The Miracle of Hanukkah, Yesterday and Today

(PHOTO: REUTERS/BAZ RATNER) A Jewish man prays in front Menorah candles on the first night of the Jewish festival of Hanukkah at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City December 21, 2008. Hanukkah, which means "dedication", and is also referred to as "The Festival of Lights", commemorates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after its desecration by foreign forces. (JERUSALEM)
(PHOTO: REUTERS/BAZ RATNER)
A Jewish man prays in front Menorah candles on the first night of the Jewish festival of Hanukkah at the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City December 21, 2008. Hanukkah, which means “dedication”, and is also referred to as “The Festival of Lights”, commemorates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after its desecration by foreign forces. (JERUSALEM)

To be Jewish is “to believe in miracles,” Rabbi Jay Rosenbaum, president of the North American Board of Rabbis, commented to me in a recent conversation.

We celebrate with Hanukkah the miracle of one vial of oil lasting eight days after the Greeks in ancient days defiled the remaining oil in the Temple when they ruled Judea. Is that the only miracle that we should celebrate today when we observe the eight days of Hanukkah, or is there more? I say there is much more, and it will bring us closer to the living nature of the celebration.

My viewpoint does portray my optimism, that miracles are with us in so many ways in our lives. The holiday of Hanukkah is more than the celebration of one miracle from 2,000 years ago; rather it is a celebration, during the eight days, of the continuous range of miracles of our Jewish people that have happened even up until today. In the lighting of the candles, we see the reminder of the light in the world that sweeps away the darkness.

As we spin the dreidel, we watch the letters, nun, gimel, hay and shin, on each side pass us by, standing for “Nes gadol hayah sham,” translated as “A great miracle happened there.”

This is what living in God’s world means to me. And for many of our ancestors who were persecuted, those letters, or substitute ones they used on the side of their dreidel, provided an opportunity for protection, for renewed light, and for the continuity of the Jewish faith.

The story as we know it, in the simplest version, is that the Maccabean Jews regained control of Jerusalem from the Greeks in 165 BCE, and rededicated the Temple. The Greeks wanted idols in the Temple, an altar to Zeus, among other things, and Judah Maccabee would not accept that.

He led a revolt, the Temple was liberated and tradition was to be restored. The Jewish people needed to light the eternal light, and only one vial of oil could be found, and yet they needed eight days’ worth — and the miracle occurred that the oil burned for the eight days.

It was a year later that the holiday of Hanukkah was established and celebrated for eight days, a celebration of the weak imperiled by annihilation overcoming the mighty, with God’s intervention. Clearly, Hanukkah is a time of searching for a path to holiness, to opening our hearts, educating ourselves, and looking to the spirit within ourselves, and the opportunity of a spiritual renewal as we look to the miracle that happened, and that we are celebrating.

Was the miracle in the taking back of Jerusalem and the Temple, or the oil burning for the eight days? There are many different interpretations of this, some limiting the miracle to the oil burning eight days when there was only a supply for one day, and others including the retaking of Jerusalem and the Temple.

Rashi’s interpretation in the Talmud sees the miracle only in the oil lasting for eight days, as that could only have been in the hands of God, and could only have happened with the intervention of God. Other rabbis see the miracle happening in the very moment that the Maccabeans suspended doubt, in their commitment to liberating Jerusalem and the Temple, against all odds. Their faith was strengthened, and so they took action. Although their action was earthly based, God was with them, and they succeeded.

Hillel proposed lighting one candle the first night and adding one each day up to eight the last night, as he saw that the light would be growing during the celebration of the Hanukkah festival. We follow that today. Light is always welcomed in the dark, and the more faith you have, the more and brighter is the light as the dark recedes. That is the Jewish optimism that shines, and the continued belief in a God that we serve on Earth as a Jewish people. That’s my viewpoint.

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SOURCE: The Christian Post
Howard Teich

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