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What is Hanukkah?

Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days and nights, starting on the 25th day of Kislev (or Casleu), the ninth month on the Hebrew calendar (which corresponds to November-December on the Gregorian calendar). In Hebrew, the word “Hanukkah” means “Dedication.” The story of Hanukkah is found in the apocryphal books of First and Second Maccabees.

Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after the Jews’ victory over the Hellenist Syrians in the year 165 B.C.E.. Three years prior to that victory, in 168 B.C.E., the temple had been seized and dedicated to the worship of Zeus. Antiochus Epiphanes, the Greek King of Syria, outlawed Jewish rituals and ordered the Jews to worship Greek idols. Many Jews, in fear of their lives, honored the new decrees of their conquerors. Others, however, decided to fight back.

The fighting began in Modiin, a village not far from Jerusalem. A Greek officer and soldiers assembled the villagers, compelling them to sacrifice swine, an animal that is considered unclean to those who put their faith in Yahweh. The officer attempted to persuade Mattathias, a Jewish High Priest, to take part in the ceremony. He refused, so another villager stepped forward and offered to do it instead. Mattathias, “inflamed with zeal,” ran to the altar and killed the man, then killed the presiding officer. His five sons and the other villagers then fled to the nearby mountains to hide, joined by other Jews who were willing to fight for their freedom. They attacked the Greek soldiers whenever possible.

About a year after the rebellion began, Mattathias died. Before his death, he put his brave son Judah Maccabee[vii] in charge of the growing army. After three years of intense fighting, the Jews defeated the Greek army, despite having significantly fewer men and weapons. They immediately began cleaning up and restoring the temple, and on the 25th day of the ninth month (Casleu), they “offered sacrifice according to the law upon the new altar of burnt offerings, which they had made” (I Maccabees 4:53). At long last, the temple had been restored to its former state for the worship of Yahweh, in accordance with the rituals outlined by Yahweh in the Torah. I Maccabees 4:56-59 describes the rejoicing, as well as Judah Maccabee’s decree that future generations should celebrate their victory during that ninth month of the year:

56 And so they kept the dedication of the altar eight days, and offered burnt offerings with gladness, and sacrificed the sacrifice of deliverance and praise. 57 They decked also the forefront of the temple with crowns of gold, and with shields; and the gates and the chambers they renewed, and hanged doors upon them. 58 Thus was there very great gladness among the people, for that the reproach of the heathen was put away. 59 Moreover Judas and his brethren with the whole congregation of Israel ordained, that the days of the dedication of the altar should be kept in their season from year to year by the space of eight days, from the five and twentieth day of the month Casleu, with mirth and gladness.

As denoted by the above passage, Judah Maccabee and the entire congregation of Israel decreed that a memorial to their miraculous triumph over the vast Syrian army should be held each year. Many folks misconstrue the word “ordained” in such a way as to indicate that Judah Maccabee was commanding the observance of a new festival. However, history has proven otherwise. Jewish national assemblies had the authority to proclaim a day of gladness, but never the power to raise such a day to a sacred status. Proof that they never intended Hanukkah as a commanded observance can be found in the fact that Judaism has never regarded Hanukkah as a commanded festival. Rather, it is a “minor festival” that many choose to keep as a remembrance of the miracle that happened in Jerusalem, combined with a celebration of the victory of good over evil.

One popular legend attached to the Hanukkah celebration involves a miracle that is mysteriously missing from the books of Maccabees. According to a legend mentioned only in the Babylonian Talmud, when Judah and his men searched for oil to light the menorah for the rededicated temple, they were only able to find a small flask that contained only enough oil to light the menorah for one day.[viii] Miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days, which explains why the feast lasts for eight days. However, this legend appears to be based more upon “wishful thinking” than sound evidence. Surely, if such a miracle had indeed occurred, the authors of the books of Maccabees would not have ignored or otherwise left off mentioning it to their reading audience. The fact that such a “footnote” to the Hanukkah story first appears in the Babylonian Talmud, known for its stories of folklore and magic, does not add credibility to the account.[ix]

Nevertheless, in spite of the Talmud’s apparent embellishment of the Hanukkah account, this does not detract from the event itself, a celebration that is not only recorded by the historian Josephus[x], but is also found in the Torah.

 

 

Messianic Jewish Candle Lighting Ceremony For Hanukah

In seeking a practical expression for this holy day, believers in Messiah Yeshua can incorporate many beautiful traditions. The observance is centered on the hanukiyah (9 candle menorah) and what it represents. Each evening during  Hanukah family and friends gather to light the hanukiyah with the appropriate number of candles. The branches of the hanukiyah represent the eight days of Hanukah, plus one shamash candle used to light the others.

Note: the appropriate numbers of candles are placed in the hanukiyah from right to left, yet they are kindled by the shamash from left to right.

On the first night of Hanukah, after sundown, the shamash (servant) candle is lit, which in turn is used to kindle the first candle in the Menorah. The second night, we light the shamash again and use it to light the two right candles. This continues through the eight nights of the Hanukah.

During the lighting of the shamash and the appropriate number of candles, the following blessings are chanted:

 

(Traditional)

Blessed are You O Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with Your commandments, and commanded us to light Hanukah lights.
Baruch Ata Adonai Elohaynu Melech ha-olam, ah-sher kid-shah-nu b’mitz-voh-tayv v’tzee-vah-nu l’had-leek ner shel Hanukah.

Blessed are You O Lord our God, King of the universe, who performed miracles for our fathers in those days at this season.
Baruch Ata Adonai Elohaynu Melech ha-olam, she-ah-sah ni-seem la-ah-vo-tay-nu ba-ya-meem ha-hem baz-man ha-zeh.

 (Messianic version)

Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us in Yeshua,
 in whose name we light the Chanukah lights.
Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu melech ha-olam,
asher kidushanu b’Yeshua, asher bismo madlikim
anachnu ner shell chanukah. 

 Blessed are You O Lord our God, King of the universe, who performed miracles for our fathers in those days at this season.

Baruch Ata Adonai Elohaynu Melech ha-olam, she-ah-sah ni-seem la-ah-vo-tay-nu ba-ya-meem ha-hem baz-man ha-zeh.

(On the first night you can add)

Blessed are You O Lord our God, King of the universe, who granted us life, sustained us and permitted us to reach this season.

Baruch Ata Adonai Elohaynu Melech ha-olam, she-he-che-yanu v’kee-ma-nu v’hi-gee-ah-nu laz-man ha-zeh.

Note: Traditionally, the candles are lit from right to left. The first candle is placed on the right side of the Menorah, and the second one placed directly to the left. But lighting them starts from the left and moves to the right. Thus the first candle that is lit is the new candle added for that day. The Shammash candle (the tallest) is used to light the others.

Messianic thoughts on lighting the candles.
Shamash (Servant) Candle
Messiah Yeshua stated in Mark 10:44-45:
 Whoever wishes to be first among you shall be the servant of all. For
even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to
give His life a ransom for many.
First Candle
Genesis 1:3-4 describes the creation of the first light:
 God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that
the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.
Second Candle
Exodus 13:21-22 reveals that God is the source of Israel’s light:
  And the Lord was going before them in a pillar of cloud by day to
lead them on the way, and in a pillar of fire by night to give them
light, that they might travel by day and by night. He did not take
away the pillar of cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from
before the people.
Third Candle
King David reminds us that God Himself is the source of our own
individual light:
 The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is
the defense of my life; whom shall I dread (Psalm 27:1)?  For You
light my lamp; the Lord my God illumines my darkness (Psalm 18:28).
 Fourth Candle
Psalm 119:105 and Psalm 119:130 describe the light that comes from
God’s Word:
  Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path. The
unfolding of Your words gives light; it gives understanding to the
simple.
  Fifth Candle
Messiah Yeshua is the greatest light of all:
  In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light
shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it (John
1:4-5).
  As Messiah Yeshua was in the Temple in Jerusalem watching the
illuminating lights, He declared: “I am the light of the world; he who
follows Me shall not walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of
life” (John 8:12).
  Aged Simeon was promised by the Lord that he would not die until
he saw Israel’s Messiah. When he saw Yeshua as an infant in the Temple,
he knew that this One was the light of Israel and the Nations. Simeon
declared: “My eye have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in
the presence of all peoples, a light of revelation to the gentiles,
and the glory of Your people Israel” (Luke 2:30-32).
  For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One
who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the
glory of God in the face of Messiah (2 Corinthians 4:6).
  Sixth Candle
After we come to know Messiah, we are to be a source of light for the
world. King Messiah tells us in Matthew 5:14-16:
  You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be
hidden. Nor do men light a lamp, and put it under the peck-measure,
but on the lampstand; and it gives light to all who are in the house.
Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your
good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
  Seventh Candle
The prophet Isaiah speaks of the future glory of a restored Israel in
Isaiah 60:1-3:
  Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord
has risen upon you… And nations will come to your light, and kings to
the brightness of your rising.
  Eighth Candle
Revelation 21:22-27 give us a description of our glorious eternal
dwelling place in the New Jerusalem:
  And I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God, the Almighty, and the
Lamb, are its temple. And the city has no need of the sun or of the
moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its
lamp is the Lamb. And the nations shall walk by its light, and the
kings of the earth shall bring their glory into it. And in the daytime
(for there shall be no night there) its gates shall never be closed;
and they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it;
and nothing unclean and no one who practices abomination and lying,
shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the
Lamb’s book of life.

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