From Sukkah to Mamad and Homeward: Embracing the Light of Chanukah

BY INBAR GABAY ZADA

Recently, as I settled my children into their beds in our Efrat home, I couldn’t help but reflect that it was the first night since Sukkot that they were all sleeping in their own beds. They had slept in our mamad (safe room), due to the fear of rocket fire. It is a blessing that eludes thousands of Israelis and for which I am grateful. Nevertheless, it is jarring; instead of moving from the sukkah back into our home, we moved from the sukkah to the safe room. 

Memories of the children eagerly preparing their beds for the sukkah seem like a blur. The subsequent weeks spent in and out of our safe room dominate my thoughts, for the war is still not over and the mamad door remains open and accessible.

Walking into my child’s gan (kindergarten) and hearing Chanukah songs is surreal. As we wait for the haunting events of Simchat Torah to end the sirens, the booms, the fear, and the desperate inquiries about the safety of our family and of the entire nation I hear my children singing Chanukah songs. Is Chanukah already here? I feel as if Am Yisrael is stuck in a time warp. Yet time moves forward, the clocks have changed, and our lives are forever changed.

The dissonance mirrors the disjunction between the excitement of Sukkot and the stark reality of a cold winter approaching. On Sukkot, we leave the comforts of home and embrace our faith in Hashem. As Shemini Atzeret arrives, we return to the warmth and routine of our homes, signifying a hope for stability in the coming winter months. The sukkah’s messages of faith, gratitude, and inspiration accompany us into the darkness of Marcheshvan.

As we move from Sukkot to Chanukah, a shift becomes evident. Sukkot prompts us to leave the home and dwell in the sukkah, while Shemini Atzeret beckons us back. The mitzvah of lighting Chanukah candles strengthens this concept of “home,” as every family lights a menorah in their own home.

Sukkot entails leaving home for seven days, while Chanukah centers us within. Yet, we do not shut our doors and windows to contain the light and warmth; it must be seen by others. The candles’ light is intrinsically tied to the public sphere, lit “until there is no more foot traffic in the marketplace.” The Tosafists (Sukkah 46a) reflect on the Talmud’s ruling that on Chanukah, unlike Sukkot, a person who sees the candles makes a unique blessing birkat haRo’eh enabling even a person who does not have a home and only sees the candles to praise the miracle of Chanukah. Publicizing the miracle seeing the light from the outside is inherent to the mitzvah

Chanukah invites us to step from within the home to its entrance a liminal space that bridges both inside and outside. In this delicate balance, the Chanukah candles radiate their light, illuminating not only our homes but also extending into the public sphere. Finding light in the darkness requires putting yourself in the darkness and then the protection of the lights. 

The mamad door stands in stark contrast to Chanukah. It is a barrier meant to block out external threats, sealing off light, sound, and air. It hermetically shields those within from the dangers that lurk outside. Standing at the entrance of our homes with an open door to light the Chanukah candles is a statement of faith. Yet, the mitzvah lehadlik ner Chanukah” not only urges us to witness the light but actively involves us in bringing that light, infused with goodness and chessed, into the world.

As a child, counting menorahs on trips from Philadelphia to New York filled me with pride. These candles were an unspoken connection with fellow Jews who were proudly proclaiming, “I too am a Jew.” We experience this same connection today through hundreds of phone calls and emails from worried Jews from around the world. “You don’t know me,” they explain, “But I too am a Jew. How can I help?” 

We are witnessing an outpouring of chessed and love the likes of which I have never seen before. This Chanukah, as we stand at the threshold of our home, I will remind my children that we are bringing the warmth of our homes to the outside world which is in such desperate need of light. But I will also tell them that we must bring the light of others into our own home, recognizing the unparalleled chessed this terrible war has produced. It must encourage us even as we shiver in the cold and darkness. No, we do not close our doors on Chanukah as one does in the mamad. In lighting the candles and opening our doors, we fulfill the essence of Chanukah bringing light into our lives and sharing it with the world.

 

Inbar Gabay Zada is Director of Development at Sulamot for Jewish Education and La’Ofek – Hope for the Future.

© 2024 World Mizrachi

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