May 27, 2024
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Safeguarding the Jewish Home

Chanukah is often considered a family holiday. In fact, the connection between Chanukah and the Jewish home is embedded in the nature of the chag as commanded by Chazal. The Gemara Shabbat 21b introduces the mitzvah of neirot Chanukah as “ner ish u’beiso, a candle for person and home.” This phraseology of the gemara is strange: what does it mean that the mitzvah is for “the home”? Aren’t mitzvot commanded to people?

Perhaps we can better understand this halachic phenomenon by better understanding the Chanukah story. Many note that in contrast to Purim, Chanukah wasn’t about the physical survival of the Jewish nation, but rather its spiritual survival. The Greeks had so pervaded the Jewish community that Hellenization and assimilation into Greek society was rampant, even amongst the Jewish leaders—to the point where the Jewish community was in danger of disappearing.

In commemorating the victory over the Greeks and the miracle(s) that ensued, perhaps Chazal wanted to convey a crucial message within the central mitzvah of Chanukah: When celebrating the festival that represents our ongoing battle against assimilation, we must realize that our greatest weapon against assimilation is the Jewish home. The home, and family unit, provides the warmth and fire of Judaism. When the Jewish home is strong we are best equipped to fight the dangerous outside influences on our Jewish identity. Chazal therefore specifically rooted the mitzvah within each home—to remind us that through the love of the home we can best perpetuate the message of Chanukah.

This message can be taken one step further if we consider an important detail within the mitzvah of the Chanukah candles. The Gemara commands that the candles should be placed “outside by the entrance to the home.” While alternate locations are also given, it’s clear that the most ideal place for the Chanukah candles is the entrance to the home—on the left side, opposite the mezuzah.

This also requires clarification. We perform many mitzvot in our home daily, yet no other mitzvah is mandated to be done at the entrance to the house. Why does such a directive exist specifically by the Chanukah candles?

Perhaps we can better understand Chazal’s wisdom by considering the unique role that the doorway plays within our home. The doorway represents the exit and entry point from our home into the outside world. It’s the point of both connection, and demarcation, between our private home and the public domain. This point of entry/exit is critical when considering two important questions: what would we like to bring from the outside into our home, and what aspects of our home should we share with the world? By placing the mezuzah and Chanukah candles at our doorway, these mitzvot become the prisms through which we make these crucial decisions.

Each day, as we kiss the mezuzah when exiting our home, we are reminded of our obligation to share the values of our home with those around us. And as we kiss the mezuzah upon entering our home, we remind ourselves that as we enter our sacred space, we must only bring in that which is appropriate for this makom kadosh.

Once a year this message is heightened by adding the Chanukah candles to our doorway. These candles help us publicize the Chanukah miracles, and share the light of our homes, with all who pass by. In addition, they serve as a reminder of the spiritual dangers the Jewish community faced during Chanukah, and of the strength of the family unit that saved us. It was the bravery of those families who fought Hellenism and said “עד כאן”—some things are for the street, and they don’t belong in my home, my makom kadosh—that ultimately allowed the Jewish nation to persevere.

As parents, the Chanukah candles remind us about one of our fundamental obligations: how to properly balance our involvement in the world around us. On the one hand, our involvement in the world around us enriches our lives and enables us to impact the world in immeasurable ways. Yet Chanukah reminds us that such involvement in the world is also fraught with danger. When we spend too much time interacting with society around us we may not realize the subtle impact it can have on our Jewish identity and on our homes. Our ability to strike the proper balance is one of our most important challenges today.

Thankfully, through the Chanukah candles, Chazal taught us how to create this balance—by differentiating between our homes and the outside world and being conscious of the impact that one has on the other. Where do we draw the line? What aspects of the culture around us are in sync with our Jewish values, and what aspects are at odds with it? At what point must we also say עד כאן? How can we protect our homes from the outside influences that endanger the sanctity of our home?

The answers to these questions are not simple—and require a tremendous amount of thought and reflection. The specific answers to these questions may differ for each of us as we try to strike this balance. Though the questions are difficult and uncomfortable, as parents of the next generation we cannot afford not to ask these questions. And the holiday of Chanukah is a perfect time to do so.

Chanukah Sameach!


Rav Yossi Goldin is the menahel tichon at Yeshivas Pe’er HaTorah, rebbe at Midreshet Tehillah, and placement adviser/internship coordinator for the YU/RIETS Kollel. He lives with his family in Shaalvim and can be reached at [email protected].

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