Monday, December 19, 2011

Chanukkah Insights

Chanukkah 2010 / 5771 in Jerusalem's Nachlaot neighbourhood 

Photos: Miriam Woelke

Tuesday night, Dec. 20, or 25th Kislev, is already the first night of Chanukkah. Chanukkah lasts for eight days and is the only holiday where the event took actually place in Israel. Especially in Jerusalem and in the Beit HaMikdash. It is a rabbinic holiday stipulated by the Sanhedrin. For the first time, Chanukkah was already celebrated one year after the Greeks were thrown out of the Temple.

Chanukkah is a Jewish holiday although other religions such as Christianity like to steal Jewish holidays and claim them as their own. The Chashmonaim (Maccabim) were Cohanim and fought against idol worship in Israel. They fought for Judaism and the Jewish people and if they knew today how other religions use their ideas for their own selfish purposes, the Chashmonaim would turn around in their graves. Xmas and Chanukkah have nothing whatsoever in common and whoever tries to connect them kicks the ideals of the Chashmonaim with his feet.

I am not mentioning the whole Chanukkah - history but I would like to give some insights instead. 

The goal of the Greek - Syrian occupation was to destroy the Jewish religion. Studying Torah, keeping Shabbat and Brit Milah (circumcision) was forbidden according to the law. In 165 B.C.E., the Chashmonaim won the war against the Greek idol worshipers and brought back the spirituality to the Jewish people. The Greeks concentrated on materialism and the beauty of the body whereas the Jews wanted to keep their religion. It was not only a physical war but also a spiritual. The Neshama fought against materialism. 

The real miracle of Chanukkah is not the military actions of the Maccabim but the burning of the Menorah for eight days (see Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heshel of Apta in his book "Ohev Israel", the Sefat Emet and many others). After the Maccabim re - conquered the Temple, they only found one tiny bottle of kosher olive oil which hadn't been used for idol worship. With this amount, the Menorah was only to burn for one day but miracoulesly the oil lasted for eight days. In that time, the Jews were able to produce more kosher olive oil. 

In Kabbalah and Chassidut, the eight days of Chanukkah and the miracle are timeless. For G - d, time does not exist because He is infinite. Time only exists for us and is implanted in our DNA. The upper (higher) spiritual worlds of G - d do not know time. There, past, present and future coexist and all three times happen together. Therefore, Chanukkah is timeless.

But why miracle ? What exactly is a miracle ?

For us a miracle is always something supernatural. Something is happening against nature and we are unable to explain it with our human understanding. We have no logical explanation for it. But not everything which seems to be a miracle is really a miracle. G - d is always able to change nature and at the time of the Chashmonaim He did. Thus, the Temple Menorah burnt for eight days instead of one. 

Chassidut sees the Chanukkah candles as Jewish Neshamot (souls). The light itself is considered to be the "Or HaGanuz - the Hidden Light" which G - d created on the very first day of Creation. This hidden light will only be back in the time of Meschiach (see Bnei Yissachar and others). The eight days are a spiritual journey of body and soul. Food, candles and the history represent body and meditation; joy, warmth and light represent the soul. 

The light of Chanukkah has the power to reach every single Jew, no matter how far he is from his Jewish roots. His soul (Neshama) still contains the spark which enables him to connect directly to G - d (Rabbi Shmuel Bozorowsky, the present Admor of Chassidut Slonim in Jerusalem). This spark always remains with a Jew, even after his death. At the time of the resurrection, the spark will come to life again (Bnei Yissachar). 

The Sefat Emet (one of the previous Rebbes of Chassidut Gur) considers each Chanukkah as a spiritual renewal. Especially for the Jews in the Diaspora. The Chanukkah light reminds them of their Jewish identity and, at the same time, of the difficulties of living in the Diaspora. The war of the Maccabim shows us that we should never give up hope because we Jews have the spiritual power to change everything. G - d can change nature any time and bring us the Ge'ulah. 

Have a great and spiritual Chanukkah wherever you are - Chanukkah Sameach !


  1. It is true there is absolutely no connection between Christmas and Hanuka and no one Jewish or Christmas ever claimed otherwise. The two holidays happen to fall in the same month. Isn't falsely accusing others of "stealing" lashon hara?
    Anthropologically speaking many cultures have winter holidays falling around the time of the shortest day of the year. The pagans who were here longer than anyone else were the first to have winter holidays.

  2. B"H

    I don't see Chanukkah as a winter holiday but it does represent something else. Furthermore, the battle between the Greeks and Chasmonaim as well as the miracle with the oil took place at a certain time in the month of Kislev. Should Jews therefore switch Chanukkah to another date in order not to fall into the pagan "winter holiday category" ?

    What seems rather strange is that more and more Christians are getting excited about this holiday although it is an exclusively Jewish holiday.

    When you say "Lashon HaRah", are you accusing me ? I don't think that it has anything to do with Lashon HaRah mentioning the fact that Christians have been starting to make up their on "Chanukkah". :-) On the contrary.