Chanukah Guide for the Perplexed 2012

December 9, 2012 3:30 am 1 comment

Menorah made of Gaza rockets fired at Sderot, lit this Hanukkah at the Sderot Hesder Yeshivah. Photo: Anav Silverman.

1.  Chanukah is the only Jewish holiday which commemorates a Land of Israel national liberation struggle, unlike Passover (the Exodus from Egypt), Sukkot/Tabernacles & Shavouot/Pentacost (on the way from Egypt to the Land of Israel), Purim (deliverance of Jews in Persia), etc. Chanukah is the longest Jewish holiday (8 days) with the most intense level of Light (8 consecutive nights of candle lighting).

2. The key Chanukah developments occurred, mostly, in Judea and Samaria: Mitzpah (also the Prophet Samuel’s burial site), the Beth El mountains (Judah Maccabee’s first headquarters), Beth Horon (Judah’s victory over Seron), Hadashah (Judah’s victory over Nicanor), Beth Zur (Judah’s victory over Lysias), Ma’aleh Levona (Judah’s victory over Apolonius), Adora’yim (a Maccabees’ fortress), Elazar & Beit Zachariya (Judah’s first defeat), Ba’al Hatzor (Judah defeated and killed), the Judean Desert, etc. Unified Jerusalem was the Capital of the Maccabees.  Chanukah is not a holiday of “occupation.” Chanukah highlights the moral-high-ground of Jews in their ancestral land.

3.  Shimon the Maccabee – who succeeded Judah and Yonatan the Maccabees – defied an ultimatum by the Syrian emperor, Antiochus (Book of Maccabees A, Chapter 15, verse 33), who demanded an end to the “occupation” of Jerusalem, Jaffa, Gaza, Gezer and Ekron, Shimon declared: ”We have not occupied a foreign land; we have not ruled a foreign land; we have liberated the land of our forefathers from foreign occupation.”

4.  Chanukah’s historical context (Books of the Maccabees and the Scroll of Antiochus.)

Alexander The Great – who held Judaism in high esteem and whose Egyptian heir, Ptolemy II, translated the Torah to Greek – died in 323BCE following 12 glorious years.  Consequently, the Greek Empire disintegrated into five, and thirty years later into three, kingdoms: Macedonia, Syria and Egypt.  The Land of Israel was militarily contested by Syria and Egypt.  In 198BCE, Israel was conquered by the Syrian Antiochus III, who considered the Jewish State as an ally.  In 175BCE, a new king assumed power in Syria, Antiochus (IV) Epiphanies, who wished to replace Judaism with Hellenic values and assumed that Jews were allies of Egypt. In 169BC, upon his return to Syria from a war against Egypt, he devastated Jerusalem, massacred the Jews, forbade the practice of Judaism (including the Sabbath, circumcision, etc.) and desecrated Jerusalem and the Temple.  The 167BCE-launched rebellion against the Syrian (Seleucid) kingdom featured the Hasmonean (Maccabee) family: Mattityahu, a priest from the town of Modi’in, and his five sons, Yochanan, Judah, Shimon, Yonatan and Elazar.  The heroic (and tactically creative) battles conducted by the Maccabees, were consistent with the reputation of Jews as superb warriors, who were hired frequently as mercenaries by Egypt, Syria, Rome and other global and regional powers.

5.  The Hasmonean dynasty.

*Mattityahu son of Yochanan; the priest-led rebellion – 166/7BCE

*Judah the Maccabee, son of Mattityahu – 166-161BCE

*Yonatan the Maccabee, son of Mattityahu – 161-143BCE

*Shimon the Maccabee, son of Mattityahu – 143-135BCE

*Yochanan Hyrcanus son of Shimon – 135-104BCE

*…

*Mattityahu Antigonus – 40-37BCE

6.  The name Maccabee (מכבי or מקבי) is a derivative of the Hebrew word Makevet (מקבת), Power Hammer, which described Judah’s tenacious and decisive fighting capabilities.  It could be a derivative of the Hebrew verb Cabeh (כבה), to extinguish, which described the fate of Judah’s adversaries.  Another source of the name suggests that Maccabee, מכבי, is the Hebrew acronym of “Who could resemble you among Gods, Adonai” (“Mi Camokha Ba’elim Adonai” מי כמוך באלים י).

7.  The origin of the term – Chanukah – is education-oriented.

According to the first book of Maccabees, Judah instituted an eight day holiday on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev, 165BCE, in order to commemorate the inauguration (Chanukah, חנוכה, in Hebrew) of the holy altar and the Temple, following Syrian desecration.  A key feature of Chanukah is the education/mentoring of the family (Chinuch חינוך and Chonech חונך in Hebrew), commemorating Jewish history. The Hebrew word, Chanukah, consists of two words, Chanu חנו in Hebrew (they rested/stationed) and Kah כה in Hebrew (which is equal to 25, (referring to the Maccabees’ re-consecration of the Temple on the 25th day of Kislev.  Some have suggested that the timing of Christmas (December 25th) and the celebration of the New Year 8 days later (January 1) have their origin in Chanukah, which always “accompanies” December.

8. Chanukah is the holiday of light, commemoration, optimism and liberty. Chanukah celebrates the liberation of Jerusalem. The first day of Chanukah is celebrated when daylight is balanced with darkness, ushering in optimism for a brighter future.  Chanukah is celebrated in Kislev (כסלו), the month of miracles (e.g., Noah’s Rainbow appeared in Kislev) and the month of security/safety (the Hebrew word Kesel-כסל means security).  The first and last Hebrew letters of Kislev (כסלו – כו) equal 26 (in Jewish Gimatriya, numerical value) – the total numerical value of the Hebrew spelling of Jehovah – יהוה. Moses completed the construction of the Holy Ark on the 25th day of Kislev, as was the date of the laying the foundation of the Second Temple by Nehemiah. The 25th (Hebrew) word in Genesis is Light (OR, אור), which is a Jewish metaphor for the Torah. The word which precedes “light” is יהי (“let there be” in Hebrew) – 25 in Gimatriya. The 25th stop during the Exodus was Hashmona (same root as Hasmonean in Hebrew).  Chanukah commemorates one of the early Clashes of Civilizations: the victory of light (Maccabees) over darkness, the few over the many (scarce light can penetrate darkness), liberty over slavery and remembrance over forgetfulness. The Hebrew spelling of darkness – חשכה – employs the same letters as forgetfulness – שכחה.

9.  The thirty six Chanukah candles (without the constant candle – the Shamash) represent the 36 hidden righteous persons, whose virtue safeguards human-kind.  There were 36 hours of divine light, welcoming Adam during the creation, lasting until the end of the Sabbath. Various forms of light, and candles, are mentioned 36 times in the Torah. There are 36 parts in the Talmud. Chanukah is celebrated during the Hebrew month of Kislev, whose spelling consists of two Hebrew words: Throne (כס) and 36 (לו).  Candles are lit outside the home, or at the window, in order to spread light.  Unlike the Shabbat candles, which are lit inside since they target the family, the message of the Chanukah candles targets the world at large.

10. Eight days of Chanukah represent divine capabilities and optimism. The ancient Temple Menorah consisted of seven branches, which commemorated the seven days of creation. The Chanukah Menorah has eight branches, reflecting the additional level of divine capabilities.  The eight day celebration could be intended to make up for the holiday of Tabernacles, which could not be celebrated due to the war of liberation. The shape of the digit 8 represents infinity: no end to divine capabilities, as evidenced by the survival of the Jewish People against all odds. The root of the Hebrew word for 8 (Shmoneh, שמונה) is “oil” (Shemen, שמנ), which is also the root of “Hasmonean” (Hashmonayim, חשמונאים). The Aramaic name of the month of Kislev is Kislimo, which is “heavy” in Hebrew.  The spelling of “heavy” is identical to the spelling of “oil” – שמן.

11. The statue of the head of Judah the Maccabee is displayed at the West Point Military Academy, along with the statues of Joshua, David, Alexander the Great, Hector, Julius Caesar, King Arthur, Charlemagne and Godfrey of Bouillon – “the Nine Worthies.”

12. “In God We Trust” is similar to the Maccabees’ battle cry, which adopted Moses’ battle cry against the builders of the Golden Calf. A literal translation of Moses’ battle cry: “Whoever trusts G-D; join me!”

13.  Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty or give me death,” and New Hampshire’s “Live Free or Die,” followed the legacy of the Maccabees’ sacrifice and political-incorrectness.  The Maccabees followed in the footsteps of Abraham, Phineas the High Priest, Joshua & Caleb, King David and Elijah the Prophet, who knew that swimming against the stream gets one closer to the source!

14. “Rebellion against Tyrants is obedience to God” was proposed, as the US seal, by John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. It reflected the legacy of the Maccabees who were a tiny minority of “rebels” – condemned by the “loyalists/pragmatists” – rising against an oppressive super-power.  They demonstrated the victory of the few over the many, right over wrong, moral over immoral, truth over lies, faith over cynicism and opportunism. Paul Revere’s nickname was the “modern day Maccabee.”

15. “Chanukah has a special significance in Montana these days. In Billings in 1993, vandals broke windows in homes that were displaying menorahs. In a response organized by local church leaders, more than 10,000 of the city’s residents and shopkeepers put make-shift menorahs in their own windows, to protect the city’s three dozen or so Jewish families. The vandalism stopped” (New York Times, Dec. 4, 2009, Eric Stern, senior counselor to Gov. Brian Schweitzer).

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture Middle East Hamas Commander Reportedly Urges Hezbollah to Join Forces Against Israel

    Hamas Commander Reportedly Urges Hezbollah to Join Forces Against Israel

    JNS.org – Five months after Israeli forces tried to assassinate Hamas military commander Mohammed Deif in Gaza, Deif appears to have signed a letter that the terrorist group claims he wrote in hiding. The letter, addressed to Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, expressed Deif’s condolences for the death of Hezbollah terrorists during Sunday’s reported Israeli airstrike in Syria. Deif is said to have survived multiple assassination attempts, but he has not been seen in public for years. According to the Hezbollah-linked Al-Manar [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Theater Shlomo Carlebach Musical Has the Soul to Heal Frayed Race Relations

    Shlomo Carlebach Musical Has the Soul to Heal Frayed Race Relations

    JNS.org – The cracks that had been simply painted over for so long began to show in Ferguson, Mo., in November 2014, but in truth they had begun to open wide much earlier—on Saturday, July 13, 2013. That is when a jury in Sanford, Fla., acquitted George Zimmerman of culpability for the death of a 17-year-old black man, Trayvon Martin. The cracks receded from view over time, as other news obscured them. Then came the evening of Aug. 9, 2014, [...]

    Read more →
  • Theater US & Canada ‘Homeland’ Season Finale Stirs Controversy After Comparing Menachem Begin to Taliban Leader

    ‘Homeland’ Season Finale Stirs Controversy After Comparing Menachem Begin to Taliban Leader

    A controversial scene in the season finale of Homeland sparked outrage by comparing former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin to a fictional Taliban leader, the UK’s Daily Mail reported. In the season 4 finale episode, which aired on Dec. 21, CIA black ops director Dar Adal, played by F. Murray Abraham, justifies a deal he made with a Taliban leader by referencing Begin. He makes the remarks in a conversation with former CIA director Saul Berenson, a Jewish character played by Mandy [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Spirituality/Tradition Placing Matisyahu Back Within a Life of Observance

    Placing Matisyahu Back Within a Life of Observance

    Shining Light on Fiction During the North Korea-Sony saga, we learned two important lessons. The first is that there are two sides to this story, and neither of them are correct because ultimately we should have neither inappropriate movies nor dictators. The second is that we cannot remain entirely fixed on the religious world, but we also must see beyond the external, secular view of reality. It’s important to ground our Torah-based thoughts into real-life activism. To view our act [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Nine Decades of Moses at the Movies

    Nine Decades of Moses at the Movies

    JNS.org – Hollywood has had its share of big-budget biblical flops, but until now, the Exodus narrative has not been among them. Studios have brought Moses to the big screen sparingly, but in ways that defined the image and character of Moses for each generation of audiences. The first biblical epic In 1923, director Cecil B. DeMille left it to the American public to decide the subject of his next movie for Paramount. DeMille received a letter from a mechanic [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Exodus on Screen (REVIEW)

    Exodus on Screen (REVIEW)

    JNS.org – The story of the Exodus from Egypt is a tale as old as time itself, to borrow a turn of phrase. It’s retold every Passover, both at the seder table and whenever “The Ten Commandments” is aired on television. But the latest adaptation—Ridley Scott’s epic film, “Exodus: Gods and Kings”—fails to meet expectations. Scott’s “Exodus” alters the source material to service the story and ground the tale, but the attempt to reinvent the biblical narrative becomes laughable. Moses [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Lifestyle ‘Jewish Food Movement’ Comes of Age

    ‘Jewish Food Movement’ Comes of Age

    JNS.org - In December 2007, leaders of the Hazon nonprofit drafted seven-year goals for what they coined as the “Jewish Food Movement,” which has since been characterized by the increased prioritization of healthy eating, sustainable agriculture, and food-related activism in the Jewish community. What do the next seven years hold in store? “One thing I would like to see happen in the next seven years is [regarding] the issue of sugar, soda, and obesity, [seeing] what would it be like to rally the [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Education Seeds of ‘Start-Up Nation’ Cultivated by Israel Sci-Tech Schools

    Seeds of ‘Start-Up Nation’ Cultivated by Israel Sci-Tech Schools

    JNS.org – Forget the dioramas. How about working on an Israeli Air Force drone? That’s exactly the kind of beyond-their-years access enjoyed by students at the Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) industrial vocational high school run by Israel Sci-Tech Schools, the largest education network in the Jewish state. More than 300 students (250 on the high school level and 68 at a two-year vocational academy) get hands-on training in the disciplines of aviation mechanics, electricity and energy control, and unmanned air [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.