When I think of Hanukkah I think of my mom. It’s not because she was Jewish. She wasn’t. What she was was inquisitive. Mom was always searching. She loved to read. She loved stories. She loved true life stories of actual events. She was never one of those people who took someone else’s word for something. She wanted to know things for herself.
When mom found out that most Protestant translations left out certain books she recalled being in the Bible, from her years at Catholic school, Mom tracked down a copy for herself. It’s not that she was staunchly Catholic. She wasn’t. She had become a born again, Spirit-filled believer. What she was was curious. Her curiosity found her in the Old Testament books of 1 and 2 Maccabees.
She had found an amazing treasure. Any time mom found a treasure she took every opportunity to share her discovery with anyone who would listen. Her eyes would light up like a kid at Christmas. The story of the Jews defending themselves against the mighty Greek empire triggered haunting thoughts that lingered from her childhood.
She was a young girl when WWII began. Her father, and three uncles had gone to Europe to fight against what my Grandfather called, “a madman intent on enslaving the whole world”. Despite that my Grandfather was of German descent and well beyond the age of the draft, he enlisted. His passionate heart for his family and his country, forbid him to sit idly by as young men gave their lives. At thirty years old he found himself trudging through snow in the dead of winter, in the French countryside. He had an encounter with God that night that empowered him with incredible courage and ultimately saved his life. He had a vision of God sitting in a Jeep, as the General of the army, giving orders and watching over the troops. His wasn’t the only vision. Many soldiers returned from the war with similar stories of miraculous intervention.
Something about the war was left embedded in Mom. Maybe it was because of the news reels she saw as a child. Until her death, at the age of 72, tears would well up in her eyes whenever she talked about it. She got the same look when she talked about the story recounted in the book of the Maccabees. Mom’s influence is one of the reasons I have an affinity for Hanukkah.
Mom believed, as she put it, ‘putting feet to her faith.’ Mom wasn’t shy by any means. She voiced her opinions and backed them up with action. Mom wasn’t a civil rights advocate who went on marches or sit-ins. She didn’t participate in public demonstrations. She shared her beliefs. She lived what she believed. She believed that all men are created equal.
She loved God. She loved the Word. She also loved having fun. Fun for her included enjoying her family. She invented games for the children. She made empty tomb buns and shared the gospel using the different colored jelly beans for Easter. She also hosted a Seder for Passover.
So, after reading (1 and 2 Maccabees) and watching Zola Levitt, she decided to celebrate. She bought a menorah. She made a special dinner and sent out the invites. We sat around the living room as mom dramatically relayed the story of Antiochus IV Ephiphanes and the horrible war crimes against the Jewish people. We heard how the priestly family of the Maccabees, led a rebellion. Mom was a storyteller. Her daughter did not inherit the gift.
Mom made everything a party. So, when she invited us over to hear the story it wasn’t just about hearing a story. She made homemade donuts and fried potato pancakes (latkes). We sang songs and played games. She even had small gifts for the kids too. She had each of us share a testimony of something God had done in our lives. This was not what you would call a solemn assembly. It was a fun family gathering. It was a hoot and holler good time of laughing, playing, enjoying each other’s company and celebrating our miracle working God. We lit the lights and we prayed prayers.
The annual practice of taking eight days to joyfully celebrate the great consistent faithfulness of God toward His people reminds me that we don’t just serve God. This isn’t about servitude. It’s about being in covenant with our Creator, who loves us and is actively involved in our lives.
Hanukkah 5782 began at sundown this past Sunday, and will concluded sundown, Monday, December 6
So what is the story of Hanukkah?
Let’s Take A Peek
Hanukkah commemorates the victory of the Jews, led by Judah Maccabee, over the Seleucid army under the authority of Antiochus IV Epiphanes and the subsequent rededication of the Temple on the 25th of the Hebrew month of Kislev, 3622 from creation. apx (139 BCE)
The Seleucid king Antiochus IV Ephiphanes not only had outlawed all Jewish practices but went further to forcing Jews to worship Greek gods. Antiochus led armed forces seizing Jerusalem and desecrating the Temple by sacrificing a pig on the altar and setting up statues to Zeus.
Hanukkah is the Hebrew word for dedication.
After years of war, the militia led by Judah Maccabee finally drove out the Greek Seleucids from Jerusalem, taking back the Holy Temple. After which, the Levitical priests were called to restore the Temple. The observance of Hanukkah is in commemoration of that victory and the dedication (hanukkah) of the Temple.
A Great Miracle Happened There.
According to the Talmud, during the massive clean up the priests discovered only one day’s supply of the holy oil that could be used to light the great golden menorah which stood in Holy Place. According to Torah (books of Moses – the Pentateuch) the lamps of the Menorah were to remain lit from evening til morning.
It would take time to make more of the special oil. Nevertheless, the priests kindled the lamp despite the incredibly insufficient supply. However, the menorah miraculously continued to burn for the eight days it took for the new batch of holy oil to be prepared.
Something to ponder: the Hebrew word, hanukkah, is used only eight times in the Old Testament.
The menorah used for celebrating Hanukkah is a nine branched candelabra. The center candle, known as the shamash or servant candle and is used to light the other eight, one night at a time.
On the first night of Hanukkah after the shamash is lit, the candle on the far right is lit. On each successive night an additional candle is lit until all the candles are blazing. During the kindling of the lights, two blessings are spoken.
First blessing: Blessed are You, Lord our G‑d, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us to kindle the Hanukkah light.
Second blessing: Blessed are You, Lord our G‑d, King of the universe, who performed miracles for our forefathers in those days, at this time.
On the first night of Hanukkah a third blessing is spoken.
Transliteration: Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, shehecheyanu v’kiy’manu v’higiyanu laz’man hazeh.
Translation: Blessed are You, Lord our G‑d, King of the universe, who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this occasion.
Once the candles are lit, songs are sung, games are played and foods cooked in oil are served. That means plenty of jelly donuts, and latkes (potato pancakes). It’s a time to gather around food, family fun, and fellowship. Basically, it’s a party. It’s a time to gather with friends and family. It’s a great celebration remembering the incredible faithfulness of our miraculous God.
Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel
A Kids Game to Remember the Miracle
Spin the dreidel is a tradition Hanukkah game which involves spinning a top. The four Hebrew letters which don the sides of the dreidel are an acronym which translates: A Great Miracle Happened There. Chocolate candy, is often used as currency for the kitty. Each player spins the dreidel and whatever letter it lands on determines whether you get half the pot, none of the pot, you have to put something in the pot, or you get the whole pot. Check out this link if you want to know more. It’s great family fun.
How Can We Celebrate?
Do we have to celebrate Hanukkah? Of course not. We don’t have to celebrate Christmas either, if we don’t want to. I don’t know about you, but I love gathering with friends and family. I love having fun. I love food. I love celebrating God. Throw in some candles and you’ve got a Hanukkah party ready to happen.
There is a lot that could be said about Hanukkah. But, let’s face it, what’s more fun than food, family and well.. FUN! So, yeah, I’m going to celebrate what God has done! You don’t have to if you don’t want to. That’s okay. The great thing is that a Hanukkah celebration can be as subdued or lively as you like. It doesn’t have to be kid-centric. It doesn’t even have to focus on ancient history. Typically occurring around the time of Thanksgiving, it’s another great opportunity to reflect on the faithfulness of God during the past year. There have been years when we incorporated the two events.
Life is serious stuff. It comes with challenging situations and difficulty at every turn. It can be a bit overwhelming. Remembering what God has done lifts our spirits and encourages our hearts. It can help shake off depression.
Take some time this week to enjoy life. Get out of the routine a bit. I know we just had Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving can be a lot of work. Hanukkah doesn’t have to be. Have a couple friends over for coffee and donuts. It’s about rejoicing and celebrating our miraculous God. He does amazing things. Let’s celebrate!
Maybe having a Hanukkah celebration doesn’t sound like something you want to do. That’s okay. It doesn’t have to be. Before you go, can I make a suggestion? You don’t have to have a blow out party. Take a couple of minutes. Watch the video below. Just listen. It’s a bit old school. But there’s nothing like a lively song celebrating what God has done for us to stir up some joy.