Celebrating Inclusion on the Special Eighth Day of Chanukah
As the festival of Chanukah comes to a close it seems that we can’t help but heighten our joy. As we make one last crescendo of the holiday melodies. It’s almost like we are tossing in all the remaining oil on to the lingering flames of Chanukah, to go out of the holiday in full glory. So special is this day, it seems to make sense why we call this day “Zot Chanukah,” – Hebrew for “this is Chanukah” – because this (zot) is Chanukah at its grandest.
Though there are some very good reasons why we call this eighth day of the festival Zot Chanukah.
One suggestion is that it gets its name from the special Torah reading for this day of Chunukah (Numbers 7:54-8:4) which begins with the words: “Zot Chanukat Hamizbe’ach,” meaning “This was the dedication of the Altar.” To chanukat means to dedicate. This reading relates to the dedication of the Mishkan – the Tabernacle sanctuary.
Our tradition tells us that the work to complete the construction of the Mishkan was completed on the 25th of Kislev, in the dead of winter as we are now. However, this sacred space and the Altar were not officially dedicated until the start of the cosmological and spiritual year, in Nissan – the month of the spring renewal, the agrarian new year starting with the month or Aires. We are also taught that the reason for waiting was in order honor the month in which the patriarch born and died, the month of Nissan. (Talmud, Rosh HaShanah 11a)
Our tradition thus suggests to us that Chanukah was always there in the story, but we just need to look for it! We just needed to actualize it!
In the case of the dedication of the Tabernacle, in the Torah reading for this day, we have a most astounding thing described for us. Our special reading begins with the dedication offering by a prince from the Tribe of Menasheh. But notice, if we look at the text in the Torah, we will see though that this entire seventh chapter of Numbers is all about the princes of each tribe presenting their dedication offering for the Mishkan. Each tribe offers the exact same offering and it is even described exactly the same way, only changing the names of the princes who presented the offering.
How powerful is this story! That a work is not complete – that a community and sacred space is not whole and ready for service – until it includes all the tribes! These princes and tribes are all equal, and all deserve mentioning. And given as much text as is dedicated to this – some 89 verses in all – going to great lengths to accomplish this sense of inclusiveness is literally written into our Torah itself!
Let us consider this, as we meditate upon the special Chunukah Torah reading this day. And as we consider these starting words, “Zot Chanukat Hamizbe’ach.” (Numbers 7:54)
There is also another explanation for the name Zot Chanukah is brought down to us by means of the Beit Yosef – the words of Maran Yosef Karo – when he asks a most infamous question:
“Why do we celebrate eight days of Chanukah when the single flask of oil that was found was only sufficient for one day and burnt for eight – the miracle, in that case, was really only seven days because the flask of oil was sufficient for the first day?”
מדוע חוגגים שמונה ימים, שהרי הנס נמשך רק שבעה ימים, כי ליום הראשון בכל מקרה היה מספיק שמן?
The Beit Yosef presents an interesting quandary for us, as to why we celebrated this holiday for eight days. When the nature of the holiday seems to logically suggest that the miracle of the lights was only seven days long. After all, they had oil for the first day! There was no miracle there on that day. Our master asks us, so why do we celebrate eight days?
One of the thoughts in this line of thinking also suggests that the reason the holiday is actually eight days was because the Hasmoneans who rededicated the Temple in the days of the Chanukah story were not sure of the actual day of the Rosh Chodesh – the new moon, so they instead celebrated eight days to compensate for their doubt. That the sages weren’t sure, so they just included the eighth day anyhow!
The followers of this school of thought contend that to call the day Zot Chanukah actually is to gloriously embrace the day – and declare to people that despite any confusion or doubt – that it is right that we acknowledge that “Zot Chanukah… this too, this is Chanukah!” It needs to be included as much as any of the other days.
However, most of our rabbis and scholars would reject this latter explanation by the Beit Yosef. Instead they would point plainly to the name of this day to declare there is no doubt or confusion, they say we are sure about this day, because “Zot Chanukah… this too, this is Chanukah!”
Though the eighth day of Chunukah has already come – and the lights have already been lit the eve preceding this day – we still have a few more hours to extend this holiday joy. To show inclusiveness and to boldly broaden the reaches of our spirituality.
It is customary to light candles during the daytime as well! During the daytime we may light-up Chanukah lights in synagogues, in public spaces, and at gatherings held in honor of the festival. These lightings are done without recitation of the blessings as they do not constitute an observance of the mitzvah of kindling the Chanukah lights. But it is a great way to include and be included within the community.
Though Chanukah is the not a major holiday to the Jewish people, merely a minor festival, this holiday has taken a prominent role in our society during this season. As the secular new year comes and as popular culture celebrates their celebration of Christmas, Jews have also been called to the forefront and to deliver a spirit of joy during this dark and dreary season.
For this reason the Lubavitcher Rebbe most infamously made the lighting of large public menorahs for the public a holiday staple in America and worldwide. In every major city people can find a giant menorah erected by Chabad. This has become a custom that almost all movements and communities have also come to embrace.
So as this eighth day of Chanukah is upon us, I call us all to embrace this day with full joy. If we got some extra oil or candles, grab them and set them ablaze just one more time during the daylight. Light the eight lamps to declare, “Zot Chanukah… this too, this is Chanukah!”
I also challenge us to use these last hours of the day to reach out to others, those who do not have this sense of joy. Who do not feel they have a place in this season, nor anyone there for them. I challenge us to embrace them and assuredly find a way to include them in our joy. And to take the time to show them these lights and say to them, “Zot Chanukah… this, this is Chanukah!”