chanukah symbolises is summarised in a poem by Dryden that says, “Of all the tyrannies of human kind, the worst is that which persecutes the mind”.


When as small children we asked what the name “Chanukah” meant, we were told it meant “Dedication”, for after recapturing the Temple from the heathen enemy the Maccabees put it in order and rededicated it to its sacred purposes.

The sages surely thought hard and long before fixing on the name “Chanukah”. They must have discarded a number of alternatives, finally choosing the name used from the dawn of Jewish history to denote a feast of dedication.

The Midrash says there are seven Chanukahs:
1. The Chanukah of the creation of the world, when God completed His work and launched man on the arena of history.

2. The Chanukah of the Tabernacle in the time of Moses, when the princes of the tribes brought offerings to the Sanctuary.

3. The Chanukah of the First Temple, erected and dedicated by Solomon.

4. The Chanukah of the Second Temple, erected by exiles who had returned from Babylon.

5. The Chanukah of the wall of Jerusalem, completed in the days of Nehemiah.

6. The Chanukah celebrated by the Maccabees.

7. And the Chanukah of the time to come, when the world will be illumined more brightly than on all the Chanukahs of ages past.

Each of the first six Chanukahs has a symbolic meaning, particularly relevant for an age when principles are discarded and values devalued.

The Chanukah of creation tells man who, God-like, he should devote his energies to constructive ends.

The Chanukah of the Tabernacle suggests that, like the princes of the tribes, man should bring his best to every worthwhile cause.

The Chanukah of the First Temple declares, “Set aside time and place for worship, joining heaven to earth as your prayer ascends upwards.”

The Chanukah of the Second Temple, built by returned exiles, tells man to work for the day when all men will be free and none shall be subject to harassment or hatred.

The Chanukah of the wall of Jerusalem, which gave security to the City of God, shows man how to find anchorage in time of fear and uncertainty: “Find protection,” it says, “in the encompassing Providence of God!”

The Chanukah of the Maccabees, possible because the few stood up against the many, assures man that he need not be afraid to stand up and go it alone against the negative tendencies of the age.

The culminating Chanukah, when the messianic end of days will dawn, is one which we can begin to build now, without delay. The first step in building it is to learn to live at peace with yourself. The second is to learn to live at peace with your fellow.

The Messianic Chanukah will arrive when we succeed in making of the earth a temple of peace.

This is what we pray for in Ma’oz Tzur – the day “when You will cause all slaughter to cease,” and man “shall complete with song and psalm the dedication of the altar”.

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