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Just the festival of lights? Turns out Hanukkah has a Hebrew lesson.

Perhaps you didn’t know, but the root of the word Hanukkah has the same root of the Hebrew word for education (חינוך). Let's explore the historic connection between the two. Here’s a hint - it has nothing to do with candles.


There are several meanings of the root of Hanukkah in Hebrew.


The festival of Hanukkah is named after the ‘inauguration of the altar’ (חנוכת המזבח) that was done after the purification of the Jewish Temple after it was desecrated by the Assyrians.


Despite that the story wasn’t mentioned in the Tanach (the Bible), the story was told in the Book of Maccabees, and in other books outside the Tanach.


The combination of the words חנוכת המזבח we sing in the traditional song “מעוז צור” comes from the Tanach. חנוכה is the verb of the action “חָנַךְ”.


This name is similar to the noun גאולה, חלוקה, חתונה, and even the word פעולה itself. The root חנ"ך comes from the Tanach mostly from the connection with buildings and structures - altar, house, and a wall, just like reading the Book of Deutoronomy. Also, the word ‘housewarming’ or חנוכת בית in Hebrew, is found in the Tanach, in the Book of Psalms.

Turns out the difference in meaning between the root חנ״ך has nothing to do with candles!


So, what’s the connection between'חָנַךְ בית' and the famous verse from the Book of Proverbs, "חֲנֹךְ לַנַּעַר עַל פִּי דַרְכּוֹ גַּם כִּי יַזְקִין לֹא יָסוּר מִמֶּנָּה" (educate a child in his way and even when he is old, he will not depart from it)?


In the two uses of חנ״ך, it’s about the preparation of practice of filling a certain precision or adopting certain habits.


You can make a structure and an object and you can make a person. Indeed, the consecration of the altar in the Hanukkah story was not only a ceremonial event, but the beginning of the sacrificial work at the altar.


According to the popular interpretation of that verse, the words "חֲנֹךְ לַנַּעַר עַל פִּי דַרְכּוֹ", or to ‘educate the child in his own way’, are a recommendation to tailor education to the character or the child. However, the words can also be interpreted that it’s best to begin educating the child as early as possible. If this is how the verse is interpreted, it means the education that a person should receive at the beginning of their life, such as as a child, will stay with them until they get old. In that, it turns out the use of the verb חָנַךְ is actually connected to ‘beginning’, just like the inauguration of a new building.


In Rabbinic literature, the use of the root חנ״ך continued in both meanings, but mostly in בניין פיעל. The transition from the בניין קל to פיעל in the Rabbinic language reminds us of other pairs of verbs that went through a similar transition, including פָּסַל–פִּסֵּל and שָׁמַר–שִׁמֵּר.


Modern day Hebrew took full advantage of the fact that the two verbs from different ביניננים and created a defined separation. In בניין קל, you have a housewarming (חונכים בית), and in בניין פיעל, you educate children (מחנכים ילדים), where we also have מְחַנֵּךְ, חינוך וחינוכי. Yet there’s also the use of the בניין קל in relation to informal education - we have חונכים and חניכים, sparking the return of the older interpretation of חָנַךְ.


Despite the frequency of the use חנ״ך in all its interpretations, after all, it means ‘the new use of something,’ the verb חָנַךְ was pushed aside, for a different word - להשיק, or to ‘launch’. Once, they launched new ships, (הִשִּׁיקוּ ספינות), and gave the word חנוכה for everything else. Yet today, we launch everything - from a book to a website or a sports hall - and well today in terms of חנוכה, there’s just חנוכות בית.




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