Chanukah is a festival that wears many hats, so to speak. It’s a holiday of light, miracles, Torah study, joy and more. There is no shortage of ideas that can be connected to Chanukah, and there is an interesting one put forth by Rabbi Yehuda Aryeh Leib Alter, the second Gerrer Rebbe also know as the Sfas Emes. Sfas Emes explains that Chanukah is a holiday of teshuva, returning and repenting to the Almighty. When we think of times on the Judaic calendar that are devoted to teshuva, most would respond that 10 times out of 10 the days that come to mind would be the Yamim Noraim. The very time between Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur is known as the ten days of repentance! What is the connection between Chanukah, almost months three months removed from the High Holidays, and teshuvah?
Sfas Emes explains that the Torah reading during the days of Chanukah comes from Bamidbar, when the heads of each tribe brought their identical, yet unique korbanos (more on that here!) as the Mishkan was being dedicated. Hakamas HaMishkan, the erecting of the holy Tabernacle, was a tremendous time for hashraas haShechina, the resting of God’s presence in the world. Hashem tells Moshe Rabbeinu “V’asu Li mikdash, veshachanti besocham,” that if you will build Me a sanctuary, I will dwell within it. Once the Mishkan is completed, the Shechina is there. Similarly, explains the Sfas Emes, that any time there is any sort of dedication like this, the Presence of God rests within the structure. Chanukah is no exception. Once the impurity of the Yevanim was removed, and the menorah was kindled once again, there was yet again purity in the Beis Hamikdash. As the ones who began the restoration of the Temple to the level that it had maintained previously, the Chashmonaim were considered to be tremendous baalei teshuva. We are taught that where baalei teshuva walk, even the most righteous individuals cannot stand. In turn, the Chashmonaim were blessed with an “or chadash,” a new light, as they lit the flames in the Temple with the one cruse of undefiled oil that they found amid the rubble. This new light was different and brighter than the light that existed previously, bringing about a rededication of the Beis HaMikdash.
Sfas Emes concludes that on Chanukah, in the wake of the teshuva of the Chashmonaim, the Divine gates of repentance are open, and the Ribono Shel Olam awaits our petitions. Let’s not let this time “burn out” without having made use of it.