On Sunday evening, Israelis and Jews worldwide begin celebrating the Festival of Hanukkah.
For the next eight nights, families will light at least one Hanukkah menorah, “Hanukkiah” in Hebrew. Some place it in the window to share with passersby. Others light a sparkling oil-lamp outside their homes.
The first night, the shamash, or “head candle” lights the first candle (or lamp). Each night, another is kindled until all eight are lit.
On Friday, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin issued a Hanukkah greeting to Israelis and Jews worldwide, admonishing Israel to be “a light unto the nations.”
“Today, hatred, incitement, and terrorism threaten the whole world. In the face of these threats we need to be firm and strong like a rock like Maoz Tzur (Rock of Ages, a traditional Hanukkah song) in our beliefs in freedom, justice, in the values of our tradition and of democracy,” he said. “So this year as we gather with our families and communities and look at the wonderful lights it is my prayer that we will be reminded of the bonds that we all share and the important role we all have of being a light unto the nations.”
If you’re in Israel this coming week, you’ll know it’s Hanukkah.
City streets are decorated and restaurants and businesses all light Hanukkiahs. They’re everywhere. It’s very festive.
Hanukkah retells the story of a small band of Israeli guerilla soldiers, led by Judas Maccabee, who defeated the Syrian Greek army, chased them from the Temple and cleansed the defilement inside and out.
The Syrians had erected a statue of Zeus inside and sacrificed swine on the altar in utter desecration of the Torah and a bona fide anathema to the Jews.
Finally they were ready to rekindle the Temple menorah, but they could only find enough purified oil to last one day. They needed eight days to prepare more so they began the process. Miraculously, the one-day supply lasted eight days. That miracle inspires Hanukkah treats fried in oil, like potato latkes or sufgoniot (donuts).
It’s not hard to see why the ancient victory is still relevant today. It doesn’t take much “reading between the lines” to catch the anti-Israel bias in the media. Ongoing stabbing, shooting and vehicular attacks in Israel are a daily reminder that all’s not well. So Hanukkah’s a joyous holiday, but with a message: Be brave. Take a stand for God. Be willing to fight for what you believe in if it comes to that.
Light in the World
Hanukkah is not the Jewish Christmas. They’re two entirely different holidays, but they have some things in common.
Believers can think and pray about being clean vessels for God’s Spirit to indwell.
And everyone can think about light versus darkness. God is light. His enemy — and the enemy of our souls — is abject darkness though he’s good at disguising himself as an angel of light.
Outside of John 10, the Bible doesn’t say much about Hanukkah. It was during this festival 2,000 years ago in Jerusalem that the Lord tried to tell people about Himself.
“Now it was the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple, in Solomon’s porch.” (John 10:22-23)
This article originally appeared on CBN News, December 4, 2015.