CHANUKAH PAST CHANUKAH PRESENT CHANUKAH FUTURE
In discussing whether a Chanukah light that was prematurely extinguished musty be rekindled, the Talmud cites that the mitzvah (commandment) of lighting Chanukah candles extends from when the sun sets until foot traffic has vanished from the market. Implied of course is that the (optimum) time for lighting the oil/candles of Chanukah is from dusk, until the end of what has come to be known as the evening rush hour.
Yet, the phraseology of time employed by the Talmud begs interpretation. To be sure, Judaism is a time-bound religion, very much concerned about the earliest and latest time one may perform mitzvot. Typically, Judaism refers to dusk as bein ha shmashot (between the “suns” viz. the sun and the moon) and the end of evening rush hour as tzeit ha kochavim (emergence of the stars). Why then the departure from the norm in phraseology when the topic is Chanukah lights?
Through the ages, it has become pretty much accepted that the kindling of Chanukah lights is for external purposes. Long before neon signs were invented, our religious leaders deemed it vital that the outside world is made aware of a divine quid pro quo sign of gratitude, bestowed upon the Maccabees. Very much impressed that a small, ill-equipped and poorly trained rag-tag army took on a fighting force of ancient Hellenists, thereby going against human nature, HaShem showed His recognition and appreciation by going against the very forces of nature, by having a one day supply of oil burn for eight.
Perhaps our religious leaders misunderstood the directive of the Chanukah Menorah. Perhaps the kindling of Chanukah candles was not for external purposes, but for internal purposes after all! Why should our religious leaders care what the outside world thinks? Did our religious leaders really believe that they could impress the outside world with Jewish miracles? Hasn’t Judaism always prided itself as being a live and let live religion? Perhaps the initial dictate of placing the candles outside one’s door and later on at one’s window was a message to the Jews themselves! Perhaps that message was “before you go out and let yourself become absorbed by the outside culture (placing the menorah outside one’s door), perhaps before you look out to see what’s out there in the outside culture (placing the menorah by one’s window), look first at the Chanukah candles. Be mindful that if you are looking for the “greatest show on earth” then look no further. Our very own Judaism provides it.
This past Shabbat, at Se’udah Shleesheet or the third Shabbat meal, we studied five similarities that exist between Chanukah and Pesach. Long before Charles Dickens wrote about Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Future, our sages spoke about Pesach Past (our ancestor’s departure from Egypt), Pesach Present (our annual celebration of the Festival of Freedom throughout the generations) and Pesach Future (our being able to celebrate our ultimate redemption). Perhaps the same can be said about Chanukah! Perhaps our festival of miracles lends itself to Chanukah Past, Chanukah Present, and Chanukah Future as well! Chanukah Past occurred over two millennia ago when a small band of Maccabees accomplished the miraculous in warfare and then witnessed the miraculous in oil. Chanukah Present has been our reenactment of the miracle of yore through the annual kindling of Chanukah lights. It may very well be, that Chanukah Future is what the above stated Talmudic dictum has been alluding to all along!
When the sun sets may not be in reference to the time of day, but rather a time or era to come. When the sun sets may, in fact, refer to the time when the sun (viz. the other nations of the world, in that the other nations count by the sun, while Israel counts by the moon -Talmud, Sukkah 29a) is no longer looked up to by Jews. When foot traffic has vanished from the market may, in fact, refer to the propensity of our people to visit the “market” of foreign cultures. When that time comes, when Jews cease to be infatuated by the sun and finally stop running to the market, the flame of the Chanukah candles will no longer need to be relit, for we Jews will no longer have a need to be reminded that it is the light within that illuminates.