Each day of Hanukkah, our editor Sara Himeles, who recently graduated from rabbinical school, is sharing a teaching and reflection prompt focusing on different themes of the Hanukkah story. Journal your response or simply reflect on each prompt. We hope these teachings and prompts make your Hanukkah brighter and more meaningful. Missed a Hanukkah prompt? Read the prompts for Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3.
The menorah is meant to “publicize” the miracle of Hanukkah, so it should be placed where it is visible to those outside. This value of “pirsumei nisa” (publicizing the miracle) is critical to how we celebrate this holiday. We place our menorah(s) near a window for all to see.
Why is it important to publicize the miracle? Well, in the Hanukkah story, under the oppressive rule of the Syrian Greek empire, Jews were not allowed to observe or express their Judaism in public, or else they were punished with death. So it follows that on Hanukkah, we proudly proclaim the miracles that occurred and our Jewish identities to the world.
Although pirsumei nisa is a major value of Hanukkah, Jewish law also acknowledges that there are times when it is not safe to advertise our Judaism. In times of danger, we are advised to light the menorah in the privacy of our homes.
The Talmud (Shabbat 21b) states,
תָּנוּ רַבָּנַן: נֵר חֲנוּכָּה מִצְוָה לְהַנִּיחָהּ עַל פֶּתַח בֵּיתוֹ מִבַּחוּץ. אִם הָיָה דָּר בַּעֲלִיָּיה — מַנִּיחָהּ בַּחַלּוֹן הַסְּמוּכָה לִרְשׁוּת הָרַבִּים. וּבִשְׁעַת הַסַּכָּנָה — מַנִּיחָהּ עַל שֻׁלְחָנוֹ וְדַיּוֹ
The Sages taught in a baraita: It is a mitzvah to place the Hanukkah lamp [menorah] at the entrance to one’s house on the outside, so that all can see it. If one lives upstairs, one should place it at the window adjacent to the public domain. And in a time of danger, one places it on the table and that is sufficient to fulfill the mitzvah.
The Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chayim 671:5 states the law on this matter:
ובשעת הסכנה שאינו רשאי לקיים המצוה מניחו על שלחנו ודיו
“In a time of danger, when one is not permitted to perform mitzvot, it is enough that one places it on one’s table.”
It would sure be nice if this were a purely theoretical discussion, with no practical importance whatsoever, but as antisemitism has been on the rise in the U.S. and globally, sadly, this seems a little more relevant this year.
A survey released last month by the American Jewish Committee found that nearly one out of every four American Jews experienced antisemitism over the past year.
The report also found that, out of fear of antisemitism, 39% of American Jews changed their behavior over the past year, such as by avoiding posting online content or wearing items that would identify them as Jewish.
This year on Hanukkah, we are reminded of how Jews continue to face antisemitism, and how some do not feel they can freely proclaim and express their Judaism in public. Wherever your menorah is placed this year, as you light the Hanukkah candles on the fourth night, consider how you want to be part of the fight against antisemitism.
We all have a role to play in shining a light on antisemitism and dispelling this age-old hatred — what role will you play? Will it be calling it out when you see it, helping to educate others (you can share our videos), wearing things that identify you as Jewish, studying Torah, observing a new mitzvah or something else? Every light goes a long way to dispel the darkness.