What is Chanukah and why is it celebrated every winter all around the world for eight days?
There was a time more than 2000 years ago when ancient Judea was invaded and conquered by the Syrian-Greek Empire. The Maccabees, a small band of religious Jews would not accept the loss of their homeland and fought against the domination and religious persecution of the Syrian-Greek Empire. The Maccabees, led by Judah a direct descendant of the high priest, although outnumbered 20-1, waged an epic battle against this foreign occupation. This one battle lasted three years and Hannah the daughter of the high priest led the women’s brigade as a real life Wonder Woman. They eventually defeated the powerful Syrian enemy.
When the Maccabees victoriously returned to their liberated Jerusalem, their first act was to purify the holy temple and remove the Syrian-Greek pagan idols. The Maccabees built a new altar to “The Almighty”. The original golden Menorah (candelabrum) described in detail in the Torah, had been stolen by the Syrians. The Maccabees quickly forged a new one out of lesser metal.
The menorah needed to be lit for the rededication of the holy temple. The Maccabees, the holy priests and all of Jerusalem searched everywhere in the war-torn city for pure olive oil that was needed for the temple service. When it seemed that all jars were destroyed and none was to be found, they accidentally stumbled upon a small container of pure olive oil bearing the seal of the High Priest.
This amount usually would burn for one day, however by a miracle it burned for 8 full days. Afterwards they were able to press new olive oil.
It is because of this miracle that Chanukah is celebrated for 8 days. The word Chanukah is derived from the word “chanuch”, which means re-dedication.
However, the first night of Chanukah wasn’t a miracle, it was natural. They found enough oil to burn for one day, and burning for a day is therefore “normal”. The celebration should only be for 7 days because the miracle only began with the second day, when the oil lasted longer than the expected time for burning oil.
Wasn’t the victory over the Greeks also a miracle? The Greeks were the world’s super power of the time. They achieved greatness in art, architecture, literature, drama and philosophy, which still resonates to this day. After years of war, wasn’t it a miracle that even one container of sealed oil survived intact?
There was at a minimum one additional miracle that occurred and when added to the 7 extra days of the oil burning would total 8.
The traditional religious texts explain that the real battle against the Greeks was not military but spiritual. It was a battle for the soul and survival of future generations.
The first network of schools throughout Judea (Israel) was established during this historic period of the re-dedication of the Temple. From this point in time every child in the country from age six received a publicly funded universal education (chinuch). This was the first educational system of its kind anywhere in the world, and it was gladly funded voluntarily by the residents. This preceded educational philanthropic foundations and grants, by 2000 years. This original idea of values based educational opportunities for all is the real gift of Chanukah.
The miracle is that in the battle between Judaic studies and Ancient Greek culture it was Judaica that survived. The Syrian-Greek empire did not.
The darkness that accompanies the shortest day of the year is the first day of winter. As the winter solstice arrives each year, the lighting of the Chanukah menorah is the antidote that illuminates the night.
About the Author: Jake Tewel holds a Masters Degree from YU. He has been a wine seller, caterer and a million miler for the past 15 years. Jake is a best friend, great neighbor, your go to travel person, father, grandfather and loving husband. He is now focusing his efforts on heart healthy nutrition, exercise and travel.