The Meaning of Hanukkah

What is Hanukkah about? Not sure? Well neither were the rabbis. In Babylonian Talmud Tractate Shabbat 21b, the rabbis say “What is Hanukkah?” The answer they give is that a jar was found with only enough oil to last one day, yet it lasted for eight days. However, the Book of Maccabees gives a different account-that Hanukkah is about the Maccabees’ improbable victory over the Syrian Greek army, a victory of our ancestors against their foes who wanted them to assimilate into Greek society.

I prefer a third interpretation, connected to Hanukkah’s Hebrew meaning-dedication. Hanukkah was about the re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem from being a Greek pagan shrine to a place of Jewish worship. The Temple was the holiest Jewish site so its dedication (and the lighting of the Temple Menorah) was of paramount importance.

Since the holiday of Sukkot (the greatest holiday during rabbinic times) had recently passed by, Hanukkah was a delayed celebration of that festival. Now of course Hanukkah and Sukkot serve different purposes: one focuses on the culmination of the fall harvest; the other on standing up for what we believe in and finding light during the darkest moments of the year.

As Hanukkah approaches, I would like us to ask what we want to dedicate ourselves to doing over the course of the coming year. I hope that our dedication to our beliefs and for our causes is as strong as the Maccabees’ dedication to their faith. I wish everyone a Happy, Healthy and Joyous Hanukkah.

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