For the week ending 23 November 2013 / 20 Kislev 5774

Chanuka, Education & Inspiration

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From: Alan in Brooklyn

Dear Rabbi,

Do the words Chanuka and Chinuch (education) have the same root? If so, what is the connection?

Dear Alan,

Yes, these words are connected. Chanuka means inauguration, as Chanuka celebrates the "Chanukat Hamizbe'ach," the re-inauguration of the altar by the Maccabees after its defilement.

Chinuch is an expression indicating the beginning of something. Thus, it means inauguration, but it also means education, which begins and initiates a person in the way that it is hoped that he will follow. As King Solomon wrote, "Chanoch l'na'ar al pi darko — teach a child according to his way."

“Chanuka” when read as two words (chanu kaf-hey) means "they encamped on the 25th," indicating that that the Maccabees were victorious in battle and rested from their enemies on the 25th of Kislev.


  • Rashi, Tractate Shavuot 15a

From: Josh in Melbourne

Dear Rabbi,

I just wanted to ask you a few questions about Chanuka. Why is Chanuka so important? What is the main feature of Chanuka? What do you think would happen if the Greeks were successful in the battle against the Maccabees? Why were the Maccabees chosen to fight the Greeks? Thank you for your time and I hope to hear from you soon.

Dear Josh,

Chanuka is so important because it means the victory of Torah over Greek philosophy.

Unlike previous pagan ideas so revolting to Jews, Greek paganism was bound up with beauty, art and philosophy. Therefore, it captured the imagination of many Jews. Many Jews became "Greekified," or "Hellenists."

This may surprise you, but the Greeks did win. You see, there was a battle and there was a war. The Maccabees won the battle and were able to hold on for a while but eventually they succumbed to Pompeii's conquest 80 years later.

But the miracle of the oil inspired us to realize that G-d is with us no matter what. Without that inspiration the Jewish People might not have been able to survive future periods of even greater persecution.

Why the Maccabees? Because their father Mattityahu possessed faith in G-d which gave him the courage to stand up against power and corruption. The name “Maccabee” comes from the Hebrew acronym "Mi Camocha B'eilim Hashem" — who amongst the mighty is like You, G-d?" Although the Maccabee's military victory didn't last, the miraculous events of the war and the oil inscribed the message of faith and loyalty indelibly into the Jewish soul.

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