by: Ilse Strauss
Monday, 29 November 2021 | Since yesterday, streets in Israel resound with the joyful phrase, “Chag Hanukkah Sameach!” as loved ones and perfect strangers wish each other a happy feast of Hanukkah (Feast of Dedication or Festival of Lights). Last night, in homes across the Promised Land and in Jewish communities across the world, family and friends gathered for the first night of this eight-day festival to light the first of eight candles on the hanukkiah, the special Hanukkah lampstand with nine candleholders, feast on treats traditional to the festival and remember the great miracle that Hanukkah commemorates.
The story behind Hanukkah reads like the ultimate epic tale. All the ingredients are there: a small band of faithful warriors taking a stand for what is right instead of settling for what is comfortable, a tyrant determined to bend his subjects to his iron will, miraculous victory in the face of overwhelming odds and the God of the universe showing up for those who wait on Him.
The events took place some twenty-one centuries ago, when the Land of Israel was ruled by the mighty Syrian king, Antiochus IV Epiphanes. His reign was characterized by severe oppression and frequent massacres. Antiochus prohibited the people of Israel from practicing Judaism, set up altars and idols for the forced worship of Greek gods, desecrated the Second Temple in Jerusalem by sacrificing a pig on the altar and placed a Greek priest in charge of the God of Israel’s dwelling place. He offered the Jews only two choices: convert or die.
Many converted, opting for a life of comfort and subjugation over conviction and freedom. Yet a handful of Jews, known as the Maccabees, revolted and waged a three-year guerrilla campaign against the overwhelming force of the Syrian empire. Against all odds, the tiny band of Jews defeated one of the world’s mightiest armies at the time and drove the oppressors from Jerusalem.
Immediately after their miraculous victory, the Maccabees sought to purify and rededicate the Temple by rebuilding the altar and relighting the menorah, the golden lampstand with seven branches, which was meant to be kept burning day and night. There was, however, a problem: only one vessel of consecrated anointing oil could be found to light the menorah, enough to keep the lampstand aglow for one night only. Yet according to tradition, the miraculous happened. The flames of the menorah continued flickering for eight nights, the exact time it took to prepare a fresh supply of consecrated oil. From there comes the name of the feast Hanukkah, which means “dedication” in both Hebrew and Aramaic.
Today, the descendants of the ancient Maccabees celebrate this miracle of light and oil through the eight-day celebration of Hanukkah. On each night of the eight days, family and friends gather to light the candles of the hanukkiah—one candle on the first night, two on the second and so forth, until all eight candles of the hanukkiah are alight.
For eight days, tables are laden with traditional Hanukkah treats, like sufganiyot (sweet donuts), latkes (potato pancakes) and other deep-fried delicacies to mark the miracle of oil. And for eight nights, the fragile glow spilling from thousands of candles in Israel and in Jewish homes across the world reminds those who witness it of the tremendous significance of something as seemingly ordinary as light.
This year, the first candle on the hanukkiah was lit at sunset last night. And on the evening of Sunday, 9 December, all the candles on the candelabrum will be burning brightly.
While Hanukkah usually shares December with Christmas, the two feasts rarely coincide. The variance in timing is due to the use of two different calendars. Each year, the Jewish people continue to celebrate the feasts according to the Biblical calendar, which is based on a lunar cycle. The eight-day festival of Hanukkah starts on the 25th of the ninth month, called Kislev. The date for Christmas, on the other hand, is determined according to the solar-based Gregorian calendar. Since these two calendars do not line up, the two feasts seldom start together.
Posted on November 29, 2021
Source: (Bridges for Peace, November 29, 2021)
Photo Credit: Maddie Hunt/bridgesforpeace.com
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