Hard to believe, but Chanukah is at our door. In this holiday of lights menorot, or cha-nu-ki-yot as they are called in Israel, are lit for eight days to commemorate the great Maccabean victory over the Greek empire in 164 BCE. The Talmud attributed the eight days' celebration to the tiny pitcher of oil remaining in the Temple, which by miracle burned eight days (Shabbat 21:72). But, according to the Book of Maccabees, Judah the Maccabee asked the Jews to celebrate an eight-day holiday in lieu of Succot, the holiday they could not observe two months prior due to Greek oppression (II Macc 10:1-9).
The name Chanukah is derived from the root ch.n.kh meaning 'dedicate' or 'educate.' It is interesting that in Hebrew these two words juxtapose, for dedication, ('cha-nu-kah') fuels education, ('chi-nukh') and education is the power behind dedication. Moreover, so important is the act of cha-nu-kat ba-yit 'dedication of a house' that already in the Book of Deuteronomy the Torah exempts from military service "anyone who has built a new house ve-lo cha-na-kho 'and has not yet dedicated it.' (Dt 20:5).
During Chanukah we commemorate the Maccabean rededication of Be-yt Ha-miqdash, The Holy Temple in Ye-ru-sha-la-yim. The compound term Be-yt Ha-miqdash consists of two interesting words. The first is ba-yit, a word of unclear etymology, which means 'house' or 'home.' Ba-yit also implies a social unit. A family is a be-yt Av, 'the father's house,' and a tribe is a ba-yit identified by its progenitor as in be-yt Yehuda 'the House of Judah.' A dynasty is called ba-yit as in be-yt David, 'the House of David,' and the whole nation is considered a ba-yit, as in be-yt Israel, 'the House of Israel.'
The second word under consideration is Miqdash, namely 'a holy place.' The word is derived from the root q.d.sh, meaning 'make holy,' 'sanctify,' 'devote,' 'hallow,' and 'consecrate.' Words like qo-desh 'holiness,' Qa-dish 'sanctification,' Qi-ddu-shin 'marriage,' and Qi-ddush, the ceremonial blessing over the wine on Shabbat, are but a few examples of words stemming from this root. As for Be-yt Ha-miqdash, it was the center of Jewish worship from the days of Solomon (circa 960 BCE) to the days of its final destruction by the Romans (70 CE). To this day the Kotel, 'The Western Wall' in Ye-ru-sha-la-yim, stands as its witness and is considered Judaism's holiest site.
This year Chanukah receives an added meaning. It is the first time in our lifetime Chanukah and Thanksgiving fall on the same day. On this lovely American holiday, with gratitude in our hearts, we pray that the lights of Chanukah continue to shine from every Jewish ba-yit, energizing the spirit of dedication, education, and hope.
Professor Rachel Zohar Dulin teaches Hebrew and Bible at Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership.