Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Chanukah! Day 1

Tonight begins the 8 day celebration known as Chanukah , חנוכה, the Festival of Lights. The word Chanukah means Dedication and refers to the re-dedication of the 2nd Temple after the desecration by the Greeks.

The festival is observed by the kindling of the lights of a special candelabrum, the Menorah or Hanukiah, one light on each night of the holiday, progressing to eight on the final night. An extra light called a shamash (Hebrew: "guard" or "servant") is also lit each night, and is given a distinct location, usually higher or lower than the others. The purpose of the extra light is to adhere to the prohibition, specified in the Talmud (Tracate Shabbat 21b–23a), against using the Hanukkah lights for anything other than publicizing and meditating on the Hanukkah story. (The shamash is used to light the other lights.) As such, if one were to read from the lights – something prohibited – then it's not clear whether the light one's reading from was from the Hanukkah lights of the shamash light. So the shamash acts as a safeguard from accidental transgression.

Now you could be asking why is this holiday celebrated? This is the story.
Around 200 BCE Jews lived as an autonomous people in the Land of Israel, also referred to as Judea, which at that time was controlled by the Seleucid king of Syria. The Jewish people paid taxes to Syria and accepted its legal authority, and they were free to follow their own faith, maintain their own jobs, and engage in trade.

By 175 BCE Antiochus IV Epiphanes ascended to the Seleucid throne. At first little changed, but under his reign, the Temple in Jerusalem was looted, Jews were massacred, and Judaism was effectively outlawed. In 167 BCE Antiochus ordered an altar to Zeus erected in the Temple. As was the normal practice of the Hellenic religion when sacrificing to the Greek gods, pigs were sacrificed on the altar to Zeus.

Needless to say, this angered many people. Especially Mattathias, a Jewish priest, and his five sons Jochanan, Simeon, Eleazar, Jonathan, and Judah. They defied Antiochus and led a revolt against his rule. They rallied the Jewish people, took to the hills and led the rebellion against the Greeks. During these early days of revolution a leader among men appeared. Judah became known as Yehuda HaMakabi ("Judah the Hammer"). 166 BCE Mattathias had died, and Judah took his place as leader. The next year saw the success of the revolt with the elimination of Antiochus' rule of the land.

The Temple was liberated and rededicated. But during the rededication it was discovered that there was only enough sacred oil that was not defiled by the Greeks for the menorah in the Temple, which was supposed to burn throughout the night every night for one day for and it would take 8 days to make more. Rather than wait until there was enough oil, Judah ordered the menorah lit. And it stayed lit for the 8 days necessary to make and consecrate more oil.

Many say that this was the miracle of Chanukah, others disagree. The true miracle of Chanukah is not the oil that stayed lit for 8 days, but the determination and spirit of the men and women who would not give in to a tyrant and worship as he wanted them to. It is the fact that a small band of determined fighters, fighting for their homes and freedoms, won a great victory over an extremely larger military foe.
To put this in easier term.  Think of the revolt of the Maccabees in this term:
A group of Hassidic Yeshiva students, led by their rabbis, numbering no more than 6,000, with no weapons, no military skills, no foreign aid take on the US Military and WIN!
This is the truth behind the Maccabees and their Army.  They had very few weapons, no military skills and no foreign government or soldiers helping them.  They took on the super power of its day:  The Greeks.  It took them 2 1/2 years, but they won.

The story of Chanukah cannot be found in the Old Testament. It is found in the Talmud and the Book of Maccabees. And in the hearts of all who are determined to worship G-d as they want to no matter what any government tells them otherwise!

Have a Happy Chanukah!!!!

1 comment:

Jungle Mom said...

I enjoyed reading the history and do see this as nothing but a miracle. I also chuckled at the cartoon!