The Dedication of the Altar

In addition to the Maccabees’ military victory over the Greeks and the miracle of the Menorah, Chanukah com­memorates the rededication of the Beis HaMikdash1 and its altar after it had been defiled by the Greeks.2 Accordingly, the name Chanukah (vfubj) is derived from the word chinuch (lubj) which means not only “education” but also “dedication”. Dedication is also the theme of the passages which the Sages chose for the daily reading of the Torah during Chanukah.3 They describe the inaugural offerings brought by the tribal leaders of the Jewish people for the dedication of the altar in the desert,4 offerings which opened up new spiritual possibilities for our material world.

Why was the Chanukah Miracle Necessary?

The concept underlying the dedication of the altar helps us understand the Maccabean rededication of the Beis HaMikdash.

The kindling of the Menorah (like the offering of commu­nal sacrifices) may be practiced in a state of ritual impurity when there is no other alternative.5 Why, then, was the Cha­nukah miracle necessary?

Among the answers offered to this question6 is that this leniency applies only to sacrifices brought upon an existing altar and to lights kindled upon an existing Menorah. How­ever, when the Beis HaMikdash, the altar, and the Menorah all had to be rededicated because they had been defiled by the Greeks, this leniency could not be relied upon.

The oil used for rededicating the Menorah had to be ritually pure: the source of spiritual light for our world can­not be established through divine service that is acceptable only after the fact. On the contrary, the rededication of the Beis HaMikdash requires divine service of the highest level attainable. This was achieved by the mesirus nefesh (“self-sacrifice”) of the Maccabees in their struggle for purity.

Making Our World a Dwelling Place for G‑d

To the superficial observer, our world appears to function as an utterly physical entity, with no obvious connection to G‑dliness or spirituality. This is the case because G‑d desired “a dwelling in the lower worlds,”7 meaning that He wanted His presence to be revealed in a setting where, by nature, He is not recognized.

The very nature of the material framework which He cre­ated obscures spiritual awareness and breeds self-concern. A radical change, the introduction of a new approach to exist­ence, is necessary for the world to serve as a dwelling place for G‑d.8

The construction of the Sanctuary and later, the Beis HaMikdash, ushered in this new approach, for these struc­tures served as “dwelling places for G‑d,” places where His presence was openly revealed.9 To inaugurate a structure of this type, a heightened level of divine service is required; this is what is meant by chinuch — “dedication”.

A Focus on Children

Chinuch, as has been mentioned, also means “education”. The introduction of radical changes also takes place in the education of a child. Education is not intended to merely en­able the child to progress somewhat within his existing cog­nitive framework, but to introduce him to new approaches and effect pervasive changes in his nature.

For this reason, at the beginning of his formal education (and at the introduction of each new stage in his develop­ment), the child is given presents which, like the additional sacrifices offered to dedicate the altar, will stimulate his growth10 throughout this lifelong endeavor. In the spirit of Chanukah,11 he will “always advance higher in holy matters.” This, too, is the motivation underlying the cherished custom of giving children the gifts of pocket money known as “Chanukah gelt.”12

To Dedicate the World

“Educate a youth according to his way; even when he grows old, he will not depart from it.”13 The points outlined above remain relevant as youths mature and start homes of their own, for every Jewish home is a “sanctuary in micro­cosm”14 which must be dedicated to serve as a source for the diffusion of Divine light.

Through our efforts in the study of Torah, in the service of prayer, and in giving tzedakah, we continuously spread G‑dly light throughout the entire world. Chanukah in par­ticular reminds us to spread the “lamp of a mitzvah and the light of the Torah,”15 even when darkness appears to envelop our surroundings.

Chanukah thus represents “the dedication of the world,”16 for the world was created for the sake of the Torah,17 and the miracles of Chanukah make it possible for this purpose to be fulfilled. Thus, as the light of Chanukah spreads throughout the world, we become conscious that the world is G‑d’s dwelling place, and thereby hasten the coming of the Redemption, when we will dedicate the Third Beis HaMik­dash. May this take place in the immediate future.

Adapted from the Sichos of Chanukah, 5747