WHY CHANUKAH IS THE MOST OBSERVED JEWISH HOLIDAY
By Rabbi Raphael Tennenhaus
It comes as no surprise that Chanukah in 2012, and for the last forty years, has practically evolved as the most observed Jewish holiday. With caution, I do not use the word “significant” or “important”, but assertively use the word “observed”, because one must be careful when comparing one Jewish holiday with another, for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, Chanukah is a Rabbinical holiday, whereas many Jewish holidays we observe are Biblical. Furthermore, our sages caution us (in Pirkei Avoth) to be careful with all Mitzvot, even those “lenient” Mitzvot, for we don’t know the reward for the Mitzvot. Certainly, we must be cautious when comparing Jewish holidays, for indeed, who knows the reward the observance of holidays will bring us? Indeed, while in Yeshiva, one of my Mashpi’im [spiritual mentors], remarked that when you study the profound Chassidic Discourses before each holiday, it appears that during that particular holiday period, that specific holiday is most significant. Indeed, when you “live with the holiday”, rather than merely observe it, the theme of the current holiday is what dominates one’s life at that time, hence making it “most significant’’ for that time.
Albeit that Chanukah is a Rabbinical holiday, our sages do teach us that “Chavivin Divrei Sofrim Yoter MiDivrei Torah”, saying that words of the scribes are even more cherished than words of the Torah. No doubt, there is great significance in each and every holiday, and it is important to observe them all and to cherish them all. With Chanukah soon upon us however, we will touch upon the phenomena that Chanukah is observed in some manner by a greater percentage of Jews than even Yom Kippur and Passover.
Chassidus teaches us that everything has a body and a soul. Even Torah has a body and a soul. The body of the Torah is its laws and revealed teachings. The soul of the Torah is the esoteric, concealed parts of Torah, found in Kabbalah and more particularly in the past two hundred plus years, in the teachings of Chassidus.
So too, Chanukah has a body and a soul. The body of Chanukah is the lighting of the Menorah, and the laws and customs of the holiday. The soul of Chanukah is the profound innermost teachings of the holiday, expounded upon in the literature of Kabbalah and Chassidus.
In the last forty years, the “body” of Chanukah has spread like wildfire. Public Menorahs dot the landscape of thousands of cities around the world. It is practically impossible for a Jew to spend the eight days of Chanukah without being inspired by the lights of a giant Menorah. The Rebbe encouraged the lighting of public Menorahs, even on public and government property. The Supreme Court upheld the right for Jews to publicly display the lights of Chanukah, echoing the Rebbe’s resolve to promote Jewish pride, at a time when darkness beckons that a light be kindled.
Here in Florida, I’ve had the privilege of hosting the world’s largest Chanukah Festival for 33 consecutive years. Over ten thousand people have attended this event each year since it moved to Gulfstream in Hallandale Beach back in 2007. This year, the event will take place on Thursday, December 13, featuring the popular “Eighth Day”. Of the many thousands of Jews who attend each year, many have told me that they don’t go to Shul on Yom Kippur. Others have admitted that they don’t even go to a Seder. Yet our annual Chanukah Festivals have not only attracted such huge crowds, but has also inspired individuals to take upon themselves additional Mitzvahs.
In one instance, a father called me the day after our Festival, telling us how inspired he was, and that he wanted his son to have a Brit Milah, something he had neglected when his son was born. A mother once called, saying her daughter was so inspired that she wanted to attend a Jewish Day School. A past president of the Jewish Federation publicly announced that one of the three reasons he wanted to be Federation president was to have the opportunity to light the giant Menorah at Chabad’s Chanukah Festival. Back in the early 1980’s, I was asked by a Reform Temple, Conservative Temple, and a Modern Orthodox Synagogue, to help them order a giant public Menorah, which in each instance, their Congregants requested that “they too” proudly display a Public Menorah on their property.
We all appreciate the growth in the “body” of Chanukah. But this growth wouldn’t have happened without the “soul” of Chanukah. The soul of Chanukah, as explained in many places in Chassidus, including the Chanukah Discourse from 1912 (one hundred years ago) from the Rebbe Rashab, the fifth Rebbe, is that eight days represent the highest level of G-d’s name. Seven lamps and seven days represents G-d’s name in the orderly descent of the worlds, while eight represents G-d’s name beyond the orderly descent. Eight represents the future with Moshiach. Isaac (Yitzchak) our forefather has the numerical value of 8 x 26 (G-d’s name). The Talmud teaches that it is specifically Yitzchak we will call out to “you are our father” when Moshiach comes. With this being a snippet of the “soul” of Chanukah, it comes as no surprise, that the closer we get to Moshiach, more and more people are inspired to observe Chanukah. Happy Chanukah! May we celebrate Chanukah this year in the Holy Temple, with Moshiach, now!