Introduction: The term "Chanukah" refers to "dedication" (Psalm 30:1). The Festival of Chanukah not only commemorates the miracle of the light; it also commemorates the re-dedication of the Holy Temple by the Maccabees, the family of "Kohanim" – ministers – that led the rebellion against the oppressors who defiled the Temple. This re-dedication of the Temple is mentioned in a special prayer which we chant on Chanukah:
"Thereafter, Your children came to the Holy of Holies of Your House, cleansed Your Temple, purified the site of Your holiness and kindled lights in the Courtyards of Your Sanctuary; and they established these eight days of Chanukah to express thanks and praise to Your great Name" (Al Hanisim).
In the next few letters of our series, we will discuss the universal role of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and the deeper significance of the offerings which were brought to the Temple. These letters are dedicated to the memory of my father and teacher, Shlomo Ben Avraham Hakohen. His yahrtzeit - the anniversary of his passing - is on the 2nd of Teves, which in most years falls on the 8th day of Chanukah.
The Universal Role of the Temple:
According to Jewish tradition, "Adam" - the first human being - was created as an androgynous being that was later divided into two separate beings – one male and one female (Genesis Rabbah 8:1). Where was this androgynous being created? An answer can be found in the Midrash which states that the first human being was created at the site of the future Temple in Jerusalem:
"With an abounding love did the Holy One, blessed be He, love the first human being, as He created him in a pure locality, in the place of the Temple." (Pirkei D'Rabbi Eliezer, chapter 12)
According to Maimonides, it is the accepted tradition that the site of the Altar in the Holy Temple is the place where "Adam" - the ancestor of all humanity - was created (Beis Habechirah 2:2). All human beings therefore have roots in this sacred site; thus, it is not surprising that Jewish tradition encourages all peoples to make a pilgrimage to the Temple. The following can serve as examples:
According to an ancient biblical commentary cited in the Talmud, Moses taught our people that free-will elevation offerings can be brought to the Sanctuary by both Israelites and non-Israelites (Chullin 13b). Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explains that this teaching of Moses established the universal role of the Sanctuary (commentary to Leviticus 1:2). In this spirit, when King Solomon dedicated the Holy Temple in Jerusalem which he built, he prayed to the Compassionate One:
"Moreover, concerning a foreigner who is not of your people, Israel, but will come from a distant land, for Your Name's sake - for they will hear of Your great Name and Your strong hand and Your outstretched arm, and will come and pray toward this Temple - may you hear from Heaven, the foundation of Your abode, and fulfill all that the foreigner asks of You; so that all the peoples of the earth may know Your Name, to revere You as does Your people Israel, and to know that Your Name is proclaimed upon this Temple that I have built." ( I Kings 8:41-43)
In a later generation, the Prophet Isaiah conveyed the following Divine promise concerning the universal role of the rebuilt Temple in the messianic age: "For My House will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples" (Isaiah 56:7) According to the classical biblical commentators, Radak and Ibn Ezra, this prophecy is in the spirit of the prayer that King Solomon offered when he dedicated the Temple.
A poetic allusion to the above Divine promise appears in "Maoz Tzur" - a song which is sung after the lighting of the Chanukah Menorah:
"Restore 'My House of Prayer' and there we will bring a thanksgiving offering."
One of the most moving descriptions of the universal pilgrimage to the Temple is found in the following prophecy:
"It will happen in the end of days: The mountain of the Compassionate One's Temple will be firmly established as the head of the mountains, and it will be exalted above the hills, and all the nations will stream to it. Many peoples will go and say, 'Come, let us go up to the Mountain of the Compassionate One, to the Temple of the God of Jacob, and He will teach us of His ways and we will walk in His paths.' For from Zion will go forth Torah, and the word of the Compassionate One from Jerusalem." (Isaiah 2:2,3)
The Prophet adds that the spiritual enlightenment which will emerge from this universal pilgrimage will lead to universal justice and peace: "He (the Messiah) will judge among the nations, and will settle the disputes of many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation will not lift sword against nation, and they will no longer study warfare" (2:4).
The Book of Micah includes the above prophecy about the universal pilgrimage to the Temple (4:1-3); however, the prophecy in Micah has the following addition:
"They will sit, each person under his vine and under his fig tree, and none will make them afraid, for the mouth of the Compassionate One, God of the hosts of Creation, has spoken" (4:4).
The classical biblical commentators, Radak and Ibn Ezra, explain that the peaceful and pastoral vision of "each person under his vine and under his fig tree" includes all humankind. After the universal pilgrimage to the Temple, the new spiritual enlightenment will cause the earth to become a peaceful garden - a reminder of the Garden of Eden.
A Good Month and a Happy Chanukah!
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
A Related Teaching:
How will the pilgrims from all the peoples be greeted when they arrive at the Holy Temple in Jerusalem? It is written, "Blessed is the one who comes in the Name of the Compassionate One; we will bless you from the House of the Compassionate One" (Psalm 118:26). According to the classical biblical commentator, Radak, the above blessing will be said by the Kohanim to the pilgrims from all the peoples who will arrive at the dawn of the messianic age, and through this blessing, the pilgrims are being invited to join Israel in the service of the Compassionate One.