Welcome to “Share a Prayer” a quick look at a prayer that is found in our daily, Shabbat or Holy Day Prayer Service. Often during the course of the service we encounter some real gems that we don’t have time to reflect upon; this will give us an opportunity to select one prayer and take a closer look.
While many of our kids consider Hanukah the “Hag Kabalat Ha Matanot” the festival of gift reception, Hanukah is commonly referred to in our tradition as “Hag Ha Urim”; the festival of light. Not only is light the first article of Creation, but it has always symbolized what is the very essence of Hanukah; joy, hope, happiness and freedom. Thus after kindling the Hanukah candles, it is traditional to recite or sing the brief but powerful prayer which extols and elucidates the Hanukah Lights – Ha Neirot Halalu, “these lights which we kindle.”
We all are familiar of the History of Hanukah – in 167 B.C.E. the evil Seleucid forces of King Antiochus defiled the Holy Temple of Jerusalem. Replacing the ritual objects of the Temple with statues of Zeus and other pagan artifacts, Antiochus planned to have the Jewish people “forget the Torah” and completely assimilate into Hellenistic society; we would, in effect have disappeared. But, miraculously, in 164 B.C.E, the Selucids were defeated and the Holy Temple was cleansed and rededicated by the small but mighty forces of the priestly family of Mattathias under the leadership of the great Judah the Maccabee. The great miracle of Hanukah is not only a that small band of righteous fighters was able to defeat a mighty evil army, but, that despite all of the compelling forces of assimilation, we, the Jewish people still exist today. Furthermore, according to tradition, in the process of restoring the Temple, the Maccabees wishing to rekindle the Sacred Menorah, only found enough consecrated oil to last for one day. Miraculously, as the tale is told, that small amount of oil lasted for eight days until new oil could be produced.
Ha Neirot Halalu, traces its origin to the Talmudic Tractate of Sopherim (20:6) and can can be found in both Ashkenazi and Sephardi Siddurim. Recited After saying the blessings over the candles, this poem reminds us of “the reason for the season” – to remember the heroic acts of the priestly Maccabee family and to be thankful for all that God did for our ancestors and continues to do in our time. The other significant purpose of our poem is to underscore the centrality of the theme of light in our tradition. We are reminded that the Hanukah Lights are holy and therefore we are not permitted to use the candles for illumination, we are only allowed to contemplate them.
Rav Binyamin Tabory of the Virtual Beit Ha Midrash introduces an interesting discussion as to the reason for ascribing Holiness to the lights of Hanukak. He begins by citing a source from the Talmud, (Shabbat 22a) that suggests that the candles in and of themselves are not sacred;
“While the Gemara does conclude that we are not permitted to use the Hanukah candles for a purpose other than the Mitzvah, for example, for counting coins, it explicitly states that it is NOT because of their holiness!”
However, Rabbi Tabory reminds us that the sacred nature of the Hanukah lights comes form their connection to the Holy Temple of Jerusalem. The Biblical Portion of Behaalotcha (Numbers 8:1- 12:16) describes in precise detail the procedure for erecting and kindling the Menorah, the candelabrum that was a key feature of the Mishkan, the portable sanctuary that traveled through our the wilderness with our ancestors when they left Egypt. Paralleling this Torah portion is the Haftara (Zechariah 2:14-4:7) which describes the construction and operation of the Menorah in the Holy Temple. Appropriately, we also read this Haftara on the Shabbat of Hanukah. Recognizing the preeminent significance of the Menorah, the Maccabees, as we recall form the Hanukah story, make it a priority to rekindle the Menorah as they worked to rededicate the temple. Indeed, the traditional Hanukah miracle itself, revolves around the oil used in the Menorah. Moreover, one of the central Mitzvoth of Hanukah, Pirsumi Nisa – publicizing the Miracle of Hanukah as an example of God’s saving power, is accomplished by placing the Hanukah lights in a window so that all can see them.
Clearly, the Hanukah lights connect us not only to the Maccabees but all the way back to the Mishkan carried by our ancestors as they fled Egypt and on to the Holy Temple of Jerusalem which, for generations has continued to serve as the focal point for all of our prayers. The bottom line according to Rabbi Tabory is:
“The Mitzvah of lighting Hanukah candles can be seen as a continuation of the Mitzvah of lighting the Menorah in the Temple in Jerusalem…The Halakha [Jewish law] tells every Jew to take the candles of the Temple (Mikdash) and light them in his private house. Not only is the synagogue a “miniature Temple” (a Mikdash me’at), but the goal of this Mitzvah is to transform every home into a Mikdash me’at.”
The song Ha Neirot Halalu indeed encapsulates the very essence of Hanukah. As we kindle the Hanukah lights not only are we illumined with joy, happiness and freedom, but we become part of an ancient, universal process that began in the wilderness of Sinai, continued in the Holy Temple of Jerusalem and culminates in the miniature Temple that is our Jewish Home; the essential foundation of Jewish Life.
I hope you enjoy this brief look at our prayers. If you have a suggestion, question or request, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here is a link to the text in Hebrew and English
Here is a link to a previous post on Hanukah with several Hanukah melodies
This is a link to video of a traditional version of Haneirot Halalu
This is a link to video of a traditional version of Haneirot Halalu from Israeli TV
This is a link to video of a Moroccan version of Haneirot Halalu
Hag Urim Sameiach ! A Joyous and Inspirational Hanukah to all!
Hazzan Michael Krausman