BY MIRIAM WHITE
Celebrating Chanukah is so familiar – the Hallel, menorah lighting, sufganiyot and family time – it’s easy to forget just how surprising it is that we celebrate Chanukah as a festival at all! Why do we observe such a significant holiday commemorating the rededication of the Temple, when we don’t have a holiday to celebrate its initial dedication during the time of Shlomo HaMelech? In fact, most people don’t even know the original date of the Temple’s dedication. Why do we place so much significance to the rededication of the Temple?
In an essay written by Rabbi Norman Lamm, “On Being Too Practical” (January 2, 1960), he offers a beautiful explanation:
“… the answer, my friends, lies in the differences between building and rebuilding, between constructing and reconstructing, between dedicating and re-dedicating. When there is a new movement, a new campaign, a new idea, a new vision, anything that has with it the power of novelty, then it is almost assured of freshness and vigor and enthusiasm. The decision to build something new is not a spiritually difficult achievement. Everyone is anxious, everyone is aroused, everyone excited. The people involved in such a project generally move forward with a great surge of strength and spirit. But the decision to rebuild, that is far more difficult. To approach a rubble and try to make of it a habitable home; patiently to pick up the pieces of the past and paste them together; to take the tattered ruins of a former majesty and somehow restore them; to patch together what time and circumstance have ravaged – for this the masses have little enthusiasm, less spirit, and no patience…
We therefore celebrate Chanukah in honor of the Maccabean achievement of rededication, while we have no comparable holiday commemorating Solomon’s achievement. We give historic reward for the zeal of undertaking a task which would no doubt have frightened weaker souls and dissuaded them by the threat of faded glory, tired emotions, and secondhand sentiment.”
With these powerful words Rabbi Lamm inspires us to think about Chanukah as the holiday of rebuilding, when we remember that it is possible, with heroic effort, to rebuild that which has been destroyed. Innumerable times throughout the millennia, our people have thrived, created and built, only to see it cut down by enemies who seek to destroy us. Somehow, with extraordinary heroism, our forefathers and foremothers continuously got back up, repaired the damage and rebuilt.
In the days before the declaration of the State of Israel, one small yet significant decision remained undecided. What would be the official symbol of the new State? A committee was set up to receive suggestions, and over 450 ideas were submitted, including the magen David and the hamsa. Ultimately, Gavriel and Maxim Shamir of Shamir Brothers Studio were selected as the designers of the State of Israel’s official symbol. Their initial design featured a menorah with the Star of David hanging over each branch, two olive branches on the side, and the name Israel on the bottom. In the end, the menorah chosen for the design was the menorah depicted on the Arch of Titus, a peculiar choice criticized by former Chief Rabbi Isaac HaLevi Herzog, who said, “Apparently foreign hands have been involved, and it is not all in accordance with the sacred text”.
Despite the critique, I believe the menorah depicted on the Arch of Titus and featured in the official symbol of the State of Israel reveals a message of rebuilding. What once was lost and destroyed will be rebuilt. To celebrate Israel, as it enters its 75th year, is to celebrate the greatest act of rebuilding in human history. Reflecting on the menorah of the Arch of Titus, we are inspired by the message of Chanukah – knowing that we too have arisen from destruction and exile to return to our Land.
שֶׁהֶחֱיָנוּ וְקִיְּמָנוּ וְהִגִיעָנוּ לַזְּמַן הַזֶּה
Miriam White is a Mashgicha Ruchanit at Midreshet TVA in Yerushalayim. Before making Aliyah she worked as the Director of Religious Guidance at YUHSG (Central) and as assistant director of NCSY GIVE.