There’s something unusual about Pesach that is uncommon, if not unique.

There are plenty of mitzvos and rituals which commemorate that something happened – we sit in a sukkah because our ancestors sat in a sukkah. But the reason we eat Matza is not just because our ancestors ate Matza when they left Egypt; it’s specifically because of the way they left Egypt – in a hurry – בחפזון. Since they left in a hurry and didn’t have time to bake bread, we bake our dough quickly as well.

What is so exceptional about the fact they left in a hurry?

Doing something quickly can be good or bad, depending on the context; you’d want heart surgery done slow, but you’d want the ambulance to show up quickly! Yet getting things done quickly is an important principle in Judaism – זריזין מקדימין למצות.

Rav Hutner explains that the source of this principle derives from the Matza our ancestors ate – because they left in a hurry. The Torah warns us to observe the mitzvos – ושמרתם את המצות – which the Midrash alternatively reads as Matzos. Speed is not an extra credit; waiting would ruin it!

The Vilna Gaon notes that in our daily prayers, we thank God for creating space, and also for creating time – ברוך אומר ועושה, ברוך עושה בראשית.

The moment the Jews became connected to the Creator, they transcended. When something temporal meets something eternal, the result is speed; where נצחי interacts with זמן, you get חפזון.

Perhaps that is why the final plague happened כחצות, in a non-moment.

This might sound complex, but it’s intuitive. When something matters, you do it as quickly as possible.

R’ Shlomo Farhi teaches that a lack of urgency can profane something from sacred to just another item on the to-do list. And the source of this crucial concept is the birth of the Jewish People, commemorated by the Matza our ancestors baked in a hurry.

The Chagim are extensively detailed, earning their own books in the Gemara. All of them, except Chanuka.

The Midrash also states an opinion that when all the Jews are back in Israel, with a Third Temple, the Chagim may not be observed the way they are today – except Purim and Chanuka. What is Chanuka’s essential purpose, and why is it not clearly stated anywhere?

Rav Hutner explains that Chanuka and Purim were not direct interventions from God; they were events instigated by humans reaching out. At a time when tyranny sought to purge Judaism of what made it Jewish, a select few stood up to fight for spirituality and the oral Torah.

At its core, the Torah is what binds us to God, it is the place from where our commitment stems from. The nature of oral Torah is that largely unwritten. What is written is terse in style, and only a guideline for exploring larger topics. It is primarily learnt by word of mouth; it needs to be discussed to explore it fully. It reflects the underlying commitment – it is all-encompassing.

The Chanuka story was about a few people willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to show the value of the principle of commitment to God. People are needed to uphold the covenant, or there isn’t one. This is why Chanuka cannot have been fully explained. This explanation still does not do it justice; it cannot. It is the bigger picture of dedication that trumps everything.

The factual circumstances of the story reflect the spiritual circumstances; the little bit of unadulterated oil left was the few remaining unadulterated Jews. That so little oil lasted so long was the few Jews commitment being sufficient to reignite everyone else’s flame.

This is why Chanuka was the last of the Chagim to be established. With it, exile is not the end. No matter the odds, a handful of good people can turn it around in a heartbeat. Chazal say that Chanuka gave the powe to rescue light from darkness itself.

Darkness, and it’s corollary, forgetfulness, are setbacks that set the stage for comebacks. Torah, the instrument of our commitment, is practiced and studied, to develop and strengthen the relationship. All sincere discussion is Torah, even an incorrect opinion. Exile, the darkness of the unknown, can be faced with such an ability in our arsenal.

It speaks volumes that the Chag is called חנוכה, a derivative of the word חינוך, education. It is not called “Martyrdom”, or “Sacrifice”. Because it is about education. In a mechanical world, there can be a free choice of commitment. Note how the mitzva of Menora is always performed to its highest standard; no one does the basic mitzva of one candle per house – everyone lights progressively more. Excellence is the standard for such an important theme.

Chanuka was the final piece of the jigsaw that lets us choose to be resolute; able to withstand crushing circumstances.

Oftentimes in the Torah, people’s and place’s names are a play on words describing some event or feeling of the moment – Avraham, Yitzchak, Yakov, Yisrael, Moshe, and many more. Quite arguably, it might even be the rule, with only a few exceptions. Leah named each of her children in keeping with this theme, describing what each child’s arrival introduced into her life. When she had her fourth child, Yehuda, she described how his birth precipitated the arrival of gratitude into her life:

וַתֹּאמֶר הַפַּעַם אוֹדֶה אֶת־ה עַל־כֵּן קָרְאָה שְׁמוֹ יְהוּדָה – And she said, “Now I have to thank God,” so she named him Yehuda. (30:35)

Curiously, the Gemara identifies this moment as significant for being the first time in history that a human had properly thanked God.

But we know from reading the stories up to this point that that’s not true! Noach thanked God for saving him after the flood, Avraham thanked God for averting Yitzchak’s sacrifice, and Yakov thanked God for saving him from Esau and Lavan, among others.

Moreover, Leah had been showered with blessings! Coming from Lavan’s house, she married Yakov and was already the mother to three of the great Tribes of Israel. She had so much to be thankful for! With the arrival of Yehuda, her fourth son, what newfound conception of gratitude did she discover? What was so fresh and unique about this particular expression of thanks, such that the Gemara says had never been done before?

Rashi addresses this, citing the Midrash that Yakov’s wives might have expected to have three sons each out the twelve he was destined to have, and the arrival of a fourth son confounded this expectation.

R’ Yaakov Hillel highlights that the arrival of a fourth son didn’t just confound the expectation that she would have three sons; it confounded the very notion of expectations!

When Leah acknowledged that what she had already received was not just her fair share, but rather a gift and blessing, it cast her entire life in a new light, and no one before her had ever recognized that before. R’ Avraham Pam notes that up until that moment, people thanked God for discrete, particular things, often with a sacrificial offering on an altar. But Yehuda’s name was totally different perspective – it was a generalized, global “thank you,” an everyday appreciation recalled every time she would say her own son’s name.

Leah was the pioneer of gratitude in the world, and Jews are called after Yehuda, mirroring Leah’s play on words. As R’ Yitzchak Hutner notes that very word has a secondary embedded meaning of concession, and the Hebrew word means both – להודות. As humans, we deeply wish to be free and independent, and at the moment we appreciate another, we concede our frail weakness in having required the assistance of another. The culmination of this expression can be found in the Thanksgiving Offering, where a person would publicly announce their gratitude and dependence on God – the Korban Toda, accompanied by many loaves of Matza, itself reflecting similar motifs.

This new understanding of every gratitude also offers an answer to the famous question of why there are eight days of Chanuka if the miracle was for the seven extra days – the question presupposes taking the first day for granted.

R’ Shai Held highlights that the very first word of the day on a Jew’s lips is מודה אני, expressing thanks for waking up to a new day, subordinating the self to the existence of gratitude. A powerful lesson, from something as trivial as waking up!

When we feel entitled to something, we often don’t fully appreciate it, even once we have it. It takes practice and a conscious effort to change that thinking, but it’s life-changing if we can get there.

We would do well to learn from Leah’s example and live up to the charge of Judaism, proudly carrying Yehuda’s name, which calls us to express our gratitude for all the blessings we are fortunate to have, from the biggest to the smallest.