Eight Lights

Tonight we kindle the eight lights of Chanukah. During the time of the Macabees, Chanukah signified the miracle of the few over the many, darkness illuminated by a light that increased each day. Take a few minutes to contemplate the power of darkness and the power of light. In darkness we are lonely, fearful, ashamed, oppressed. In a dark room we cannot see where we are going or what we are doing. If darkness fills every inch of space in a room, we are blind. But light one match, one candle; the amount of space taken up by the flame is minuscule compared to the space occupied by darkness, yet that tiny flame can illuminate the entire room. And if each day you add even a little more light, the darkness becomes less daunting, until the eighth night when all the flames are lit and darkness is no more! This is the miracle of Chanukah. In that regard, the miracle of Chanukah continues to occur each day. We learn from an historical event, but the miracle continues and is real today. Every kind word or good deed is a flame that illuminates the darkness of someone’s spirit. Every joyful expression, act of compassion, or sympathy extended, we contribute to the miracle of someone’s life. Each time we shed a little light for someone else to see their way forward, and with every prayer we utter to benefit the spirit of some soul and thus the spirit of this world, we are kindling the Chanukah light! A miracle occurs!

If you are able on this last night of Chanukah, draw up a seat near the Menorah, gaze at the flames as they flicker, and begin to reflect on the miracles you have experienced in life. After a while, one begins to realize that life itself is a miracle of magnificent proportion. Reflect on times when you felt G-d’s hand guiding you, times when you were saved from danger, times when the odds were stacked against you yet a miracle occurred and you prevailed. As you reflect on the miracles of your life, and the miracles of Chanukah, open to the wonder of your life and the events that have brought you to this place in this time.

Just like the menorah whose light grows with each day, others will begin to reflect back the light, too, much like a window reflects back the light of each Chanukah flame and the miracle it represents.

Finally, as you recognize the Chanukah miracle that lives within you, and with the acceptance of your life’s current reality, be open to receive greater!

I humbly thank you for taking a Chanukah journey with me this year. It has been a blessing for me to review and reflect on the meaning of Chanukah, the customs we observe, games we play, food we eat, and to share this special holiday with you. As we head into the new year, may you be blessed with prosperity of body, mind and soul; may you celebrate life’s joys, grieve its losses, and carry the miracle of Chanukah where ever you travel.

Chag Chanukah Sameach!

Shalom!

Chana/Cecelia Futch

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We Kindle the Seventh Light of Chanukah!

Chanukah, the origin of the name “Chanukah”:

There is no one origin of the name “Chanukah!” When I looked up the origin of the word, I found many opinions and possibilities. I thought it would be interesting to list a few of the suggested origins here, and then you can pick the one that sounds best for you 😉

(The following information was collated by Rabbi Nosson Scherman and can be found at http://www.torah.org.)

1. The name Chanukah was given in commemoration of the historical fact that the Jewish fighters rested – “chanu” (the FIRST THREE HEBREW LETTERS of the word “Chanukah”) – from their battles against Syrian-Greeks on the 25th of Kislev. 25 is spelled out chof-heh – the FINAL TWO HEBREW LETTERS of “Chanukah.” (source: Kol Bo; Abudraham; Tur; Ran).

2. The Hebrew word “chein” (the FIRST TWO HEBREW LETTERS of the word “Chanukah”) denotes grace. Thus ‘Chanukah’ could be meant to allude that the Jewish warriors found Divine ‘grace’ on the 25th of Kislev. (source: Noam Elimelech).

3. One of the most direct explanations of the name Chanukah is that it is related to the dedication (“chanukah”) of the Altar, [a centerpiece of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem]… We learn in the Talmud (Avodah Zarah 52b) that the Hasmoneans removed and stored away the Altar-stones which the Greeks had polluted with idolatry, and had to build a new Altar. That is why the festival is called ‘Chanukah’ which means ‘dedication.’ (source: Maharsha to Shabbos 21b; See also: I Maccabees 4:44-9 and II Maccabees 10:2-4).

4. The name Chanukah refers also to the dedication of the Second Temple, which occurred on almost the same calendar date (see the Book of Haggai 2:18). It is because of this consecration (“chanukah”) of the Second Temple that the miracle of the lights that happened in that season – generations later – is called Chanukah. (source: Rabbi Yaakov Emden).

5. Homiletically there is an allusion in the Hebrew name Chanukah to the fact that we conduct ourselves on Chanukah in the manner advocated by the School of Hillel. Hillel holds that we begin on the first night with one light, and add additional lights on each of the subsequent nights. (As opposed to the practice of the School of Shammai, who begin with eight lights and subtract one light on each of the subsequent nights). The initials of Chanukah spell: “Eight Lights, and the Halachah [a.k.a. Jewish Law]  follows the School of Hillel.” (source: Abudraham; Ateres Zekeinim; Pri Megadim).

6. Kabbalistically, at the time of the lighting of the Chanukah candles, there is a revelation of part of the “Ohr Haganuz,” the great light hidden away since the beginning of Creation – the light of Messiah. And that is why the festival is called Chanukah – because it is a spiritual preparation [“chinuch”] for our destined Redemption. (source: Bnai Yisas’char).

Whew! That is a lot of information! And there is more, but I’ve already begun to overwhelm you (or at least myself!), so I’ll stop here. No one is really sure what the origin of the word came from, but the possibilities, endless as they are, suggest nothing short of dedication, teaching and learning, and spiritual preparation, all attributes of the wonderful holiday of Chanukah!

Fifth Day and the Light is Spreading!

Day five of the Miracle of Lights!

What is “gelt” and why is it associated with Chanukah?

Gelt is the yiddish word for money. Back in the 18th century (and maybe earlier) in Poland, parents would give their children gelt to learn Torah during Chanukah. The children would save the gelt and on the last day of the holiday, each child would take 10% of the money they saved and give it to charity. In this way the children were learning Torah along with the importance of sharing what they had earned with those who were in need.

In addition to giving gelt to children to learn Torah, parents would give gelt for the children (usually boys because girls did not go to school at that time) to take to their rabbis during Chanukah, a gift of gratitude. Gelt was used for playing dreidel, too, and in early 20th century America (1920 to be exact) chocolatiers began making chocolate gelt, wrapping them in gold or silver foil, and packaging the gelt in small yellow net bags (money bags) for Chanukah treats. These treats make their appearance around Chanukah time to this day, and we are reminded of the importance of learning Torah, giving charity . . . and playing fun games and eating sweet delicacies during Chanukah!

Chanukah gelt English: Chocolate coins for Cha...
Image via Wikipedia

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!