See first night Hanukkah candle-lighting at Ma'arat HaMachpela in Hebron
Tonight the Festival of Lights will be upon us. Hanukkah is an unusually joyous holiday, allowing us eight full days of extra added illumination.
Hanukkah’s celebration centers around one word, that being miracle. It could well be coined the festival of miracles. What miracles? Two particular unnatural events occurred. The Greek invasion and conquest of Israel led to Hellenization of the Jewish population, and the desecration of the Temple, which was transformed into a place to worship Zeus.
When liberated during the Maccabean Wars against the Greek pagans, the Jews discovered that the canisters of pure olive oil, used to light the holy Menorah, had been tainted, were impure and not fit for use. Only a single can of pure oil was found, enough for one day’s use. As is known, that oil lasted for eight days.
The question is then asked, if Hanukkah is a remembrance for that event, it should be only seven days, as the miracle of the oil was only seven days. One of the most frequently given answers to this question is that the eighth day commemorated the second miracle, that being the victory over the Greeks. They were the superpower of their day, and their army was second to none. Their decision to fight, to take on the strongest empire in the world, cannot be ignored.
That fact that a small group of people could awaken the souls of their Jewish brethren and then defeat the Greek empire was surely nothing less than a Divine miracle.
And for these two miracles, we celebrate Hannukah.
However, I might add, there are others hidden within those phenomenon. For example, that fact that even one small oil tin was discovered, that too was a miracle. And also, the fact that the Maccabees themselves did not lose their identity within the Hellenistic culture, which admired more the body than the soul, was too wondrous. And the fact that they brought their people back to Judaism, away from Hellenism, that too must be celebrated.
The headline of Hanukkah’s nightly candle-lighting ceremony is, in Hebrew, ‘persumie nisa’ that is, publicizing the miracle, making sure as many people know about it as possible. For that reason, when feasible, the Hanukkah menorah is light adjacent to the doorpost of a house, or courtyard, thereby advertising, to all who pass by, the miracles of Hannukah.
But there’s more to it. We have to promote the miracle to others, but first we must internalize it ourselves. First we must recognize the marvels which have taken place, and then send them on to others. For even a person, alone in his house, must light the Menorah, even if no one else will see it. He, or she will see it. And that alone, should fill them with faith.
These days we need a lot of faith. And we have much faith, for without Divine protection and assistance, we certainly would not be here today. Our being in Israel, and in Hebron, is most definitely a miracle.
Hanukkah is a holiday of light, a holiday of faith. A little light goes a long long way. A little light dispels much darkness. One tin of oil has provided us light for over two thousand years. One small candle is not only a reminiscence of that light; it is that very light. It appears every year, at this very time, as we recite nightly, ‘in those days, at this time.’
In honor of Hanukkah, I’ve decided to make available over 500 articles I’ve authored since 1995. Named “The Hebron Chronicles, ”they tell numerous stories, and shed much light on our presence in Hebron and in Israel.
Happy Festival of Lights.