Esor Ben-Sorek
Esor Ben-Sorek

Candles in the Courtyards

As the festival of lights, Chanukah, draws to an end for this year, it is important to concentrate on the Hebrew name from the root word “chinuch” education and dedication.

By lighting candles in the chanukiyah (menorah in traditional terms) for each of eight nights, reading the history of the Maccabean revolt against the Greeks, and singing the melodious songs accompanying it, we are both re-educating ourselves and re-dedicating ourselves to the historic faith of Israel.

In one of the songs, the last line troubled me. In Hebrew it read “V’tiharu et mikdashecha v’hidliku nerot b’chatzrot…” they cleansed and purified the Holy Temple and lit candles in the courtyards.

I was confused. If the Temple had been cleansed from the impurifications left by the Hellenistic Greeks, why could the candles not be lit inside the now-purified Holy Temple? Why did they needed to be kindled outside in the courtyards?

I put the question to my esteemed and scholarly rabbi. He explained that proclaiming the miracle inside was not sufficient. It had to be proclaimed outside for all to see it.

The Hebrew word “chatzrot” is the plural.. courtyards. Many courtyards. Courtyards across the land of Israel where Jews could see the miracle of lights through the flames of the many candles kindled.

It was, said my rabbi, a way of proclaiming the miracle to all the Jewish people throughout the land in all their courtyards. It was not restricted to the courtyard of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

It was a brilliant explanation. It requires that Jews everywhere they may be can share in the miracle of the lights. None of us is alone. We are enveloped in the warm embrace of fellow Jews who share our common history.

Matityahu, the Hasmonean priest in Modin, welcomed the Jews of the northern and southern kingdoms to share in an historic victory, uniting them as one people in service to the One and Only God.

In Diaspora countries, Chanukah usually is a close December neighbor to the Christian holiday of Christmas but there is no similarity between the two. Chanukah was a war against the Greeks and Christmas was a war against the Romans. Christians and Jews both exchange gifts to their loved ones on both holidays.

But it is not the gift-giving which symbolizes Chanukah. Instead , it is the lighting of the candles each night, reciting the special prayers for this holiday, singing the traditional Hebrew songs, and munching on potato pancakes (latkes) or jelly-filled donuts (sufganiyot), both fried in oil commemorating the miracle of the oil sufficient to last for one night but lasted instead for eight nights.

Participating in the Chanukah candle- lighting enables us in our memories to be an active part in the Holy Temple celebrations. It is as if we were actually there in the Maccabean revolt two thousand years ago.

The closest we can come to that reality is by watching the candle-lighting at the kotel, the Western Wall in Jerusalem within a glance of the place where the Holy Temples once stood.

Religious Jewish zealots talk of the impossible dream of destroying the great mosques on the Temple Mount and building there a third Holy Temple. Nothing can be more ludicrous.

Any harm to the Muslim mosques would at once bring billions of Muslims from every corner of the universe to fall upon us, swords in hands, to destroy us from off the face of the earth.

Only the coming of the annointed messiah could restore a holy temple in all its glory.

Until then, zealous Jews can only chant: “ani maamin be-emunah shelemah, b’viat ha moshiach.. v’af al pi she yitmamaiha, b’kol zeh ani maamin….” I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the messiah..and even if he delays his coming, in spite of everything, I still believe.

No candles in the Holy Temple. Only candles in the courtyards wherever they and we may be.

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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