I admit it – I have a bad habit of destroying the Chanukah story for folks this time of year – telling them that the miraculous oil story is just a legend. This legend was developed by the rabbis in an attempt to downplay the real story of Chanukah that centers around the war the Maccabbees waged against the Greeks. The Maccabbees were victorious, regaining the Temple that was captured and defiled by the Greeks. In an attempt to purify the Temple, the Maccabbees “rededicated” (Chanukah means dedication) the holy structure by burning the Menorah (the seven branched candelabra) for eight days. Why eight days? It has nothing to do with oil. It has to do with the fact that the Maccabees, having been forbidden to practice their Judaism while under control of the Greeks, decided to rededicate the Temple for eight days in honor of the last Jewish holiday that they were forbidden to celebrate: Sukkot, which lasts eight days. Complicated, I know. And very war-centered. Can you blame the rabbis for coming up with the oil story!?
If this is all new information for you, I know the look on your face. I have seen it many times. Sorry! But all is not lost!
Now that you know the “truth”, I want to point out that even without the oil, .Chanukah is still a miraculous story.
The Maccabees were a tiny group of Jews who should not have been able to defeat the powerful Greeks. But they did! And because of this miracle, Judaism survived and did not become consumed by Greek culture. This story of miraculous survival repeats itself many times throughout Jewish history. Despite tremendous powers that have raged against us, nothing has stopped the Jewish people. This is a miracle.
As we light the eight lights of Chanukah, I encourage us all to think about the incredible strength, courage and faith of our ancestors who lived through extremely dark times – but did whatever was necessary to keep the flame of Judaism alive. At this the darkest time of year, may the lights of Chanukah not only make our homes brighter, may they also remind us of the true miracle of the Jewish people: darkness cannot extinguish our flame.
This Chanukah – celebrate the real miracle of these eight days – the strength of our people!
May it be a wonderfully bright Chanukah for us all