The Spirit of Chanukah Present and Past

12/18/22 – 12/26/22

Chanukah חנוכה means “dedication.” The holiday of Chanukah is called “The Festival of Lights.” “The “Miracle of the Oil” is a beloved and cherished Chanukah story worldwide.

At nightfall, we light a candle on each of the eight days of Chanukah from the shamash (helper candle), which sits slightly higher up or offset from the rest.

Talmud VS Siddur (Prayer Book)

The Talmud and the Siddur (Jewish prayer book), each place a different emphasis on Chanukah. The Talmud references the miracle of the oil, not the physical battle that took place.

After the Maccabees reclaimed the Temple that had been desecrated by the Greco-Syrian army, they wanted to light the Temple Menorah, but only found enough purified olive oil in a small jar to keep the Temple Menorah alight for one day. It is said the oil burned much slower than usual, allowing one day’s worth of oil to light up the Temple Menorah for eight days.

In the eight days, they had time to prepare a new batch of purified olive oil, so that the Temple Menorah would continue to blaze brightly after religious oppression had extinguished the light.

The Talmudic rabbis made an excutive decision to focus on the miracle of the oil rather than the victory of the fight.

The Siddur, on the other hand, only mentions the victory over the Greco-Syrian army, when a small band of Hasmonean freedom fighters, led by Judah Maccabee, beat a large battle-savvy army of Greco-Syrian soldiers with superior weaponry, led by King Antiochus. Not only were the Maccabees outnumbered, they also prayed and fasted before engaging in battle, leaving them in a physically weakened state.

Fasting is a traditional way to connect with Divine Grace in many religions, and Judah Maccabee, son of a High Priest, was pious in his belief.

So what does it mean, when two books that are sacred to Judaism, each put a different emphasis on the holiday of Chanukah? Does the Talmudic focus mean the miracle of the oil was more important than the Siddur focus on the victorious battle, or vice versa?

Nope. Both parts are important. All parts of the story complete the whole.

Giving and Receiving

Kabbalah describes the world as two opposite, yet interconnected forces — the force that gives and the force that receives. In Jewish mysticism, everything is a manifestation of the perpetual variations between giving and receiving that occur constantly in nature, in relationships and in daily life.

The story of Chanukah is about giving and receiving. We received victory in a battle where we were outnumbered by a well-oiled (pun) war machine and we were given the miracle of the oil to re-kindle our spiritual light. The Jewish mystics saw the restoration of the Temple as symbolic of the restoration of our souls (neshamot), the holy Temple of our being.

When we light the candles on the Hanukiah (Chanukah menorah) from the shamash (helper) candle, the shamash gives and the other candles receive the light. One flame kindles the others without diminishing itself. It works the same way with people.

Spiritual Light VS The Victory of the Fight

The soul of a human is the candle of God.

Proverbs 29:27

The innermost sanctum of your being is the flame that illuminates the Divine. Sometimes we have to protect our flame from being extinguished by the candle-snuffers we encounter in life.

We all fight battles in our lives. Like the Maccabees, many of us have had the odds stacked up against us. Yet beyond our battle-scarred victories, we also need spiritual oil to sooth our souls and keep our struggling spark of hope alight.

In Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism), the purpose of all holidays (holy days) is for us to commune with the Divine Light. The amount of spiritual Light which is revealed by our actions depends on our understanding of the dynamic between action and Divine Light. For this reason, the Jewish mystics said we are to stay by the candles for at least 30 minutes after lighting and set the Chanukah menorah in the window to share the Light with the world outside.

A little bit of light dispels a great deal of darkness.

Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812)

The Chanukah story encompasses mind, body and sprit. All parts of the Chanukah story complete the whole that is more than the sum of its parts.

Happy Chanukah and Merry Christmas to all and to all a good light.

© 2022 All Rights Reserved


11 thoughts on “The Spirit of Chanukah Present and Past

  1. great commentary. This reminds me of ,yin and yang, balance, and that it is better to light a candle than curse the darkness. Light is very symbolic here. My favorite concept is mind , body and spirit. Man cannot live by ritual alone.

    • 🤩 Very nice commentary, Shaina. Thank you. I also like the “better to light a candle” quote you mentioned. Another one I like is, “Some will see your flame and try to blow it out, others will approach with a candle.”

      “Man cannot live by ritual alone.” Amein.

  2. HI , Happy Hanukah! This page didn’t open up.  By the way, there is a little paperback called Shmooze by Nechemia Coopersmith that you might want to check out on Amazon. I have a copy of it and it deals with questions, ethical, moral within Judaism and is very easy to read. Irene

  3. Very good post! I had not thought about the two separate parts of Chanukah in that way. I definitely agree that we have two separate parts to our nature, the physical and spiritual. I believe completely that our spiritual side keeps us going against overwhelming odds. We need the constant refreshing of our spiritual side as much as our physical side to keep us going no matter the obstacles we face in life! I, personally, have faced many difficult battles in my life including battles similar to the Chanukah story, and even when physically taxed beyond normal endurance, was able to draw on the spiritual side to keep going. Great post to remind us of the importance of taking care of both sides of our being!

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