Chanukah and the Jewish Home

By Rav Shaul Dov Felman

The Gemmoro teaches us in Maseches Shabbos 21b that the Mitzvah of Chanukah is "Ner Ish Ubeiso" which means that in order to perform the obligation of lighting the Chanukah candles, one needs to light one candle per household. In case there are those that want to beautify the mitzvah they are instructed to light one per person per night or even to add one per night. Once again however, the obligation of "Ner Chanukah" one fulfills by lighting one candle per household per night.

We can't help but to take not of the fact that the obligation of candle lighting has been linked to the home; one candle per home. The truth of the matter is that it seems upon studying the laws of Chanukah that one who does not own a home or is not a resident even temporarily of a home doesn't seem to have any obligation of lighting candles. Truly, the Gemmoro points out on 23a that he who does not light Chanukah candles must still recite a blessing upon seeing the Chanukah light that someone else has lit. The Mitzvah of lighting, though, seems not to have been given to him and the question is why not?

There is a Posuk (Amos 5:19) that is often quoted by Chazal that describes a person that is fleeing from the lion and is met by the bear and arrives at home, leans his hand on the wall and is bitten by a snake. The comment that is famous pertaining to this Posuk is found in Yalkut Shimoni in Amos #544 (amongst other places in Chazal) where this is explained as being an analogy to the various exiles that Yaakov Ovinu found himself in. His running away from the lion is referring to his experience with Lavan who ran after him like a lion to rip apart his soul. By the way, we are quite familiar with this concept which we make note of every Seder night when we acknowledge the fact that "Lavan wanted to uproot everything" so we certainly accept the Medrash's description as being accurate. His being met by the bear is referring to his meeting with Eisav that is lurking on the road just waiting to jump on Yaakov and to kill the women and children of his camp. His coming home and when leaning on the wall being bitten by the snake is a reference to when Yaakov finally arrives in Eretz Canaan his daughter Dinah was attacked by Shchem, the son of Chamor.

There is another comment of Chazal that is brought in the very same place that is not as well known and that may serve us well in our attempt to solve our opening question. In this comment the Chazal explain that the aforementioned Posuk is referring to the exiles that Klal Yisroel have endured. In that vein, the lion is describing the exile of Bavel, while the bear is a reference to Modai. The homecoming is a reference to the exile of Yovon-Greece due to the fact that the Bayis was in existence in their time. The biting of the snake is a reference to Edom which is the exile that we find ourselves in today.

The truth of the matter is that there are many similarities between Yaakov's experience with Shchem and the Golus of Yovon. For instance, just as in the case of Shchem where Dinah was attacked we find that the Greek also made degrees against the daughters of Israel. Other points of interest would be the fact that after the experience with Shchem, Yaakov had all his family purify themselves, built a "Mizbeach", and poured oil, which are all reminiscent of what would later transpire when the Jews recaptured the Beis Hamikdosh from the Greek. One might also add that the situation with Shchem immediately followed after Yaakov had been in Sukkos which seems to be a hint to the fact that Chanukah would be the festival following the holiday of Sukkos. Truly we find various connections in Chazal and Rishonim between Sukkos and Chanukah.( For a further treatment of some of these ideas and more one may find it discussed in Ohr Gedalyohu.)

Let us ponder for a few moments the part of the Medrash that pertains to us now. The analogy of the fellow that comes home is an analogy to Golus Yovon due to the fact that the Bayis was in existence during their time. We're quite familiar with the fact that the four exiles are hinted to in many places in the Torah and Chazal spell it out for us in many places. The first of which is in the second Posuk in the Torah, where the Greek exile is referred to by the term of "Darkness." Once again we find in Parshas Lech Lecho when we are taught about the "Bris Bein HaBesorim" the four exiles are hinted to with the hint of the Greek exile being "Darkness." So we see from the above that even though we were at home in Eretz Yisroel in a seemingly ideal situation, nevertheless, we found ourselves in an exile that is described to as "Darkness." Truly, being in ones own home and one finds himself in a state of darkness is a bitter exile. If you think of it, for someone who is not at home, the exile lies in the fact that he is displaced, even if it so happens to be dark.

We might point out here the Gemoro Berachos 54b: “Four people are obligated to thank Hashem (say Hagomel) 1) A person who traveled the sea, 2) one who traveled in the desert, 3) a person freed from jail and 4) a sick person that was healed”. The Maharsha points out that these four too are corresponding to the four exiles. The one that corresponds to the Greek exile is a sick person that was healed. It is interesting to note that unlike the other three, the fellow that has been sick was at home. Unfortunately he was home in a sick state. Once again, someone that is at home; or is he really home?

This was precisely the situation when the Greeks exiled us, when we were in our own home. The Greeks had the Beis Hamikdosh under their jurisdiction for three years. One ventures to assume that if they would have liked to they could have easily destroyed the Beis Hamikdosh and done as they pleased with the Jews. That was not their interest. Let the Beis Hamikdosh stand; on our terms! A Beis Hamikdosh on their terms together with an Eretz Yisroel under their control make up one heck of a "Darkness" which is exactly what they wanted to inflict upon the Jews.

In line with the above is what has been taught to us by the Rambam in one of his letters, that one of the decrees of the Greeks was that every Jew must leave his door open. Exactly what Bilaam had pointed out was the strong point of the Jewish people, "How wonderful are the tents of Jacob...". This is referring to the fact that their doors in the desert would not be facing one another which would infringe on the privacy and modesty of the Jewish home. It was precisely that strong point that the Greeks wanted to eradicate. Destroying was their the Bayis Hayehudi was their goal. No wonder why they made decrees on the women which are the mainstay of the Bayis Hayehudi. Once again we see that one can be at home and be in exile at the same time.

Maybe we can now understand the enactment of candle lighting as we have it today linked to one’s home. The whole exile of Greece was one of the home, the Home of Ha-shem, the Beis Hamikdosh , and the home of every Jew. When we were freed of that exile, the "Pirsuma Nisa", the publicizing of the miracle was commanded part and parcel of the home. One and all should remember exactly what darkness it was we had found ourselves within and the miracle that brought about our freeing ourselves from the power that exiled us in our own home.

This idea is particularly pertinent today in view of the fact that for the first time in nearly two thousand years we find ourselves once again in Eretz Yisroel and everyone in all places seem to be in control of their own plight; certainly their own home. Let us not forget the power of Greece that even when one is quite comfortable at home he can be subject to a darkness the likes of which we consider one of the most bitter times of history. When the strength of secularism runs rampant and totally overtakes ones home through all sorts of mediums, there is no question that the darkness as far as the neshama is concerned is intolerable. Let us draw light from the Chanukah candles which will enable us to hopefully remain strong till Ha-shem will enlighten Zion with the "New Light", speedily in our day.

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