Office of the Chief Rabbi

Dvar Torah: Shabbat Chanukah

I’ve got a riddle for you: Which date in the Hebrew calendar is sometimes a festival and sometimes an ordinary day?

Yes! There is one date on which sometimes we say Hallel and sometimes we say Tachnun.

The answer is the third of Tevet which will fall on this coming Tuesday.

You see, it all depends on how many days of Rosh Chodesh there are at the beginning of the month of Tevet – and of course, Rosh Chodesh Tevet always falls right in the middle of Chanukah. If there are two days of Rosh Chodesh, as is the case this year, (and therefore there will also be a thirtieth of Kislev) the third of Tevet will fall after Chanukah and is, therefore, an ordinary day. Next year, and on other similar years, the month of Kislev will have twenty-nine days. There will be one day missing and consequently the third of Tevet will be the last day of Chanukah. So if you have your birthday on the third of Tevet, sometimes your birthday is associated with an incredible festival, and sometimes it is a day that is pretty ordinary.

This is absolutely fascinating, especially as the 8th day of Chanukah in our tradition has a special name. It is considered to be the ultimate day of the entire festival. It is called ‘Zot Chanukah’. It is taken from our Torah reading for the festival of Chanukah – from the Parsha of Nasso in the book of Bamidbar. On each day of the festival, we read about the contributions that the heads of the tribes brought. And then on the eighth day the Torah says ‘Zot Chanukat HaMizbe’ach’ – ‘this is the dedication of the alter’ – the summation of all the contributions. And that is why that eighth day is called Zot Chanukah as if to suggest that this is the essence of the festival – this is the day on which our celebration reaches its greatest height.

Of course, we can understand this in the context of the famous debate between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai. Beit Shammai (Mesechet Shabbat) taught that on the first night of Chanukah we light eight candles, then seven, then six, all the way down to one on the concluding night. But Beit Hillel, whose view we follow to this day, taught “ma’alin bakodesh” on each day of the festival we do more than what we did on the previous day, going from one on the first night to eight on the concluding night. And that is the lesson for us. We should raise the bar of our aspirations to achieve more than what we have previously attained, so we end on a high! Isn’t it amazing – sometimes the third of Tevet is the ultimate day of a festival and sometimes it is pretty ordinary.

But actually I believe that that is not really the case. Because in terms of programming we know that the events we hold are important, not primarily for what we do upon them but for the follow up that they inspire. If Chanukah was only an eight day wonder – well it is brilliant while it lasts but what does it do for us the rest of the year? The message of Chanukah is that throughout our lives we need to raise that bar even higher and therefore the third of Tevet is a most significant date in our calendar. It is on that day that we strive to achieve even more than what we performed during the festival. That is the greatest sign of the success of Chanukah. The third of Tevet is never an ordinary day. It is either a festival or perhaps something even more important than that.

Shabbat Shalom & Chag Chanukat Sameach!