Chanukah, the holiday with many spellings begins in five nights!
So you think you know what Hanukkah is all about? Think again. What
most people (even Jews) know about Chanukah is either wrong, half the
story, or laden with nice legends. Despite what you may have been told,
the meaning of the holiday is not “let’s come up with a holiday around Christmas time so Jewish kids have something to do at the end of December (although a liberal Rabbi did try to tell me that over the weekend). Neither is the meaning of Hanukkah “lets come up with a holiday with many different English spellings so we can drive the Gentiles crazy.”
The most common view of the holiday generally includes the miracle of
the one day of oil that lasted eight days, the defeat of the superior
forces of King Antiochus, the re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem,
Truth is the oil thing never happened and the battle Judah and brothers
won was a civil war against Jews who turned away from their faith.
Antiochus and his army was there to intervene in the civil war they just
picked the wrong side to support.
Antiochus invaded Judea, at the request of the assimilated Hellenized
Jews who were expelled to Syria around 170 BCE when the high priest
Onias (a buddy of Cleopatra’s husband Ptolemy) wrested control of the
Holy Temple from them. The exiled assimilated Jews lobbied Antiochus to
recapture Jerusalem. Judah the Maccabee’s dad Mattathias, a Priest in
the town of Modiin started the revolt because the king had issued
decrees that forbade Jewish religious practices.
Two hundred years later the failed Judean General-turned traitor-turned historian; Josephus wrote
“The king being thereto disposed
beforehand, complied with them, and came upon the Jews with a great
army, and took their city by force, and slew a great multitude of those
that favored Ptolemy, and sent out his soldiers to plunder them
without mercy. He also spoiled the temple, and put a stop to the
constant practice of offering a daily sacrifice of expiation for three
years and six months.”
Now as far as the holiday goes, Hanukkah is not an important Jewish
holiday because like Purim, it was created by rabbis. The command to
observe the big holidays such as Passover, Sukkot, or Shavuot is in the
Torah which was given to us by God. Since God outranks the rabbis, his
holidays are much more important. The Books of the Maccabees weren’t
even included in the Jewish canon and it was all because of politics
(sort of). And they can’t be added back because no Hebrew version of the
full text has ever been found (for all of you pickers out there, here
is an opportunity).
From the time of Moses and Aaron the offices of head of state and high
priest were separate. the two “offices” were separate. Once the Kingship
was established with Saul the separation became permanent as the
priestly family was from the tribe of Levi and Saul was from Binyamin.
David who succeeded Saul was from the tribe of Judah, which is why the
land eventually became known as the Kingdom of Judah and its people were
Y’hudhah HamMakabi or Judah the Maccabee was a nickname it means Judah
the Hammer, Maccabee is also an anagram for a Hebrew phase which
translates into “Who is like You among the heavenly powers oh God?”
Once the Jews regained Jerusalem and the Temple, Judah’s family (the
Hasmoneans) took over and became both the Kings and the Priests, a
biblical no-no which some people say eventually lead to the destruction
of the second Temple. Before you liberals start claiming biblical proof
of separation of church and state, the reason for the biblical
separation wasn’t a fear of religious influence on govt., but the
possibility of a corrupt government’s influence on religion. God knew
that governments could become corrupt and the plan was for an
incorruptible Priesthood was supposed to keep the politicians in line.
Now to the oil, eight days etc–never happened. The first celebrations
of the re-dedication of the Temple were called the festival of lights
Now Judas celebrated the festival of the
restoration of the sacrifices of the temple for eight days, and omitted
no sort of pleasures thereon; but he feasted them upon very rich and
splendid sacrifices; and he honored God, and delighted them by hymns and
psalms. Nay, they were so very glad at the revival of their customs,
when, after a long time of intermission, they unexpectedly had regained
the freedom of their worship, that they made it a law for their
posterity, that they should keep a festival, on account of the
restoration of their temple worship, for eight days. And from that time
to this we celebrate this festival, and call it Lights. I suppose the
reason was, because this liberty beyond our hopes appeared to us; and
that thence was the name given to that festival. Judas also rebuilt the
walls round about the city, and reared towers of great height against
the incursions of enemies, and set guards therein. He also fortified the
city Bethsura, that it might serve as a citadel against any distresses
that might come from our enemies
I believe it is called
the festival of lights because Jews believe that God’s teachings brings
light into the world, and the festival was not only a re-dedication of
the Temple but a re-dedication of the Jews to the Torah and the light of
God. Neither Josephus nor the Book of Maccabees discusses any oil that
lasts eight days. The eight days of celebration probably comes from the
fact that when King Shlomo (Solomon) dedicated the first Temple in
Jerusalem it was an Eight Day celebration.
Sorry if I destroyed any of your childhood myths by telling the truth
about the candles, but (to me) the miracle of Hanukkah was the victory
of the Jews against superior forces and faith is all about believing
that God is involved even when you don’t see him. God repeated the
miracle of Hannukkah with Purim, with Israel in 1948 and the Six-Day-War
and in even more recent times, and (IMHO) the miracle year in NY
1968-69 (the Mets, the Jets, and the hobbled Willis Reed Knicks).
The oil lighting story and candle tradition is very nice, and it teaches
all about the Jews role of helping the light of God spread throughout
the world. It also helped established the tradition of eating greasy
donuts and potato latkes on Chankukkah, Hannukkah, Hanukkah or however
you wish to spell the holiday.
Even though Chanukah is a minor holiday it is one of my favorites, not
because of the eight days of gifts (that is an American custom based on
trying to one-up Christmas) and not because of the greasy clogged
artery-inducing food. Chanukah is a holiday about Jews fighting against
assimilation a lesson which needs to be reinforced over and over here in
the diaspora. The holiday and candles is also a reminder that in
Judaism, the light of God begins in the home lit by the observance of a
single family unit and just like the Chanukiah (Menorah) that light is
supposed to radiate from the home to the community and eventually
throughout the world.
May you all have a Chag Chanukah Samayach, a happy Hanukkah holiday, and
may the light of God soon radiate throughout the world and bring us
peace. As the words said over and over during every prayer service
Oseh Shalom bimromav, hu ya’aseh shalom aleinu ve’al kol yisrael, ve’imru amen.
He Who makes peace in His heights, may He make peace, upon us and upon all Israel. Amen.