Whilst Hanukah is generally well known for its food, festivities and fiduciary favours, an often overlooked aspect is what the word of the Holiday actually means and how it relates to rest. The common consensus is Hanukah means either one of two possible contractions –
1. Hanukat Habayit – חונכת הבית
(Trans. Dedication of the House).
During the period of 40 years of wandering, the completion of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) was marked by each of the 12 tribes dedicating various gifts. The completion of this occurred on 25th of Kislev.
2. Chanu Chaf Hey – חנו כ”ה
(Trans. They rested on the 25th)
This same date that the Mishkan’s dedications were complete, also marked the day the Maccabee’s completed their miraculous military campaign to reclaim the Beit Hamikdash (Holy Temple). Thus they “rested” from battle and the well known conclusion of their efforts resulted in the miracle of the 8-day burning oil which we re-enact annually.
Ironically, looking at these 2 name origins for Hanukah, neither relate in any way to how at celebrate the Festival! Seldom does restfulness get a mention between doughnuts, latkes and dreidels. Although these memorable elements are vital to the specialness of Chanukah, looking deeper at what rest provides us, can perhaps deepen our appreciation of the Festival.
Rest is more than chilling out or having an afternoon shloof. The act of restraint is central to Judaism as seen in Shabbat, when we are mandated to refrain from mundane activities to connect to something above us. This separation between holiness and mundane creates a sense of purpose and allows us the space to see our lives in a unique context. Though this aspect of Shabbat is at its core, we are commanded to restrain. Whatever conflict we may have with the laws imposed on Shabbat, there is universal Judaic consensus that Shabbat observance must include refrain. Thus, our choices in that aspect are somewhat overlooked as we are instructed to do so.
However when it comes Hanukah no such law is commanded. Although the laws of Hanukah are Rabbinic and not Torah based due to the events occurring after the giving of the Torah; there is no obligation to restrict activities except Shabbat of Hanukah and when the Hanukah candles are burning. So this Holiday of “Rest”, doesn’t actually require rest! And perhaps then lies the potential of Hanukah – the aspect of spiritual choice.
When the Mishkan was dedicated, each Tribe miraculously donated identical gifts. No discussion occurred to allow this to come about, it simply was a minor, 12-fold miracle. Yet each Tribe could essentially choose what they wanted to donate. Similarly, the Maccabee’s were all Cohanim (Preists) that enjoyed a lofty social status by virtue of their patriarchal heritage. However, they choose to reclaim their freedom by military conquest and changed the course of Jewish history. Both events could have eventuated differently with other choices, but having holiness at its core, their choices resulted in miracles and then peaceful rest.
The choice to act, think, behave or imagine are all within the bounds of daily human existence. Each day to varying degrees, we are given the opportunity to choose how we live our lives. Perhaps putting holiness at the core of theses choices, however large or small, will enable us a measure of rest to gain hope, light, perspective and celebration.
Wishing all a Happy Hanukah and safe holidays!