THE LAMP OF CHANUKAH

Rav Kook wrote this essay in 1935 aware of the “evil winds carrying unbridled hatred toward Israel…”:

It is a mitzvah to place the Chanukah lamp on the outside of one’s doorway, but during times of danger, it is sufficient to place it upon one’s table. ​-Tractate Shabbat 21b

“The liberation of the Israelite spirit, unique in its inner purity, from the oppressive Greek spirit, which boasts of its external beauty while concealing ugliness and impurity–the liberation that we merited through the sacred awakening of the renewal of the national spirit by the Hasmoneans, those heroic zealots of the sacred–left a permanent mark on history. The confrontation between Greek and Israelite spirit is a process that shall continue until the great day arrives and the sacred is vindicated. The vibrant life force stored within the modest light of the Chanukah lamp ensures the victory of the eternal Israel.

The murky waters of the profane days seeking to engulf all that is sacred may rage and roar, their thundering waves may sweep away kingdoms and nations, but the steadfastness of Israel shall never waver. Deep in the human soul is the recognition that without the light of the sacred, without the sparks of holiness that animate all, existence is impossible for the human spirit, society, nations and kingdoms.

Where is the repository of this sacred light, pure in its essence? In the sacred nation which has and always will waive the flag heralding the appearance of the holy in its purity in the world. Under normal circumstances we feel the need to declare publicly: Let everyone on the face of the earth know that we are connected to the light of the world and that its rays illuminate to the outer reaches of the planet. At such times it is a ​mitzvah/​ commandment to place the Chanukah lamp, this sacred symbol “on the outside of one’s doorway”. When the sacred illumination appears outside, we have nothing to fear; we already know and are confident that inwardly all is light; “She perceives that her merchandise is good; her candle does not go out by night”. (Prov. 31:18)

However, during times of danger, when evil winds carry unbridled hatred toward Israel and its holy race, as well as scorn and contempt for all its sacred possessions; when empty-hearted, ignorant scoffers who profane its might strength appear, then the illumination on the outside cannot dispel the thick, pervasive blackness. Then the Israelite retreats to his home and his table, to his internal cultural heritage, to his pure spirit and clean hands, to his unique Torah of truth, and to the precepts which are his everlasting way of life. He must build his home in his holy land with fierce zealotry for the sacred, in accordance with his talents and temperament. He then places this lamp, the symbol of his victory, upon his table to illuminate his way of life and his soul. He will know with certainty that when this lamp is placed inside, he will lose none of his spiritual wealth and honor and his reverence for truth and justice.

But the day will arrive when those who are distant shall recognize that the everlasting heritage of the entire world, the victory of justice and truth leading to the perpetuation of peace and the establishment of humankind’s life on a sturdy foundation, will emerge from the house of Israel and its lofty table; “You prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies; You anointed my head with oil, my cup overflows.” (Psalms 23:5).

Then the souls of all creatures will quench their thirst for all that is sublime and pure, for all truth and faithfulness, from the pure influence that will shine forth the lamp of Israel, a lamp that “during times of danger, it is sufficient to place it upon one’s table”.

“And from the dew of Hermon descending upon the mountains of Zion the Lord will command the blessing” (Psalms 133:3) to Israel and all humankind, as it says, “And I will pour out immeasurable blessing for you.” (Malachi 3:10) And the children will return together to sing from the bottom of their hearts and souls: “This is my portion for all of my labor, the nation of Israel lives and shall live forever.”(Kohelet2:10)

May the dangerous storm pass quickly so that we may return the precept of the Chanukah lamp to its rightful place, to light it on the outside of our doorways. “And all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our Creator” (Isaiah 52:10) upon His people and His inheritance.”

Written in 1935. Published in Ma’amarei HaRayah, p.150-1.
Translated by Pesach Jaffe in “Celebration Of The Soul: The Holidays In The Life and Thought of Rav Kook” by Rabbi M.Z. Neria, Genesis Jerusalem Press 1992.


menorah in gemrany

Chanukiah in the house of Rabbi Dr. Akiva and Rachel Pozner

This photo below shows the Chanukiah in the house of Rabbi Dr. Akiva and Rachel Pozner who lived in the German city of Kiel. The photo was taken in 1932 on the eve of the Nazi Party’s rise to power. The Chanukiah is showed with Nazi swastika flags in the background. On the back of the photo Rachel Pozner wrote in German: “The flag is saying ‘Judah is dying’. The light is answering ‘Judah will live forever!’.”

Rabbi Akiva and Rachel succeeded in escaping Germany with  members of their community and arrived in Israel with the Chanukiah that is in the photo. Generations of the Pozner family continue to light this Chanukiah to the present day as a sign of the wondrous victory of the light over the darkness.

 

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