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What Does Hanukkah Mean?

May 9, 2009 | by Shimon Apisdorf

Education, dedication, and beginning. These are the 3 meanings of the word "Chanukah". What do they stand for?

The Hebrew word “Chanukah” has three meanings:

• education
• dedication
• beginning

When the Maccabees liberated the Temple from the Greeks, they found that the holiest place in Judaism had been abused and desecrated. (When the Germans turned synagogues into horse stables and Torah scrolls into lampshades, and when Arabs used Jewish tombstones to pave their roads, they weren't the first to strike at objects of Jewish sanctity.)

The Temple needed far more than cleaning and repairs; it needed to be rededicated. This dedication marked a new beginning for the Temple and the Jewish people and is the source of the name of the holiday.


The secret of parenting is to understand the nuances of your children's nature and to educate them in accordance with that nature. King Solomon says in Proverbs:

“Educate [chanoch] a child according to his nature; when he grows old he will not abandon it.”

While no two children are alike, all children need to be taught that it's wrong to steal. Personalities and temperaments may vary, but the need to be kind, compassionate and moral is universal. One child may be shy, another creative, and still another always in a hurry. Yet they all need to learn what it means to be a mensch.  

Jewish parents are called upon not only to teach their children life-enhancing skills – like eating with a fork and spoon or using a computer – but also to teach them values and ideals that will bring meaning to their children's lives.

The essence of Jewish parenting is to teach your children what to be dedicated to. The Talmud says: As soon as a child can speak, his parents must teach him Torah and the Shema.

Just like we don't let them wait to decide when they get older if they want to read or write, we also must not suspend the teaching of values and character until they are old enough to decide for themselves. What principles demand sacrifice; what's morally negotiable… and what's not.


I recently received a call from Cleveland.

It was an old friend from high school who was serving as the co-chair for our 20-year reunion. "Everyone is going to be there," he insisted. "Isn't there any way you can make it? It's going to be a great weekend."

I really did want to attend, but unfortunately the main reunion events were scheduled for Friday night and Saturday. I explained to my old friend that since graduating from high school, I had begun to observe Shabbat and that even if I made the trip from Baltimore to Cleveland, I'd still have to miss most of the reunion.

But that didn't fly. "Perhaps," he wondered aloud, "you could make an exception. I mean, if one time you kind of bend the rules a little, would that be so terrible? Look, nobody's perfect."

I told him that I was very touched by his call, but I just wouldn't be able to make it. "Besides," I told him, "the Indians are in Baltimore that weekend and I have tickets to the game on Sunday."

"Oh, you never told me that," he said. "Now I understand. Look, we'll miss you. I gotta go make another call. It's been great talking to you."

At the time of Chanukah, how did the Jewish people find the fortitude to fight for the rededication of the Temple?

Because they knew what they were dedicated to in the first place.

Adapted from "Chanukah - Eight Nights of Light, Eight Gifts for the Soul"



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