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Praising His Great Name
In Judaism we find that names are given great significance. According to our sages, even parents are granted the gift of prophecy when naming their children.

If the name of an individual child is considered a minor prophecy, how much more so for names that are more generally significant, such as the names of Jewish holidays. These names were not chosen at random but have a deep meaning.

We are currently celebrating the holiday of Chanukah. The main event that we commemorate is the miracle of the oil. A small cruse of pure oil was found that was only enough to light the menorah in the Temple for one day. Miraculously it lasted for eight days and nights until fresh oil could be procured. The miracle determined the length of the holiday as well as the central ceremony of Chanukah—lighting the menorah. It is also the reason for the traditional Chanukah foods such as potato latkes and doughnuts fried in oil.

Of course, the miracle of Chanukah also includes the military triumph of the Maccabees over the Greeks, and we mention this in the prayers of the holiday, but the military victory would have called for a one-day celebration at most. The miracle of the oil and the rededication of the Temple are the central events of the holiday and also account for the name of the holiday—Chanukah.


How does the name Chanukah reflect the miracles? There are several explanations. One of the most popular is that the word Chanukah is an acronym for Chet Nerot V’halachah K’beit Hillel—eight candles and the law is according to the school of Hillel.

The two schools of Hillel and Shammai were in dispute over how to light Chanukah candles. According to Shammai, we should light eight candles the first night, seven the second, down to one on the eighth night. According to Hillel, we increase each night, starting with one the first night all the way up to eight on the last night. The halachah is according to Hillel.

The difference of opinion is not just technical but is based on an underlying philosophy. Shammai opines that we should light according to the potential remaining in the holiday. On the first night, we have eight nights remaining so we should light eight candles. On the second night, we have seven nights remaining, and so forth. Hillel’s view, in contrast, is that we light according to the actual days, not potential days. On the first night we have only one day so we light one candle, on the second we light two, etc.


In practice the custom is according to Hillel. This teaches us an important lesson. When we feel that we are in spiritual darkness, we can consider where we’d like to be in the long term. This may give us the initial motivation we need to break through the darkness. However, the inspiration may fade rather quickly when our progress seems slow and the difficulties insurmountable.

The proper way is to consider what we’ve achieved until now and use our present state as a stepping stone to reach the next stage—one incremental step at a time. It may seem that each step is small but as long as we make steady progress we will increase in light and drive away the darkness.

This is also the way to bring the Redemption. We need to take incremental steps to add light to the world. In this way we prepare the world for the light of Moshiach, which will illuminate the world for all of us, may it happen immediately.


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