Troubles with the Syrians
Chanukah is our festival of light, with eight lights. This feast was the result of a victory after a period of great tribulation. The Syrian Hellenistic enemy tried to destroy Israel completely. In a gigantic spiritual battle for power, in which the Lord always wins, but sometimes a lot of blood flows, the Syrian Hellenistic armies were finally defeated. The troubles with the Syrians will probably never end, but they did then for a period of time. How did it all start? In 323 BCE Alexander the Great died. At that moment he had conquered the entire Near East. His successors divided the empire. Already in those days the regimes in Egypt and Syria were deeply divided over the question to whom belonged the supremacy over the little nation of Israel. This time Syria won the fight. And after that king Antiochus IV Epiphanes (also: Epimanes, the crazy one) erected a statue of the god Zeus Kirios – with the face of the king himself! – in the Temple in Jerusalem. He prohibited to keep the Shabbat, to teach Torah and to circumcise the male children, in an attempt to strengthen his position against the Ptolemy rulers in Egypt. He did not allow differences of religion to exist between the different people groups in his empire. This of course was far too much for the Jews. He even ordered a swine to be sacrificed on the altar of the Temple. In 168 BCE a massive revolt started, which was led by the priestly family of the Maccabees.
The Maccabees come to the rescue
This Maccabi family killed a number of Syrian soldiers and then fled to the mountains. They were followed by thousands of Jews. This started a war that lasted three years against the rising tide of Hellenism (the Greek “civilization”) and its pagan and occult practices. They fought a number of battles against an invincible army, and they won in the year 165 BCE. The word Maccabi is an acrostic, a name composed of the first characters of the sentence, Mi Chamocha BaElim Adonai, which means: Who is like You, o Lord, among the gods? (Exodus 15:11). According to a certain tradition the word Maccabi was the war-cry of the Jewish patriots that were in war with the Syrian Hellenistic soldiers in the year 165 BCE. According to another tradition the word Maccabi means: hammer; it is derived from the root makav. Makèvet means hammer. And Yehudah, the leader of the revolt against the Syrians, was given this name because of his enormous strength and power.
Again light in the Temple
In 165 BCE the Hasmoneans conquered the Temple from the Syrian Hellenistic army. Immediately they started to restore the altar. The army of the enemy, like all enemies of Israel, had desecrated the Temple and especially the oil for the Menorah, the seven armed candelabrum. And this brought Israel in a great need. But one jar of oil was found with the unbroken seal of the High Priest. The Talmud tells us in Shabbat 21 B that the content of the jar was sufficient for one day. In faith the Menorah was lit and a miracle happened: the lights continued to burn for eight days. So the Eternal One compensated for what had been demolished by the enemies of Israel! Another story relates that when the sons of Mattathias, who had defeated the Syrian army, entered the Temple they found eight iron spears. They pushed the spears in the ground and placed a light on top of each spear. In Israel you can find homes where outside, next to the door, a Chanukah lamp hangs, sometimes next to the Mezuzah. This is a sign of respect for the Jewish orthodox tradition that you should show your light to others.
How we celebrate Chanukah
Yeshua celebrated this festival and that is already sufficient reason for us as His followers to do likewise. In the first letter of John it says that those who know Him and continue to be in union with Him, shall obey His commandments and shall conduct their life the way He did. (1 John 2:3-6). How do you celebrate this feast, is a practical question. Besides eating tasteful Chanukah delicacies, like latkes and sufganiot – fried in oil, symbol of the miracle! -, and besides Chanukah apple fritter, we light the candles. For this we make use of a Chanukiah, a candle stick with eight (plus one) arms. Eight tea lights on a row will do, if you have nothing else. Olive oil can be used since it is a product that is so closely connected with the land of Israel. This of course is also the fuel that was originally used. Between brackets, it is not permitted to have a seven armed chandelier in your home, because this, as a picture of the Menorah in the Temple, is too holy to be kept in your home. On erev Chanukah we light the first candle.
How do we light the candles?
The Chanukiah should be visible from outside your home. The first candle is the candle on the utmost right side. Once it is lit you keep it burning till it is totally consumed. The next evening you place two candles beside each other on the candle stick starting on the far right side. When you light the two candles, you start with the new one, which stands on the left of the candle at the far right side. Every evening another candle is added. You always place the first candle on the far right side and the next one beside it, and the next one beside that one, etc. But you always start lighting the candles from the left side. The reason for this is that the miracle became greater every day. You light the candles with another candle, number nine, the Shammash, the servant. When we realize that Yeshua is the Light of the world, and that He came, not to be served, but to serve (see Mark 10:45), then the symbol of the Shammash is even more special. Every evening He gives more light. Also the song Maoz Tzur (My powerful steadfast Help) is sung every evening. This sung is from somewhere between the 11th and the 13th century and is written by Mordechai ben-Yitzchak. The first characters of the first five verses form the name Mordechai. The last verse is from a later period. This song exalts the Eternal One as the Deliverer of Israel. Happy Chanukah!
Lion S. Erwteman