Part of the genius of Judaism is its home ceremonies. Duplicating them in the synagogue never works so well. The exception is Chanukah, where it is taken for granted that the lights are kindled for the congregation.
One reason is that the Chanukah miracle occurred with reference to the Temple, and it is right to remember it in the synagogue. Even more convincing is the principle of pirsumei nissa – “publicising the miracle”, getting the message across. But why are we so concerned about telling the public (both Jewish and non-Jewish) about the Chanukah story?
There is an analogy in the book of Lamentations (Echah), where the author calls upon passers by to look and see “if there be any pain like my pain” (Lam. 1:12). In time of tragedy, he is saying, others must hear in order to arouse their heart, soul and compassion. This explains our late 20th-century determination to ensure the Holocaust is not forgotten, as a reminder, and as a warning against hatred, horror and genocide.
If we must speak in time of tragedy, we must equally share our joy that at a crucial time freedom of conscience finally prevailed. Publicising the miracle shows that human freedom can never be entirely eradicated. What a reassurance and inspiration to those who might otherwise give way to despair.
The sages say, “The wicked even while they are alive are as if they are dead” (Ber. 18b). In what respect? Because they see the sun rising without saying a b’rachah. The implication? That your heart, soul and spirit have to be dead if you do not recognise and respond to the miracles that occur every day. Chanukah tells all human beings to be on the watch for miracles all the time.