Every year on the 25th day of Kislev, Jewish people around the world celebrate the holiday of Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights. In homes all across the world, families light menorahs! These special candelabras are significant for the celebration of Hanukkah because it was through a menorah a great miracle was revealed.
The Time of Antiochus IV Epiphanes
In 174, the Greco-Syrian ruler, Antiochus IV Epiphanes claimed Judea as part of his kingdom. Under Antiochus, Jerusalem was sacked and many Jewish men, women and children were slaughtered. Antiochus suppressed all forms of Jewish faith and over time tried to replace Jewish practices and worship with Greek idolatry. He forbade many customs and practices, including observation of the Sabbath. Eventually, he claimed the Holy Temple and forced Jewish leaders to make sacrifices to Greek Gods.
Antiochus’ actions did not go unchallenged. Small bands of faithful Jews resisted the mad King. Eventually, Judah Maccabee, the son of a rural rabbi, lead a band of rebels against the great Greco-Syrian army. After many years and many battles, Judah Maccabee and his followers forced Antiochus’ armies out of Jerusalem.
On reclaiming Jerusalem, the people of Judea also reclaimed the Holy Temple.
After having been desecrated by Greek idols, the Temple needed purification and rededication. On the 25th day of Kislev, the Temple had been cleaned and leaders sought to light the Temple Menorah, known as the N’er Tamid. Lighting the N’er Tamid was necessary to reignite the eternal light, a symbol of God’s eternal presence; however, when the time came to light the N’er Tamid, only a tiny jug of pure oil was found.
And this one jug had only enough oil for a single day. In an act of faith, the Temple Menorah was filled and lit. But, instead of the light burning for one day, it shone brightly for eight.
8 Days Hanukkah
In remembrance of this miracle, Hanukkah is observed for eight days. A special menorah, with eight candles and a shamesh, is lit in honor of the special miracle. There are eight candles for each day of the miracle. And, for Hanukkah, the rededication, Jewish families gather to remember and rejoice.
The celebration of Hanukkah commemorates so much more than historical happenings. The Festival of Lights marks more than the victory over Antiochus’ armies and the rededication of the Jerusalem Temple. Hanukkah recalls the miracle of the eternal light and of a grand menorah.
For more information about the significance of the menorah in Jewish faith and specifically regarding Hanukkah, check out the following websites: