This month we will celebrate the holiday, Hanukkah. There are many rituals and festivities associated with this holiday. We kindle the Hanukkah candles each night to spread and increase light and warmth even in the darkest and coldest times of the year. We spin the dreidel with its four Hebrew letters, nun, gimel, hay, and shin, making the acronym, Nes Gadol Hayah Sham, meaning a “great miracle happened there.” We eat fried food, because it is cooked in oil (and because it’s delicious). Oil was used as the fuel to light the menorahs, candelabras, in the Temple back in 168 B.C.E when the events of this holiday’s commemoration took place, when the miracle took place.
The customs of Hanukkah are connected to this miracle: A Greek army attempted to banish Judaism, and a band of resistance known as the Maccabees, organized and beat the much larger Greek force. The Temple, however, was destroyed. The Temple’s menorah had only enough oil for one day, but it lasted eight days. This all began on the 25th of Kislev, the day Hanukkah begins in the Hebrew calendar.
The Rabbis of the Talmud do not go into much detail about the miracle. However, the emphasis is on the brightness and heat of the flame. Although Hanukkah means dedication, and it is commemorating the rededication of the Temple after the battle. It is significant that this holiday falls in the darkest and coldest time of the year. Our rituals and traditions for this holiday show that even in these times, light and warmth are possible. The miracle can be understood that the lasting darkness is a symbol of the Greek army, and the lighting of the menorahs, the resistance to that darkness.
So, when we bless our candles this Hanukkah, we are commemorating that rededication of the Temple, but also showing, no matter the circumstances, we can come together to bring light and warmth to all.