Of Danger and Daring

The obligations of Hanukkah are addressed at length in the Tractate of Shabbat, where the intricate details of who needs to light, and how (ascending or descending) and where the Menorah should be placed are discussed. The reference below speaks to the requirement to publicize the miracle, giving manifestation to the fundamental aspect of the events where the Hellenists banned the public practice of Judaism. Aptly the victory is thus celebrated publicly.

תנו רבנן נר חנוכה מצוה להניחה על פתח ביתו מבחוץ אם היה דר בעלייה מניחה בחלון הסמוכה לרשות הרבים ובשעת הסכנה מניחה על שלחנו
Shabbat 21b

Our Rabbis taught: One is obligated to place the Hanukkah lamp by the door of one’s house on the outside; if one dwells in an upper floor, one should place it at the window nearest the street. But in times of danger it is sufficient to place it on the table.

What is the nature of the danger described? Many of the commentators will refer to the fear of persecution; The Ritva, Rabbi Yom Tov ibn Asevilli, the rabbi and head of the Yeshiva of Seville in Spain in the second half of the 13th century posits that even “fear of pain or hatred like in France” is enough to bring the menorah indoors. The Rivash, Isaac ben Sheshet Perfet (1326–1408) ) a Spanish Talmudic authority, writes that “since the hand of the nations is upon us, and we are unable to fulfill the mitzvah properly,” the menorah is lit indoors. Interestingly there are other interpretations that explain the danger as weather related, perhaps the wind will blow the lights and cause a fire. However if we understand the danger as insecurity and peril, how can one continue to say the blessing
שעשה נסים לאבותינו בימים ההם בזמן הזה
He who performed miracles for our ancestors, in those days at this time? Intriguingly the commentators do not raise this concern.

If we are scared to publicize the miracle and feel in danger then surely “at this time” is erroneous, and saying this blessing would risk saying God’s name in vain. In such times it would conceivably be more appropriate just to make the one blessing over lighting the Chanukiah.

Perhaps we are celebrating the audacity to see miracles in the darkest of times, instants when they may not be apparent. It is the capacity to embrace optimism when everything around you may suggest the opposite. To believe with unfaltering faith in the potential of the little light that drives out much darkness. Such daring is surely nothing less than miraculous, and ought to be blatantly if not publicly affirmed.

About the Author
Shalom is a senior educator and consultant for The iCenter and serves as faculty for the Foundation for Jewish Camp . Prior, he served as the AVI CHAI Project Director and Director of Education in the Shlichut and Israel Fellows unit for the Jewish Agency. He has served as a consultant for the Jim Joseph Foundation and the Jewish Peoplehood Committee, and teaches a course in experiential education at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Shalom was also a scholar on the prestigious Jerusalem Fellows Program, after which he served as the Executive Director of Jewish Renewal for United Jewish Israel Appeal (UJIA). Shalom is an acclaimed public speaker on contemporary Israel who brings extensive knowledge, humor and passion. He feels privileged to live in Jerusalem and loves sharing stories about life in the Land of so much Promise.
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