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Sukkos and Chanukah: The Unbreakable Bond With Hashem

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Dec 9, 2020

There are many sources that point to a connection between Chanukah and Sukkos. After reviewing this correlation, we will discuss its significance.1

1) The Midrash2 relates that the Greeks wished to uproot both the mitzvah of lighting the Menorah as well as the eight days of Sukkos, and Hashem responded by granting Klal Yisrael victory and the celebration of the eight days of Chanukah.

2) The Gemara (Shabbos 21b) records the dispute between Bais Hillel and Bais Shamai as to whether we should light one candle on the first day of Chanukah and then add a candle each successive day, or whether we should start with eight candles and subtract a candle on each subsequent day. One of the reasons ascribed to Bais Shamai, who advocates for diminishing numbers of candles, is that the 70 bulls sacrificed over the course of Sukkos decreased in number each day, from 13 on the first day to seven on the seventh day. 

3) Both the Rokeach (Hilchos Chanukah Siman 225) and the Baal Ha’turim (Vayikrah 24:2) suggest that the Torah introduces the obligation of lighting the Menorah immediately after the discussion of Sukkos to draw a parallel between Sukkos and Chanukah. The Baal Ha’turim references that Hallel is said on the eight days of Chanukah just as it is said on the eight days of Sukkos (including Shemini Atzeres). The Rokeach highlights the corresponding number of days of Sukkos and Chanukah, and notes that the mention of pure olive oil for the Menorah hints to its preferred use on Chanukah, and adds that the respective terms ner and neros related to the Menorah allude to the halachah that one candle is lit the first night and additional neros are added subsequent nights. 

4) In the second perek of Sefer Chagai, the navi prophesies that Hashem will “shake the heavens and the earth,” and Rashi interprets this as referring to the miracles that will occur at the time of Chanukah. The passage begins by identifying the exact time of this nevu’ah as the twenty-first day of the seventh month — which is the seventh day of Sukkos, Hoshanah Rabbah.

5) The Tur (O.C. Siman 417) asserts that the three regalim correspond to the Avos: Pesach is linked with Avraham, Shavuos is associated with Yitzchak, and Sukkos is connected to Yaakov. The source for the correlation to Yaakov is the pasuk (Bereishis 33:17) וְיַעֲקֹב נָסַע סֻכֹּתָה וַיִּבֶן לוֹ בָּיִת וּלְמִקְנֵהוּ עָשָׂה סֻכֹּת עַל כֵּן קָרָא שֵׁם הַמָּקוֹם סֻכּוֹת, depicting how Yaakov built Sukkos and called a place by this name. Some commentaries also discerned an allusion to Chanukah in the words וַיִּבֶן לוֹ בָּיִת, for the word לו has the numerical value of 36, the number of neros Chanukah that we must light in our bayis.3 Thus, the same pasuk hints at both Sukkos and Chanukah.

What is the association between Chanukah and Sukkos?

The Vilna Gaon4 offers a remarkable insight into an element of Sukkos. He asserts that the cheit ha’eigel constituted a grievous violation of Hashem’s trust and consequently Klal Yisrael forfeited the ananei hakavod, which represented the special covenant between them and Hashem. Following the shattering of the first Luchos there was a long period of appeasement and repentance, with the atonement culminating on Yom Kippur, when the second Luchos were granted. The Vilna Gaon argues that a careful reading of the pesukim at the end of Sefer Shemos reveals that on the day after Yom Kippur, Moshe gathered the people and instructed them to commence preparation for the construction of the Mishkan, through which the Shechina would continuously rest amidst Klal Yisrael. After gathering materials and commissioning the artisans, the actual construction of the Mishkan began on the fifteenth of Tishrei. On that very day the ananei hakavod returned, representing a full restoration of the relationship between Hashem and Klal Yisrael.

The Vilna Gaon’s illuminating interpretation provides some context for another idea relating to Sukkos, presented by the Netziv and others.5 They note that the Midrash depicts the holding and waving of the daled minim as a symbol of spiritual triumph of Bnei Yisrael over the umos ha’olam, the nations of the world. Each year during the Days of Judgement, they explain, the nations of the world contest the right of the Jewish people to maintain their position as the Chosen People, and every year the Heavenly Court decides in favor of Klal Yisrael. The daled minim are a symbol of our victory. This narrative can readily be understood as an extension of the Vilna Gaon’s perspective: Sukkos is the time when we commemorate and celebrate our special relationship with Hashem, which has withstood the greatest challenges from both within (the cheit ha’egel) and without (the umos ha’olam).

In this light, the association between Chanukah and Sukkos can be readily understood. The Greeks sought to challenge and negate the idea that the Jewish people have a unique status among the nations of the world. To this end, they especially targeted certain mitzvos, such as Shabbos, Rosh Chodesh, and bris milah, which highlight our distinctiveness and our special relationship with Hashem. King Ptolemy’s edict to translate the Torah into Greek also served this purpose, as he perceived that this would grant his people equal access and the ability to claim that the Jews had lost their sole propriety over the Torah. The antipathy of the Greeks to the Bais Hamikdash was rooted in its representing and manifesting our special relationship with Hashem, and therefore they sought to disrupt and compromise the avodah in the Bais Hamikdash.

This brings the opening midrash to life. The Greeks sought to dispel the notion that the Jews held a special status, and therefore targeted, at least in concept, the meaning of the yom tov of Sukkos. The message of the ananei hakavod associated with Sukkos, symbolizing the unique and unbreakable bond between Hashem and Bnei Yisrael, was an anathema to the Greek ideology. They could not tolerate the idea that, in encountering hashra’as ha’Shechinah in the sukkah, a Jewish family could reenact that day when Klal Yisrael began construction of the Mishkan and experienced the restoration of the ananei hakavod. With the victory of Chanukah and a newfound appreciation for our special relationship with Hakadosh Baruch Hu, Klal Yisrael instituted the mitzvah of hadlakas neros Chanukah, representing the transformation of every home into a Mikdash where the Shechinah continues to reside.6  


1. Some of the sources and ideas in this article can be found in R. Aryeh Leib Shapira, Chazon La’moed: Chanukah, Ch. 18; R. Chanoch Henoch Karelenstein, Kuntres Bi’inyanei Yimei Chanukah, p. 47ff.

2. אוצר מדרשים (אייזנשטיין) חנוכה עמוד 193: וכתוב עליו תן חלק לשבעה וגם לשמונה, תן חלק לשבעה שכל מי שיש לו חלק בשבע נרות שהן מאירות תמיד בביהמ”ק וגם לשמונה ימי החג אין בריה יכולה להם, עמדו וטמאו כל השמנים שבביהמ”ק ... אמר הקדוש ברוך הוא חשבתם לעקור שבעת הנרות ושמונה ימי החג הנני מביא עליכם שמונה ימים ושבעה בני חשמונאי שמאבדים אתכם מן העולם

3. There are a number of sources that expand on the correspondence between Yaakov and Chanukah. See e.g. Mi’maamakim al HaTorah, Bereishis, Maamar 28. Thematically, one might find associations between Yaakov as the yosheiv ohalim and the centrality of Torah She’baal Peh on Chanukah. As well, Chanukah provides a transition to a post-nevuah form of hashgacha, and this may be discerned in the hester panim that Yaakov experienced as the last of the Avos. Also, as will be discussed later, Yaakov’s right to the heritage of his father and grandfather was contested by his brother Esav, and the Greeks also questioned the unique status of the Jewish people.

4. Commentary to Shir HaShirim 1:4.

5. Ha’amek Davar (Vayikra 16:16,29), Chochmas Shlomo, O.C. Siman 581.

6.  I elaborated on this idea in Torah To Go, Chanukah 5773. One might also explore the importance of human endeavor and initiative in avodas Hashem as it relates to Sukkos and Chanukah.


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