With the pandemic putting a damper on, well, the year, many are looking forward to the upcoming holiday season to raise spirits.
And it begins tonight, as Jews in the Monadnock Region and beyond bring out their menorahs to celebrate Hanukkah. (The Hebrew word means “rededication”). Almost everyone knows the story of Christmas, but there may be some who don’t know the story of the eight-day miracle. Here is that story:
Antiochus IV ruled Syria from 175 to 162 B.C. (or, BCE, the period often referred to as Before the Common Era). He did not like the Jewish faith or its teachings, and he used his power to suppress it. He decreed that keeping the Sabbath, teaching the Torah and observing Jewish law were punishable by death. He went so far as to order Jews to eat pork — a meat prohibited under kosher laws — in the sacred Temple of Jerusalem.
That’s when revolutionary Judah Maccabee and the number eight enter the picture.
On the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev, Judah Maccabee and a handful of men liberated the temple from the forces of Antiochus IV. (The Jewish calendar is based on the lunar year, and this year that anniversary begins after sunset on December 10.) They kicked out Antiochus’s men, and began rededicating the sacred place.
Immediately, they lit the eternal flame. And, immediately, they found only enough oil to last for one day. But, according to the legend, the oil used to light the flame was no ordinary oil; it was holy oil. Miraculously, it lasted eight days — long enough for a messenger to return with a further supply.
While this over 2,100-year-old story recounts one of the first recorded wars fought in the name of religious freedom, the eight-day Hanukkah festival of lights is, in religious terms, considered a minor holiday in the Jewish tradition of celebrations. But it has grown in importance in Western countries, as Jews have sought to proclaim their identity surrounded by the symbols of Christmas.
This year the festival spirit, like all our spirits, may be more challenged amidst the pandemic surging across the country and world. But challenging times point up the value of heritage and tradition, and a festival that honors a miracle by the lighting of a menorah as a symbol of hope shining through darkness couldn’t be more welcome. Happy Hanukkah.