Shabbat Miketz/Rosh Hodesh/Hanukkah 5776
The stories we tell about ourselves are in a constant state of evolution. At times, we add color and detail to enhance the narrative. Other times, we leave out certain elements when they no longer serve the larger purpose of the story.
The story of Hanukkah is just like any other–subject to embellishment at different stages in the history of the holiday. For instance, if you read all of the material from the Mishnah and Tosefta, sources that reflect the tradition in the Land of Israel and dating back to the early 3rd century C.E., you’ll be hard-pressed to find anything about candles on Hanukkah. There’s exactly one source that alludes to it. This is what it says:
“If a camel laden with flax passed by in the public domain and its load of flax entered into a shop and caught fire from the shopkeeper’s candle and lit a house on fire, the owner of the camel is liable. But if the shopkeeper left his candle outside, the shopkeeper is liable. Rabbi Yehudah said: If it was a Hanukkah light, he is exempt.” (Mishnah Bava Kamma 6:6)
The matter at hand in this Mishnah isn’t even Hanukkah; it’s just mentioned in passing. Does that mean that by this time, candles on Hanukkah were a given; or might it mean that Hanukkah was such an insignificant observance that it barely gets attention in one of our most important ancient sources? And why aren’t we told the reason for lighting candles? What about that famous miracle?
We’ll look briefly at the way our candles became a crucial part of Hanukkah, and consider what we can learn from Hanukkah about holiday narratives in general, on Shabbat morning.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom, Hodesh Tov, and Hag Urim Sameah,
Rabbi David Wise