The Chashukei Chemed teaches us that if, G-d forbid, a Jew is homeless and sleeps on a park bench, he is exempt from the mitzvah of lighting Chanukah menorah. The mitzvah of menorah calls for ner ish u’beiso, for a candle to be lit in a man’s home.
But why? Why did Chazal attach the Chanukah mitzvah to the home? The miracle, after all, occurred with the menorah in the Beis HaMikdash, and our synagogues nowadays are considered mikdashei me’at, mini sanctuaries. Why, then, didn’t Chazal establish the mitzvah for shuls rather than homes? (Chazal could have even perhaps required a kohen to light the menorah in shul just as the kohen gadol lit the menorah in the Beis HaMikdash.)
I’m sure some of my astute readers have already come up with the answer: Every Jewish home is supposed to be transformed into a mikdash (sanctuary). That’s why we wish a chassan and kallah a bayis ne’eman and mikdash me’at, a home of faith and a mini sanctuary. Since the Jewish home is supposed to be a mikdash, Chazal attached the Chanukah mitzvah to homes as opposed to shuls.
But how do we convert a home into a mikdash? There is a beautiful gematria that reveals the answer. The gematria of bayis (home) is 412, and the gematria of mikdash is 444. The difference between the two is 32, which is the gematria of lev (heart). If we inject heart into a home, we transform it into a mikdash.
What exactly do we mean by heart? The heart is the repository of one’s feelings and emotions. If we act toward our spouses with feeling, not only with a sense of duty and quid pro quo, we create a sanctuary. If we daven, say berachos, and bentch with passion instead of by rote, we create a mikdash. If we invest in our children because they are our dreams and not because it is our duty, we build a mikdash.
Rav Avigdor Miller, zt”l, points out that only 31 verses in the Torah discuss the creation of the world. In contrast, the blueprint of the Mishkan – which only existed for 39 years in a relatively small patch of the desert – takes up four and a half parshiyos (Terumah, Tetzaveh, part of Ki Sisa, Vayakheil, and Pekudei). Why this vast difference? Rav Miller explains that the pesukim about the Mishkan don’t concern the Mishkan alone. The Mishkan is really a blueprint for how we can transform a home into a holy sanctuary.
How so? The answer deserves a full-length paper, but let me just point out a few quick ideas. The centerpiece of the Mishkan was the Aron HaKodesh, which housed the Torah and the Luchos. So too, Torah should be front and center in every Jewish home. Sefarim should not be relegated to a side room; they should be prominently and proudly displayed in the main parlor of the home. Rav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz used to say that the main room of the home should be the dining room, not the living room, because most learning takes places in the former.
In the Holy of Holies, keruvim – figures of cherubic children – sat atop the aron, teaching us that a central focus of the Jewish home should be raising boys and girls to a life of Torah. These keruvim were locked in an embrace when Klal Yisrael behaved properly, teaching us additionally that peace and tranquility, above all else, should reign in every Jewish home.
May it be the will of Hashem that we be successful in transforming our homes into mini sanctuaries and, in that merit, may we be blessed with a joyous Chanukah, good health, happiness, and everything wonderful.