S P E C I A L S

For the week ending 5 December 2015 / 23 Kislev 5776

Prime Beef

by Rabbi Richard Jacobs
The Color of Heaven Artscroll

Despite the fact that the holiday of Chanukah is a holiday of rabbinic origin, there are a number of references to Chanukah in the Chumash. In fact, the first reference to Chanukah in the Torah can be found right “in the beginning”, in the Midrash on the second verse of Genesis:

“And darkness covered the surface of the abyss”: Darkness — this alludes to the Greek exile, that the Greeks darkened the eyes of Israel with their decrees – saying to the Jews “Write on the horn of an ox that you have no share in the G-d of Israel” (Ber. Rabba 2:4)

We could easily view this midrash as being somewhat esoteric, but on close examination we can find that the decree to “Write on the horn of an ox that you have no share in the G-d of Israel” hints at one of the foundations of Chanukah, underpinning the essential nature of the holiday.

We celebrate Chanukah, the miracle of the victory over Greece, and the miracle of the oil — when one small jar of pure olive oil lasted for eight days instead of only one when we recaptured the Beit Hamikdash — by lighting a menorah. The main purpose of lighting a menorah is pirsumei nisa — publicizing the miracle.

The Hebrew word for an advertisement is pirsomet, and the student of advertising can learn a number of principles in advertising from the laws of Chanukah:

Prime time

  • the menorah should ideally be lit at dusk or nightfall when people are on the street, returning home from work
  • if someone returns home too late for anyone outside to see the lit menorah, then they should advertise the miracle to their family by lighting with them
  • if it is both too late to light with family and for others outside to see, one cannot properly fulfill the mitzvah because there is no pirsumei nisa, and therefore the menorah is lit without saying a beracha

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  • ideally the menorah should be placed in the doorway to the street, where it will be best seen
  • in a place where it's too cold or dangerous to light the menorah outside near the street, we place it inside at the window where the most people can see the lights
  • if one lives too high above ground and lights where no one else can see – one has not fulfilled the mitzvah

Prime viewing

  • in order to publicize the miracle in a place where a large audience congregates we light a menorah in shul with a beracha, even though no one actually fulfills the mitzvah with this lighting

The struggle between the Greeks and the Jews was primarily one of ideology. In propagating their decrees against the Jews (including prohibiting circumcision, the observance of Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh and the laws of family purity) the Greeks were trying to get the Jews to break their connection to G-d.

In order to spread their message they advocated an advertising technique which is prevalent today – the bumper sticker. It's just that the predominant vehicle in their day was the ox-drawn cart. “Write on the horn of an ox that you have no share in the G-d of Israel.”

Advertising, too, is a battle of ideas. This Chanukah, with our lighting the Chanukah lights, we demonstrate that the message of the Greeks has failed, as we spread the word of the miracles of Chanukah.

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