December 6, 2023
December 6, 2023

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Closing the Door: A Pandemic Chanukah Gift

This Chanukah we must learn to celebrate the gift of a closed door.

Yeshayahu (26:20) said: “Go my people, come into your chambers and close your door behind you, hide for a moment until the wrath passes.”

It is this verse that the Talmud (Bava Kamma 60b) cites in providing its own public health guidance for a pandemic, teaching that during a plague one should stay home to stay safe.

Ironically, a Chanukah Midrash – cited by Rambam in one of his letters (Iggeret Hashmad) – teaches how the Greeks forbade the Jews from placing a bolt or lock on their doors, denying us our dignity, privacy, and control of our environment, while undermining our familial intimacy. The Midrash (Midrash Maaseh Chanukah) relates this decree to our failure during that period to consecrate our homes by placing a Mezuzah on our doors.

This little-known piece of the story helps us understand why Chanukah is designed to be celebrated at home, with the Menorah ideally placed in the doorway opposite the Mezuzah. The triumph over the Greeks led not only to the rededication of the Temple but also to the restoration of the sacred and hallowed quality of the Jewish home, marked by the Mezuzah that marks G-d’s presence as we enter the home and by the Menorah that allows the divine light to shine forth from our homes and illuminate the world.

Interestingly, the Talmud (Shabbat 21b) speaks of a time of religious persecution that necessitated our bringing the Menorah in from the doorway and having us lock our front doors and light the Chanukah candles on our dining room tables. Here again, but this time not as a result of a natural plague but rather due to a hostile external environment, we were forced to come into our chambers, close our doors behind us, and hide until the wrath passes.

Yet that time in hiding and in privacy has a value of its own.

In that privacy we restore familial intimacy. In that controlled environment we build a sense of the sacred. Behind that door we reestablish our privacy and dignity and we create that sacred space where Jewish continuity is built, the warm and connected Jewish home.

That strengthening of the home and the familial bond behind the closed door may be one of the true opportunities of this trying period.

It is worth recalling the beautiful words of Rav A.Y. HaKohein Kook, who explained why certain periods required us to move Chanukah inside:

“During normal times, we feel within us the urge to publicly share … rays that will illuminate the world. Thus, the mitzvah of Chanukah lights, as the symbol of this holy wish, is to place those lights outside the doors of our homes. And when the light of holiness shines outside, we need not worry, as we can be confident and secure that the inside is undoubtedly filled with light.

In times of danger, however, … the rays outside are unable to pierce the dark clouds that prevail there. The Jew must then turn inward to the home and table; to our internal values and culture; to the purity of the spirit and the cleanliness of our hands; to our Torah, the Torah of truth that is ours alone; to the Mitzvot, that are our eternal path of life; to the creation of our home on holy soil with the full strength of our pursuit of holiness, according to Judaism’s design and spirit.

At such times we place the candle – the symbol of our triumph – on our table, to illuminate the path of our lives and the radiance of our souls. And with this candle that we store safely inside we know confidently that we will lack nothing of spiritual wealth and true honor, the honor of justice and truth, and that ultimately others will come forth with the recognition that the light that shines forth from the Jewish home will build the hope of the world for truth, justice, and peace to prevail, and to set the path of humanity on firm footing.

Rabbi Moshe Hauer is Executive Vice President of the Orthodox Union.

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