Well, it’s already December, which means that Chanukah is just around the corner. Though slightly farther away than you might think, since we’ll still be celebrating our Festival of Lights as late as December 30th this year.
According to Tradition, Chanukah is actually a very small holiday in the Jewish calendar. It isn’t mentioned anywhere in the Torah, or the Bible for that matter, and its celebration isn’t even mandated until the time of the Talmud. But for modern Jews it has deep meaning. At its core, Chanukah celebrates religious freedom and tolerance. It commemorates a time when our people, being fed up with a ruling power that persecuted and oppressed them, fought for their right to live as Jews, and won.
Chanukah is also a celebration of miracles. The miracle of the weak over the mighty. The miracle of oil lasting longer than it should. The miracle of a people who never give up hope.
The story of Chanukah begins while the Greeks had control of the land of Israel. During this time, the Greeks made it very difficult for the Jews to practice their religion. They erected idols of their gods in the town centers and in the Temple, and forbade the Jews from worshipping Adonai. When the Maccabees could no longer endure Greek rule and Greek law, they rebelled and drove the Greeks from the region. The miracle, by this account, is the fact that a small band of rebels was able to defeat the whole of the Greek army.
Later Tradition teaches of another miracle. After the Maccabees defeated the Greeks, they cleaned the desecrated Temple and prepared to rededicate it to God. One of the requirements for the Temple, however, was that an Eternal Light burn continually to remind our people of God’s presence. Unfortunately, the Macabees found only enough oil to burn for one day, and knew it would take eight days to make more. They lit the lamp anyway, and the little bit of oil they had, burned for eight days, giving them the time they needed. So we also celebrate the miracle of the oil during this holiday.
But there is another miracle to Chanukah, as suggested by Eliyahu Kitov, in The Book of our Heritage. He writes, “The real miracle of Chanukah is that the Maccabees went ahead and lit the menorah on the first day, even though they did not know what the next day would bring. It is this same miracle which has enabled the Jews to endure through every generation and every exile. For had we been discouraged by our anxieties about the future, we would have long since lost the capacity to survive.”
Chanukah is a celebration of miracles. The miracle of strength to stand up for what we believe. The miracle of light to remind us of God’s presence in our lives. The miracle of faith to continue our traditions today, even though we do not know what the future will bring.
May we all be blessed with a wonderful holiday season and a joyous Chanukah.