Pirsumei Nisa- Inward or Outward?

Mali Brofsky

By: Mrs. Mali Brofsky


What does Chanuka mean to you?

When it comes to Chanuka, we are all aware of the concept of pirsumei nisa – the obligation to publically commemorate the miracle of Chanuka, which we fulfill by lighting our candles and placing them in a window with a view to the public sphere. But to whom are we doing the publicizing? Who is the audience?

According to Rav Moshe Feinstein, it is clear that we are publicizing the miracle of Chanuka to our fellow Jews. Indeed, Rav Moshe believes that if one publicizes the miracle to non-Jews only, one does not fulfill the mitzva of pirsumei nisa!


On the other hand, Rav Shimon Sofer writes that a person who lives among non-Jews should certainly light outside in order to publicize the miracle, as we are interested in publicizing the greatness of Hashem to non-Jews as well. In this vein, Rashi has an interesting explanation regarding the Gemara that states that we leave the candles burning “ad shetikhleh regel min ha-shuk” – until the public streets are empty of wayfarers. Rashi believes that the wayfarers to which the Gemara is alluding are “Tarmodians” – non-Jews who would stay latest in the marketplace selling firewood to people as they went home. According to this, it would seem that Rashi supports the idea of pirsumei nisa applying to non-Jews as well.

            A few years ago, I asked a group of students, “what does Chanuka mean to you? What is Chanuka about in your experience”? They all answered along mostly similar lines. They spoke of their experiences growing up in an environment and a culture that was overwhelmingly filled with non-Jewish messages. For them, Chanuka was about being different, about continuity, about being proud of our culture and heritage, being a bright, small candle in a sea of otherness.  The candles, and the pirsumei nisa, represent a statement to the outside world, a mark of our constant steadfastness and commitment.

            Interestingly, I told them, the experience and message of Chanuka here in Eretz Yisrael takes on a different dimension. Here, the experience of Chanuka on the national scale is one of both pride and appreciation.  The message that is conveyed is the story of standing up against our oppressors and achieving national and religious autonomy in our land. It is a story of pride in Am Yisrael’s physical and spiritual victories. It is also a story of appreciation. We remember, with overflowing gratitude and thankfulness to Hashem, how fortunate we were then, and indeed how fortunate we are now.

When we celebrate these feelings, we celebrate on the national stage. Children are off from school; many families are on vacation. The malls are full of Chanuka celebrations. The buses say “Chanuka Sameach”. The traffic becomes impossible in the hour before candle lighting as everyone rushes home.  In this celebration, we are not talking to the outside world. We are talking to ourselves. “Ba-yamim hahem, bazman hazeh.” We are so very fortunate. Even when times are hard here, we remind each other – through pirsumei nisa – that indeed, we feel so blessed by Hashem, and we remain strong, physically and spiritually. Ashreinu.  We are indeed so fortunate. Even now, especially now, with hard times upon us, we know we will never be beaten. Our spirit, our light, will shine forever, because it is the spirit of life, of Torah, and of Achdut.

            Wishing you a Chanuka filled with light and with the dual messages of pirsumei nisa – one of steadfastness and loyalty as we turn outward, and one of strength, joy and gratitude as we turn inward. Chanuka Sameach!

Even now, especially now, with hard   times upon us, we know we will never be beaten. Our spirit, our light, will shine forever,    because it is the spirit of life, of Torah, and of achdut.

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