What’s the best Chanukah food? Are you a latke lover, or do you prefer the Israeli sufganiah? Or, maybe you are stocking up on fare trade gelt this year (it’s a real thing and you can check it out here)? Here’s a question from me because I am new to Toronto: What is the best Chinese restaurant in town (preferably one with good vegetarian selections) for me to celebrate the end of Chanukah this year on December 24?
We usually think of Pesach as a holiday of questions, but in the Talmud, the rabbis ask many questions about Chanukah including this one: “What is Chanukah?” Here is the answer they gave: “On the Twenty-fifth of Kislev the days of Chanukah are eight . . . When the Greeks entered the Sanctuary of the Temple they defiled all the oils that were in the Sanctuary. And when the Hasmoneans overcame them and emerged victorious, they searched and found only one cruse of oil that was marked with the seal of the High Priest (that meant it was Kosher). There was only sufficient only to light the Menorah for one day. A miracle occurred and it lasted eight days. The next year the Sages instituted a festival of thanksgiving for those eight days.”
Another great ancient question from our Sages: How many candles do we light each night? We can light them all on the first night and light one less each night.This makes some sense because the light from the miracle oil would have diminished each day. This was the opinion of Shammai. Or, as Hillel argues, we should light one more each night because “one should always elevate in matters of sanctity and not downgrade.” We should strive to add light to the world at this darkest time of the year.
One more Chanukah question: What’s the deal with the shamash—why do we need, as my son calls it, a helper candle? The Talmud teaches that one may not benefit from the lights of the Chanukah candles. The light is only there to “publicize the miracle.” That means that you can’t use the Chanukiah’s light to read by, or you can’t roast marshmallows over the candles, etc. Therefore, the shamash is there just in case you accidently use the Chanukiah’s light, you can always say that you are using the shamash’s light. That is why it is set apart from the daily candles.
I hope the Chanukah questions from our tradition might inspire you all to ask some questions and think of great answers around your Chanukah table this week. Remember to join us this Shabbat for our Intergenerational Chanukah Party where there will be singing, dancing, storytelling, eating, candle lighting, Shabbat services for all ages and a vegetarian potluck after.
Chag Chanukah Same’ach