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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