Kenneth Brander
Kenneth Brander
President and Rosh HaYeshiva, Ohr Torah Stone

Chanukah: When Words Cannot Sufficiently Praise God

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Hallel. For me personally, one of the most moving prayers that we recite. A prayer that is reserved for the biblical holidays of Pesach, Sukkot and Shavuot (Talmud, Arakhin 10a).

A prayer that is also recited partially on Rosh Chodesh, and a prayer that is recited on the holiday that is coming up, the holiday of Chanukah. All of those that codify Jewish law insert the laws of this prayer in perhaps its proper location: the Laws of Prayer (for example: Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chayim 422:2-7).

Except for one, Maimonides. In his magnum opus, in his unbelievable work, where every idea is thought out before its placement, Maimonides decides that the laws of Hallel, of this prayer, should be placed in one location – in the rabbinic holiday of Chanukah (Maimonides, Laws of Megilah and Chanukah 3:5-14).

Rabbi Soloveitchik explained to us that Maimonides did not do this by accident. It’s not that he forgot to do it in the Laws of Prayer and therefore rushed to insert it at the end of his next book that deals with holidays, but rather Maimonides is trying to communicate a message to all of us about the true idea behind Chanukah.

You see, there are two paradigms to Hallel. There is the Hallel HaDibur, the Hallel that is recited orally; that is the Hallel that is found in the prayer service. We praise God. We celebrate our connection with God. We celebrate our dependence upon God and indeed God’s dependence upon us.

But on Chanukah, when we light the Menorah, we’re doing something different. When we light the menorah, we recite “כדי להודות ולהלל” (the “HaNerot Halalu” prayer).

The lighting of the menorah is an act of praise to God. It is a message that if you really want to praise God, it’s not enough just to recite a prayer, but you have to light lights – lights that dispel darkness within the world.

If we really want to thank God, if we really want to connect with God, it is not enough just to orally do so, but on Chanukah, we are mandated – eight nights – on the nights in which there is no moon, the darkest nights of the month, to light lights in the public thoroughfare, to remind us that praising God requires an engagement with society through the prism of Jewish tradition.

Please God, as we celebrate Chanukah, we will ask ourselves the question as we light the lights: “What are we doing in our lives to make sure we dispel the darkness in the world around us?”

Shabbat Shalom and Chanukah Sameach.

About the Author
Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander is President and Rosh HaYeshiva of Ohr Torah Stone, an Israel-based network of 30 educational and social action programs transforming Jewish life, living and leadership in Israel and across the world. He is the rabbi emeritus of the Boca Raton Synagogue and founder of the Katz Yeshiva High School. He served as the Vice President for University and Community Life at Yeshiva University and has authored many articles in scholarly journals.
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