Chanukah - Rededication of the Beit Hamikdash
There is a principle in Jewish thought that states that one’s name represents its essence. Rabbi Dessler explains that, similarly, the name of a holiday captures the spirit of that time period. Based on this idea, the name “Chanukah” (literally “inauguration”, referring to the inauguration of the Beit Hamikdash) needs further analysis. This name neither makes any direct reference to the miracle of the oil, nor to the miracle of the victory of the war that so apparently symbolize the essence of the holiday of Chanukah. Why was this name chosen to refer to these days?
In order to answer the above question we first need a background in what the empire of Greece represented. The Greeks were very intellectual people when it came to studying and explaining the physical world. They made major advances in the sciences and other fields that focused on physical phenomena. However, as the Ramban explains, Greek philosophy strongly rejected the existence of anything that could not be seen, heard, felt, measured, or tested in the laboratory. Using this philosophy, the Greeks rejected the existence of a spiritual world.
The Greeks tried to contaminate spirituality and bring it down into pure physicality to give credence to their way of thinking. The name for Greece in Hebrew, “Yavan”, hints at this idea as well, as the word “yaven” is used in Tehillim to describe slimy mud that sinks anyone who stands on it (Metzudat David to Tehillim 40:3). This was the Greek approach to anything having to do with spirituality. Thus, the Greeks did not destroy the Beit Hamikdash, but rather contaminated it. They did not throw us out into exile from Eretz Yisrael, but rather brought exile into Eretz Yisrael. They did not destroy the Torah but rather defiled it by translating it in such a way that it seemed just like another book of legends. To the Greeks the Beit Hamikdash was just another building, Eretz Yisrael was just another country, and the Torah was just another storybook.
The place that most apparently went against this Greek ideology was the Beit Hamikdash. When a person visited the Beit Hamikdash it was almost impossible for him not to see beyond the physical world. The Beit Hamikdash was the place where spirituality was brought into physicality. In fact, this is precisely why in Shir Hashirim (4:4, 7:5) the Beit Hamikdash is referred to as “the neck”. The Shem M’Shmuel explains that just as the neck connects the higher faculty of man, namely the head, to the more physical part of man, namely the body, so too the Beit Hamikdash connected the spiritual world to the physical world. This is also why there were ten constant miracles in the Beit Hamikdash. Being an intermediary between the spiritual and physical worlds, the Beit Hamikdash was in some ways above the laws of nature. Through its spiritual nature the Beit Hamikdash countered the Greek motto that physicality is everything.
We can now begin to understand the depth behind the name “Chanukah”. The battle between the Macabees and the Greeks wasn’t just a physical battle, but rather a clash of ideologies. While the Greeks came to separate the physical world from its spiritual root, the Macabees, all of whom were kohanim, were the ones who dedicated themselves to the task of connecting the physical world to its spiritual core through their service in the Beit Hamikdash. The Greeks came and defiled a Beit Hamikdash that went against everything Greek ideology stood for, while the Macabees rededicated the Beit Hamikdash, thus declaring that there’s more to the physical world than meets the eye. Chanuka is named after the rededication of the Beit Hamikdash. It is the rededication of the place where the physical and spiritual meet, which best describes the victory over the Greeks who didn’t see past the physical world. The name Chanuka is therefore the name that most accurately encapsulates the essence of this holiday.