Yesterday we turned our attention to the story of Chanukah. We learned that the holiday is about religious freedom, and discussed what that idea is about. We also learned that a central part of the story is the utter desecration of the holy Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the capital city for the Jews thousands of years ago, including during the Chanukah story, which took place c. 165 BCE. The Greek-Syrians, led by King Antiochus, tried to brutally force their way of life on the Jews. (Among the details I omitted were that Antiochus IV was married to his sister – and she had been married to his two older brothers beforehand; that Jews who did not want to bow to idols were massacred; circumcision was banned; and the requisite adoration of naked, physical beauty was antithetical to Jewish concepts of modesty.)
It is miraculous that a small group of farmers were able to able to defeat the formidable Greek army. And then they helped clean up and rededicate the Temple so it could again be used as the central place of worship for the Jews (and this is where the oil miracle story comes into play). If not for these farmers, whom we call Maccabees, which means hammer(s), many scholars contend the Jewish faith would have ended at that time.
We also discussed that the whole Chanukah story takes place after the Torah had been written down. So the story of Chanukah is not in the Torah itself. Rather, it is told in what we call the “keutvim,” or the writings. Chanukah also has two women heroes – Judith and Hannah. We read a story about Judith. It’s pretty impressive for women to have a role in events that took place over 2,100 years ago.
Back to Jerusalem – regardless of one’s opinions on current political issues concerning “The City of Peace” (that’s what Jerusalem means – I hear the scoffing laughter as I write that…), it is a fact that Jews have considered this city to be the heart of our homeland and desires for thousands of years – longer than Christianity and Islam have existed. As Jews, our liturgy and poetry are replete with references to a yearning love for and desire to be in Jerusalem. That is why the holy Temple, or Beit HaMikdahsh in Hebrew, was built there, and it is in Jerusalem that the one remaining wall of the Temple stands.
And back to Chanukah – we sang the blessings for the candles, and learned that the candles are lit when it is dark, but their light should not be used for work, because the candles are lit for joyous reasons. (So traditionally, one would not turn off the lights in the room where the menorah is lit.) There are three blessings sung on the first night, and two blessings sung on the remaining two nights. The candles are put in the menorah from right to left – the same way we read Hebrew. And they are lit from left to right, to “honor” the newest candle.
Wishing you and our fellow Jews around the world a beautiful Chanukah, and may all mankind be blessed with peace:
May it be your will, Eternal One, our God, God of our ancestors, that wars and bloodshed be abolished from the world, and bring into the world a great and wonderful and lasting peace. And let no nation lift a sword against a nation—let them learn no more the ways of war!