The following essay appears this morning on the First Thoughts blog.
Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights commemorating the miraculous restoration of the Temple following the Hasmonean expulsion of the Greek occupiers from Jerusalem in 165 B.C., began this year on Friday evening, the beginning of the Sabbath. When the Hanukkah holiday begins on a Friday night, the eight days of celebration will end on Shabbat as well. The coincidence of two Shabbatot with the Festival of Lights is a matter of great moment, for both the celebration of Shabbat and the observance of Hanukkah constitute a direct link to the Temple, the dwelling-place of theShekhinahGod’s indwelling on earthand the wellspring of eternal life in the language of the Psalms.
The Sabbath is both a remembrance of Creationwhose purpose was to create the single Day that stands outside of temporalityand the Exodus from Egypt, the moment of creation of God’s peoplein the words of the Friday evening Kiddushchanted at the Sabbath table. It is also a continuation of the Temple itself.
When Hanukkah falls on Sabbath, all the symbols of the Temple live and shine again inside the Jewish home. The Sabbath table with its two loaves of Challah (representing the two rows of showbread at the Temple) is an extension of the Temple altar. The head of household acts in place of the priest, blessing the children of the family by laying on of hands, and offering the benediction of Numbers 6:24: “May the Lord bless you and keep you: May the Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious unto you: May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” The three Sabbath meals, an obligation of Jewish law, recalls the Jerusalem Temple and helps keep alive the belief that it will some day be restored.
Hanukkah transplants another dimension of the holiness of the Temple into the Jewish home: the seven-branched Menorah, which can be seen on the Arch of Titus at the ancient Roman Forum, carted away by Roman soldiery. The eight-branch menorah of Hanukkah, once a year, is lit in continuity with the purloined Menorahnot as a remembrance, but as a living recreation of the eternal flame