You know the old adage, two Jews, three opinions? That plays itself out constantly on Jwitter, the aptly named community on Twitter for Jews of all stripes. Kashrut disagreements? Definitely! Arguments about endogamy? You know it! Tense exchanges around Israel? You betcha! One of the more surprising areas of contention centers on Chanukah.
You have your usual gripes about what’s the best way to spell it. Then, of course, you have the sufganiyot versus latke Chanukah battle? And within that, the great latke topping debate. We’re all, after all, inheritors of the original Chanukah debate between Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel, so we’re following esteemed tradition.
One of the more noteworthy ones over the last couple of years is a more holistic question: is Chanukah a major or minor holiday? Many of us know Chanukah’s place of importance from childhoods that centered around family meals, donuts, gelt, and presents. As younger folks, it’s the paradigm of holiday joy.
As adults, much of the narrative around Chanukah is a great big “meh.” Maybe it’s because we age out of the present framework? That’s why I think the dominant voice in this argument about Chanukah’s status is that it’s a minor holiday. After all, it gets scant representation in rabbinic literature. We have a whole tractate built around chag laws based on a laid egg but Chanukah? It gets just a few pages in the Talmud!
Perhaps it’s just that which makes Chanukah so powerful. Tzadok Ha’kohen was one of the great Rabbis of the 19th century in Lublin. In his collection of teachings on the holidays, he opines on the lack of texts on Chanukah:
The miracle of Chanukah...is the only one of the miracles that were not allowed to be written that was [nonetheless] established for all generations. This is because the miracles that were not allowed to be written down have yet to be revealed in their full manifestation. The miracle of Chanukah is the sum total of all the miracles throughout the period of exile. (Resisei Lailah 57:3)
In other words, the very fact that a lot of ink hasn’t been spilled on Chanukah gives it its power. The power is the potential in the recognition that miracles still occur daily. When we have that space to envision it in our heads without being swayed by a text, an opportunity is created. It’s not that we commemorate this moment trapped in the amber of time. Rather, we celebrate this holiday in order to attune ourselves to the miraculous baked into our daily lives.
Part of my recent spiritual practice has been to try to recognize miracles in my life. With our recent birth of a child, that became a bit easier. It’s also been working at being cognizant of the mundane miracles which really do exist. Each one of us has our own subjective path to find those in our life.
As we light the Chanukah candles a couple more times, may we remind ourselves of this potential. Wherever you fall on the great Chanukah minor/major debate, may the flames you ignite tonight ignite within you a newfound appreciation for the miracles that surround you and live within you.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Urim Sameach!
Loved the piece! Annie Dillard, in her beautiful book The Writing Life, says, “How we spend our days is of course how we spend our lives." Hanukkah, for me is celebrating the days rather than the years. I was surprised to find that the fifth night of Hanukkah can never occur on Shabbat.