In the Al hanissim addition on Chanukah we say “they established these eight days to thank and praise Your great name”! It’s a holiday of thankful prayer to Hashem, specifically full Hallel for 8 days.
Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss points out that “the prayer prescription of Chanukah is unique! Unlike all the other festivals, when we feverishly petition Hashem for our needs (i.e., Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur for our very lives, Succoth for water, Pesach for the crops, Shavuos for the trees), on Chanukah we put the emphasis on saying “Thank You!”—”l’hodos u’l’hallel”! A time of unselfish expression of gratitude to our creator!”
And the primary place of our praise and thanks is in the Shul. As the Ramban at the end of Parshas Bo writes “And the purpose of raising our voices in prayer and the purpose of Shuls and the merit of communal prayer is that people should have a place where they can gather and acknowledge that G-d created them and caused them to be and they can publicize this and declare before Him, “We are your creations”.
So it’s an appropriate time to step back from identifying and resolving the issues we confront here regularly and to focus on the unqualified praise and thanks that every Shul deserves.
Definitionally, praise is the expression of approval or admiration for someone or something, while thanks is the gratitude we express when something was done for our benefit.
Every Shul deserves praise. And by Shul I mean both those who run it and those who come to daven. We often take it for granted, but it’s no small thing to have a group come together on an daily or weekly basis to praise, thank and petition Hashem. Every person who comes to daven adds to the collective prayer experience. And those who keep the Shul running are to be praised for establishing and maintaining a place of prayer.
Thanks is often harder than praise, because at its root it’s an admission that we need someone else to provide us with that being provided. Giving thanks challenges our self-sufficiency and that’s one of the underlying reason many people have trouble expressing thanks. But if you allow yourself a moment of vulnerability you will clearly see that despite your neighborhood’s Shul options, the Shul you davened at this week, and last week, and the week before was the one that provided you with the lights, seats, Sefer Torah and service that enabled you to gather with a group of like minded Jews to pray. It’s the one that deserves your thanks.
Although the praise and thanks of Chanukah is primarily directed to Hashem, Hashem want us to improve our abilities in this area and to express praise and thanks in our day to day living. That’s why this a great time to allocate some of our thoughts to the praise and thanks of our Shuls on Chanukah.