First, the Rabbinic candle lighting is a liminal ceremony, meaning it occurs at the threshold (“liminos” in Greek) in two senses. In space, the doorway is the border and the gate between home/street, private/public, family/national. In time, dusk is the border between day/night and light/darkness with all their metaphoric significance. The Rabbis required that each household “publicize the miracles of Hanukkah” by sending a message from the home to the public sphere, the market place. It seems more than a coincidence that when the Greeks tried to force every Jewish family to renounce its Judaism and to proclaim its loyalty to Hellenist culture, religion and politics, that the doorstep was the location chosen.
“At the doors of their houses and in the squares they burned incense [to the pagan gods].”
In short, the Greek persecution was aimed not only at the temple and not only at requiring notables like Mattathias to offer sacrifices on public altars, but struck at family Judaism. Circumcision, Shabbat and Kashrut (or at least eating ritually pure foods) were the target as well. Many rank and file Jews defended their families’ Judaism even to the point of martyrdom. The martyrdom of the scribe Elazar, and of Hannah and her seven sons, is a person “bearing witness” (martyr in Greek means to bear witness) to the public persecutors that God, not Antiochus, is the final authority.
Therefore the Rabbinic “publicizing of the miracle,” house by house is more than a clever advertising campaign to spread information. It is a family bearing of witness to the public that we are a family loyal to Judaism. When the Rabbis encouraged individuals to go beyond the minimum requirement of one lamp per house and to light one lamp per individual, they mandated individuals within each household to voluntarily reiterate their personal commitment to the family’s public declaration of faith. . . .
Let us add a second note about the Rabbinic form of observance. The candles are lit one at a time in mid-winter at the darkest point of the cycle of the moon (the 25th of Kislev when the moon is just disappearing and then beginning as a new moon to reappear on the 1st of Tevet and then to wax slowly). This occurs also at the darkest phase of the solar cycle, the winter solstice (of the northern hemisphere). Unlike holidays of redemption like Sukkot, Purim and Pesach, which are celebrated at the full moon and at the fall and spring solstice, Hanukkah reflects the beginning of the redemptive process, not its completion.