Thursday, December 22, 2011

Tora Reading for Chanukka

Second day of Chanukka. Tonight we light the third candle

During the eight days of Chanukka, we read the Tora in the morning.  Now, what Biblical text was chosen by the Rabbis to be read on Chanukka and why? 

Let me first explain the question. On every Jewish Holiday we read in the Tora a portion corresponding to that specific Holiday. During the eight days of Pesach, for example, we read eight Tora portions alluding to the Exodus from Egypt, the Mitzvot of Pesach, the Pesach sacrifice, etc.  But the events of Chanukka happened around the year 160 BCE, and were not recorded in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible). The rabbis, therefore, had to choose a Biblical text to be read, which somehow will be related to Chanukka.

Our Rabbis chose the section of Naso in the book of baMidbar ('In the desert'), dealing with the inaugural offerings of the tribal leaders at the time of the dedication of the mizbeach (=altar of the Tabernacle).


1. Chanukka means 'inauguration', and it remind us that once the Greeks were defeated, the Jews rededicated the altar --which had been defiled by pagan offerings-- to HaShem. The Perasha we read is also about the dedication of the mizbeach in the Tabernacle (zot chanukkat hamizbeach).

2. The Tabernacle was completed on the 25 of Kislev. The same day we celebrate Chanukka.

3. On the last day of Chanukka, we read in beha'alotekha the paragraph dealing with the lighting of the Menora, which remind us of the miracle of the oil.

4. Me'am Lo'ez brings an additional reason. The tribe of Levi did not participate of the offerings at the time of the dedication of the altar, narrated in the Tora. During Chanukka, however, the Chashmonayim --Cohanim descendants of the tribe of Levi-- were the ones who recovered and rededicated the altar