The Lights Continue to Burn

The second light is kindled.

A few thousand years ago, back when Alexander of Macedonia of the ancient Greek Empire ruled (including Israel), the Jews and the Greeks were getting along pretty good. This was during the Hellenistic period. At that time many Jews studied the Greek philosophers, and King Ptolemy commissioned writers to translate the Torah into Greek. But relationships between the Greeks and the Jews began to sour. When Antiochus became King, he implemented a series of decrees in an effort to Hellenize all Jews. Core beliefs and practices were forbidden under his rule: ritual circumcision, study of Torah, observance of Shabbat, celebrating Jewish holidays. Antiochus’ edicts eventually culminated with the requirement that all citizens, including the Jews, worship Greek idols.

The Jews struggled with the strangle-hold on their religious practices, but when it came to idol worship, the Greeks had gone to far. War ensued. The problem was that the Greek army was huge, strong, a well organized fighting machine. Jews were poor, small in number, a rag-tag band of malcontents as far as the Greeks were concerned. How could the Jews resist such an army? Many Jews were slaughtered for resisting the many edicts against their religious practices. On the other hand, Jews feared they would be wiped out altogether if they engaged in battle with the Greeks.

Jews fled Jerusalem and other parts of Israel to hide in the hills. Life was bad. Food was scarce. The Jewish High Priest was assassinated. Fear gripped the Jewish people. The Greek army desecrated the Temple in Jerusalem, mocking the Jews. Ritual vessels were stolen or destroyed. Sacrifices were made to various Greek idols. The Temple became a place for Greek prostitutes (temple prostitutes) to conduct their business. The Jewish people wept and prayed, crying out for a miracle.

A handful of brothers, now known as the Maccabees, a renegade group of “lawless” priestly Jews, were a thorn in the side of the mighty Greeks. The Maccabees were the fleas on the dog, so to speak. The Maccabees strongest weapon however, was their belief in God’s desire for the Jews to return to their homeland to restore Jerusalem the sanctity of their Temple. Much like David and Goliath, or Samson’s destruction of the Philistines, through a series of miraculous victories and events, the Greeks were driven out of the Temple, and out of Jerusalem. But, that was not the miracle of Chanukah!

Once they had regained their holy Temple in Jerusalem, the Jewish people set about cleaning it up and restoring it to a place of holiness and prayer. A menorah always burned in the Temple but its light had gone out during the Greek occupation. Now the Jews longed to see the light burn once again from this holy place. A menorah was found, but what about the oil to fuel the flame? Only oil that was pressed, bottled and sealed with the High Priest’s stamp could be used in the Temple. People searched and found one vial of oil, enough for one day only. It would take eight days to press enough olives to render new oil pure enough to use in the temple.

The menorah was lit anyway. Even if only for a day. The second day however, the priests returned to the Temple to see that the light still burned bright. A miracle had occurred! The light continue to burn all day and night, and when the priests returned the third day, the light still burned. This continued for eight days at which time fresh oil war was ready for the menorah. Eight nights of light from one day’s worth of oil is the miracle of Chanukah.

The year after these events occurred, the High Priest issued a decree that from that day forward, every year on the 25th of Kislev (the day the miracles occurred), the people would observe the festival of Chanukah to commemorate this momentous event. Since then, rabbeim have studied and expounded on the many miracles of Chanukah, and this minor holiday has become a beloved observance in Jewish families everywhere. Chanukah is the one holiday where we are required to show the Chanukah light to the world as we acknowledge God’s hand in creating miracles and saving the Jewish people from annihilation.

Chag Chanukah Sameach! Happy Chanukah!

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19 thoughts on “The Lights Continue to Burn

  1. Thanks for history lesson. An addition to concept “temple prostitutes”. Most ancient religions were fertility cults as the fertility of the land and the harvest of a successful crop was what the life of civilizations hinged upon. So the people would visit the fertility temples and engage in sex to try to have some influence on the gods’ willingness to help agriculture. These were not the same as houses of prostitution which were certainly ubiquitously present. This is why you finds bazillions figurines throughout Mesopotamia depicting women with huge over sized breasts ( I am an apple size man by choice myself)as part as fertility worship. The Romans even had coins minted depicting certain sex acts for which the soldiers used throughout the empire when visiting cat houses. Ceres was the Roman god of grain .

    1. Thank you Carl. I appreciate the history lesson. I knew about the temple prostitutes, but you filled me in (and all who are reading this) on the particulars of which I was unaware. Thanks. I appreciate and value your input.

  2. Hi Cecelia,

    Thank you for your completely accessible retelling of the miracle of Chanukah. As a little kid all I knew (and was fixated on) was that there were eight days of gift getting at Chanukah as compared 1 day at Christmas. I also loved the chocolate gelt coins; which to me seemed a better treat than candy canes. I didn’t really become familiar with the story until I was in grade school and learned The Feast of Lights poem by Emma Lazarus.

    Chag Chanukah Sameach!

    Adrienne (ATreeGrowsinBklyn)

    1. Adrienne,
      Thank you so much for stopping by. I’m glad you could understand the story. I was hoping that readers would understand a little more about what this holiday is about. The chocolate gelt was (and is) one of my favorite treats, too.

      Chag Chanukah Sameach!
      Cecelia

    2. I didn’t know about the chocolate gelt coins… my Jewish friends only told me about the real gelt they got! As a child, Santa would always bring us chocolate coins and put them in our stockings along with many things including jars of olives (Santa never brought olives to my non-Greek friends, though). Apologies on behalf of Greeks everywhere for the mess we caused back then.

  3. Wonderful post, Cecelia. I knew the “gist” of the miracle of the light . . . but now I have a better context.

    I loved spinning the Dredal (sp.?) with my Jewish friends. But I don’t remember what each of the symbols stood for.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Theresa. Glad you like the post. Hopefully I will post a Chanukah blog each day of the holiday so be sure to check back. Have a great holiday season however you celebrate it! 🙂

    1. Thank you, E. Our menorot are in storage until we locate a larger, more permanent place. I picked these up at the last minute. While I miss our traditional Chanukia, I am reminded that Chanukah is about the miracle and the light, not so much beautiful silver candle-holders. 🙂

  4. Thanks for sharing a nice, accessible version of the Hanukkah story. Then, as now, maintaining the freedom we is as difficult as gaining it. That’s part of why I chose to write the story of Salome Alexandra (Shalom-Zion), Queen of the Jews. And thanks for connecting people with my blog, on Facebook at Queen of the Jews, and on WordPress at judypetsonk.com

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Judy. I found your blog quite interesting. And I appreciate your comments here. I urge other readers to check out Judy’s blog to get in-depth info re: Judaism.

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