Chanukah is a lie.
Or rather that’s what I came away with after a seminar taught at my reform Temple when I was 12. I don’t remember much, I just know that after that class I had the idea that Chanukah wasn’t really an important holiday anymore. That it was just something concocted by the Rabbis to commemorate a war, that the oil lasting 8 days was probably made up, and that it was brought back to prominence to compete with Christmas.
And of course being the skeptical sarcastic teenager that I was, I loved believing it was all a hoax and feeling above some consumerism holiday. So for years after that whenever someone wished me a Happy Chanukah, I just sort of rolled my eyes. But as I’ve found myself reconnecting with my Judaism, I uncovered some amazing treasures the holiday holds. And I have a better understanding of what the Rabbis were really doing. So I’m going to share a few important ideas.
So most people know that the Jews were fighting the Greeks in a war. The Greeks sieged the Temple, defiled it, then we took it back, one jar of oil, 8 days… etc, etc. But what’s a little less well known is that it was also a civil war. Jew vs Jew.
The Greeks were one of the first persecutors that didn’t insist on killing Jews. They were content with them assimilating into their culture. So rather than facing death, many Jews decided to Hellenize. It was this threat, more so than military occupation, that demanded drastic action by Mattathias and the revolt of the Maccabees. Because the war of Chanukah wasn’t just an attack on our lives, it was an attack on our identity. Which is ironic because Chanukah is the most secularized of all the Jewish holidays. I guess God has an affinity for irony.
Above I said Chanukah was just some holiday made up by the Rabbis, but I didn’t realize that Rabbinical holidays are real and important. When we say Torah holiday, we can point to holidays literally outlined in the 5 Books of Moses. There is a unique spiritual energy to tap into only available at that time of year. Passover is freedom, Rosh Hashana is closeness to Hashem, etc.
But a Rabbinic holiday is different. When something happens to the Jewish people that is so big, it changes what it means to be a Jew, that’s when the Rabbis decide there is a need for a commemoration. The biggest Rabbinic holidays are Tisha B’Av (where we lost the Temple), Purim (the first time atheism threatened the Jewish people) and Chanukah (Judaism was threatened by assimilation). There are mitzvahs to observe for Rabbinic holidays and they also connect us to crucial moments in our history. So by no means should someone disregard a Rabbinic holiday as being “not so important.”
Chanukah comes at the darkest time in the year. The days are the shortest, the nights are the coldest. So it is at this time that we light the chanukiah and put it in the window for everyone to see. And with each day a candle increases revealing more and more light to the world. Because Chanukah is about spreading light when the world seems to lack so much of it. So I hope you are having a great holiday. But whether you are or not, make sure you stop to look around at all the lights you may or may not be seeing. Then from that realize you have the ability to bring light into the world and the power to be someone’s else miracle.