The ritual practice most popularly associated with the holiday of Chanukah is probably the lighting of the Menorah. The eight-branched candelabra recalls how the Chashmonaim, as part of their rededication of the Bais Hamikdosh, the Holy Temple, were miraculously enabled to light the Menorah there and have it stay lit for eight days, the time it took to procure the needed new and pure oil.
By Chanukah, as with other holidays in which we celebrate miraculous happenings, we are told that we should perform our commemoration in a way that publicizes the miracle that occurred. Specifically, the Shulchan Aruch states (Orech Chayim 671:5) “The Chanukah lights one should place by the doorway nearest the public thoroughfare outdoors: if the house opens directly into the public thoroughfare he should place it by its doorway, and if there is a courtyard in front of the house, one places it by the door of the courtyard. The Chasam Sofer notes that the fashion in which the miracle of Chanukah is publicized differs from that of other holidays. On Purim, the Megilla is read, but there is no specific commandment to do such in any specific place. However, we see a stress on lighting the Chanukah Menorah by the doorway of the house, the doorway of the courtyard. A specific place, namely the doorway, is singled out as the optimal location for the lighting ofthe Chanukah Menorah.
“The mandrakes give forth fragrance, and at our doors are all kinds of precious fruits . .. (Shir HaShirim 7:14)” Raba made the following exposition: The Scriptural text “The mandrakes give forth fragrance is an allusion to the young men of Israel who never felt the taste of sin; and our doors are all manner of precious fruits is an allusion to the daughters of Israel who tell their husbands about their doors. Another reading: Who close their doors for their husbands.” (Yevamos 63b)
The Talmud explains that when the verse refers to the “precious fruits at our doors,”it is describing the modesty of the women of the nation of Israel. According to one explanation, the women strictly and faithfully adhere to the laws of family purity, and inform their husbands of the times when they become ritually unclean and when they become clean once again, hence, they “tell their husbands about their doors.” According to another explanation,the women of the nation of Israel are deeply devoted to family life and their spouses, hence, they “close their doors for their husbands.”
The days of Greek persecution were trying ones for the nation of Israel. Women were constantly being put in positions in which compromising the sanctity of marriage was demanded of them. They were prohibited from observing those rituals that were part and parcel of Jewish religious life. Yet, they remained dedicated to the principles by which women in the nation of Israel had always lived, and they refused to give in to the oppressors and break down the barriers of modesty. They were steadfast in their dedication to family values and maintaining the laws of family purity under the harshest of conditions. For this reason, the Chasam Sofer writes, women were central to the miracle of Chanukah. Because the women fought against Greek persecution with their heart and souls, a woman was able to fight against a Greek official and kill him. The primary role of women to the victory Chanukah celebrates came in the merit of the spiritual battle waged by the women.
Women, and their devotion to modesty, were euphemistically referred to by the term “doorway” in Shir HaShirim. Because women were integral to the miracle of Chanukah, we are told to place the Chanukah Menorah by the doorway. Not in a place where people will see it. Not in a place where it sheds the most light. But in the doorway. By doing such, we recall the boldness of the women of the nation of Israel. We recall their devotion and dedication to the sanctity of family and purity. We recall their commitment to perpetuating Jewish spiritual life. When we light the Menorah, we publicize that the miracle of Chanukah occurred in the merit of the holy doorways of Israel.
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