Chanukah celebrates the Jews’ unlikely military victory over a powerful foe and a subsequent miracle involving the rededication of the Holy Temple.
Thousands of years ago, the Jews lived in the Land of Israel, also known as Judea, which was controlled by the Seleucids (a Syrian-Greek people). After Antiochus ascended to the Seleucid throne (sometime around 175 BCE – Before the Common Era), Jews were increasingly under siege: the Temple in Jerusalem was looted and defiled, Jews were killed en masse and Judaism was effectively outlawed. This oppression sparked a large-scale revolt, led by Mattathias, a Jewish priest, and his five sons – Jochanan, Simeon, Eleazar, Jonathan and Judah.
When Mattathias died, Judah assumed leadership of the resistance. His ferocity earned him the nickname of Yehuda HaMakabi – Judah the Maccabee, or Judah “the hammer.” Despite their vastly inferior numbers, Judah and his army soon emerged victorious in their struggle with the Seleucid forces, liberating the Temple and reclaiming their independence.
Judah ordered the Temple to be cleansed and rededicated. However, only a single vessel of olive oil, which was needed for the Temple’s menorah to burn throughout the night, had escaped desecration by the Seleucids. Yet, although there was only enough oil for one night, it miraculously lasted for eight – just in time for fresh, ritually clean oil to be pressed. For this reason, Chanukah is also known as the Festival of Lights.
An eight-day holiday beginning on the 25th of the month of Kislev, Chanukah (“dedication” in Hebrew) celebrates these two events: the Jews’ astonishing victory, and the joyous miracle of the oil.
For Discussion – Our modern-day challenge:
Undaunted by the obstacles before them, the Maccabees stood their ground, raising their voices against persecution and injustice. Inspired by their example, what can we do to speak out against the injustice that still plagues so many communities around the world? Replacing swords with action, how can we take concrete steps to liberate poor and struggling societies from poverty and disease?
How is the story of insufficient oil an apt metaphor for our dedication to promoting social justice – and our own reserves of energy in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds?
Activities for Advocates:
As you gather with friends and family to light your Chanukah candles, symbolically dedicate each one to a different aspect of pursuing global justice (e.g., fighting hunger, promoting health, eradicating poverty). Then identify key steps you can take to bring your goals to fruition.
Plan a community-wide Chanukah party. Charge a small per person entrance fee, and dedicate the proceeds to long-term hunger- and poverty-relief efforts. Use the party as an opportunity to educate attendees about the global issues that need their urgent attention.