Chanukah is a holiday with many names. Some call it the Festival of Lights, while others refer to it as the Feast of Rededication or the Holiday of Miracles. To add to the confusion, there is absolutely no consensus as to its proper spelling.
If you don’t believe me, just check out the selection of Hallmarks cards wishing your family everything from a happy Hanukka to Chanukah to Chanukah and even Khanukkah!
This year, since the second night is also Thanksgiving, we now have Thanksgivingkah! All of these differences only serve to emphasize that Chanukah is a holiday with multiple meanings and significance.
The historical version of Chanukah, recorded in the Book of Maccabees, chronicles the events in 168 BCE, when the Syrian King Antiochus desecrated the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and issued decrees prohibiting Jewish worship, circumcision and Shabbat observance.
Mattathias the High Priest, along with his five, hardy Maccabean sons and a small group of Jewish insurgents, rose up and fought for three years against the Syrian army.
On the 25th of Kislev, the Jews restored the Holy Temple and rededicated it to G-d.
We learn from this version that through acts of defiance and resistance, the Jewish people can overcome oppression and live with dignity as Jews.
Another version of the Chanukah story focuses on the internal strife between Jews as they struggled to expand and define what practices were acceptable for Jews living within a foreign culture.< In the first few centuries BCE, Hellenism and its social, economic and political influences encouraged many Jews to compromise and abandon certain Jewish rituals and practices. Some Jews attended the gymnasium, and often participated in nude sports events, which in some cases required reversals of circumcision. The Maccabean fight was not just against non-Jewish oppression, but against the highly assimilated Jews whose conduct threatened theexistence of the Jewish people. Almost 400 years later, the rabbis of the Talmud emphsized this: No mention of the name Maccabee or of the war against the Syrians or of the tensions of fighting against assimilation into the Greek culture. Rather, the rabbis focused on the role that faith in G-d played as the key to Jewish survival. We are taught that “a great miracle happened there” when a small crude of oil lasted for eight days until more was found to keep the Temple’s menorah lit. The eight candles we light on our menorah remind us that we have survived over time because of our faith in G-d’s saving grace and power. [dropcap]The[/dropcap] significance of light itself is another aspect of the Chanukah story. At the darkest and often bleakest time of the calendar year, Jews come together with family and friends, to bring light, hope and joy into their homes. For eight consecutive nights, we add an additional candle, increasing our ability to fight against winter’s darkness. It is written in Proverbs 20:27 that “the human spirit is G-d’s candle.” Our tradition teaches that each of us has the capacity to bring light and goodness, holiness and compassion, into the world. Through our thoughts, actions and relationships, through our efforts to restore balance, justice and dignity in the world, we can illuminate others even in the darkest of times. The shamash is the special candle on the menorah that ignites the other candles and is traditionally elevated over the other eight. This year when you light the shamash, imagine for a moment that you have the power to become “G-d’s candle.”
What would it mean to light up the world around you with hope and possibilities?
Your efforts don’t have to be time- consuming or expensive, but consider these eight small efforts that can make a world of difference and a difference in our world.
• Show respect for others’ ideas, time and values, even when you disagree.
• Admit when you are wrong;
• Laugh at yourself, especially when things get crazy.
• Avoid harmful speech and gossip;
• Be authentic in your feelings and relationships;
• Donate food, clothing, time or money to organizations in need;
• Visit a friend who is lonely or sick.
• Look for a blessing in your life every day and be grateful for it!
When you blow out the match, remember that this is not just an ordinary holiday where we wish one another a Chag Sameach (a happy holiday). This is the only time of year where we hope for a Chag Urim Same’ach — a joyous holiday of light!
Copyright © 2013 by the Intermountain Jewish News