Chanukah: The Expression of G-d’s Love
The Midrash tells that the 25th of Kislev – the date that marks the beginning of Hanukah – was a significant date even before the Hanukah miracle. When Beneh Yisrael were encamped at Mount Sinai, G-d commanded them to construct the Mishkan in which He would reside, and they began the project during the month of Tishri. Miraculously, and as a result of the people’s intense enthusiasm, the work was completed in just about three months, concluding on the 24th of Kislev. They all expected that on the next day, the 25th of Kislev, G-d’s presence would descend onto the Mishkan, and they would celebrate its inauguration. But this was not G-d’s plan. For reasons that we will not discuss here, G-d decided to delay the celebration of the Mishkan’s inauguration for another three months, until the beginning of Nissan.
The Midrash continues by telling that the month of Kislev complained, as it were, that it was denied a special celebration. The date of 25 Kislev was to have been marked as a major moment in human history, but this did not happen. And so Kislev protested. In response, the Midrash teaches, G-d promised Kislev that the time would come when a festive celebration would indeed be held on the 25th of Kislev. Indeed, after the Jews’ victory over the Greeks, it was on the 25th of Kislev when they rededicated the Bet Ha’mikdash that the Greeks had defiled. This day, of course, marks the beginning of the eight-day celebration of Hanukah.
This Midrash provides the basis for our Torah reading on Hanukah – the section that tells of the special gifts brought by the Nesi’im (tribal leaders) at the time of the inauguration of the Mishkan in the wilderness. This inauguration took place in Nissan, but it was to have taken place during Kislev, and Hanukah was the “consolation prize” given to Kislev after it “lost” this special privilege. The Hanukah celebration is thus closely associated with the Mishkan’s inauguration in the desert, and for this reason we read about the Mishkan’s inauguration during Hanukah.
It is worth noting that G-d repaid Kislev with a very large “interest” payment. The celebration of the Mishkan was held that year, at Sinai, but was not established as an annual holiday. Hanukah, however, is celebrated in Kislev each and every year. G-d not only fulfilled His promise to Kislev that it would be given a significant historical event, but even gave Kislev an annual celebration.
The question thus arises as to why, in fact, the Hanukah celebration is held each year. Why was it not enough for this celebration to be held at the time of the Temple’s rededication, just like the inauguration of the Mishkan?
The answer, perhaps, is that G-d knew we needed this annual celebration as a ray of bright light during the darkness of our bitter exile. Our Sages teach that the Menorah in the Temple served as testimony to G-d’s presence among the Jewish Nation, as one of the candles – the center candle – miraculously burned longer than the other candles, each and every day. This miracle occurred every day in the Mikdash, testifying to the Divine Presence residing among the nation. Throughout the eight days of Hanukah, the entire Menorah – all seven candles – burned miraculously. This was a powerful expression of G-d’s special love for His people. When we light the candles in our homes, they proclaim that Hashem comes to our homes and tells us that no matter what we are going through, He loves us and is with us. Just as the Hanukah lights illuminate the long, dark December nights, they illuminate our long, dark exile by reassuring us that G-d is with us and still loves and cherishes us. We need Hanukah as an annual celebration, for it serves to illuminate the darkness of exile by loudly proclaiming G-d’s continued presence among His people and the special love that He still has for each and every one of us.