The History: Hanukkah is an 8-day festival, beginning on the 25th of Kislev and it celebrates the victory of a small band of Jews led by a man named Judah Maccabee (hence the reason it’s often referred to as the Maccabean revolt) who defeated the Greeks attempting to oppress them. The full history of it can be found in the book of Maccabees, but the basics are that the Greek ruler Antiochus Epiphanes outlawed and defiled everything that related to the Torah eating kosher and circumcision were forbidden, the rightful High Priest in the Temple was replaced by one who would foment the Greek agenda and mindset, and finally the temple was completely desecrated when a pig was slaughtered on the altar. Yet in the midst of all this, Yahweh had a remnant willing to fulfill the role of the Hebrew the ones that would stand in opposition against the ways of the enemy. Miraculously, they defeated the Greeks, were able to restore the defiled Temple. However, when it came time to light the Menorah the light representing Yahweh’s eternal light in His house, they found only 1 small cruse of oil that had been undefiled, not enough to keep it burning till more could be made, a process which would take 8 days. Yet the lamp stayed lit! So Hanukkah became an 8-day celebration, the Festival of lights, the Feast of Dedication (which is literally what the word means), celebrating how Yahweh’s light continues to shine no matter how dark the world may get!
Customs of Hanukkah: Some of the customs of Hanukkah include lighting the Hanukkiah, this is different than a regular 7 branched menorah, instead it has 9 branches. The 8 branches for the 8 days and the 9th branch representing the shamash, or the servant candle used to light all others (just like the Messiah was the servant whose light illuminated all of us). It’s interesting to note that the 7 branched Menorah can be seen as representing the 7 feasts of Leviticus 23, yet the hanukkiah and its 9 branches almost seems to represent the 7 feasts as well as Purim and Hanukkah, revealing to us how they all work together to reveal the light of Yahweh.
Another custom is playing dreidel. The classic dreidel is 4 sided with the letters Nun, Gimmel, Hey, and Shin – forming the acronym for “nes gadol hayah sham”, meaning “A great miracle happened there.” This goes back as well to the time before the Maccabean revolt when studying the Torah was outlawed, yet the people would go into the forest to study anyway, but in case a patrol came by they would pull out the spinning tops to disguise their studying. Dreidel did not start out as a children’s game however as it is seen today. Instead, it was used to aid the study and discussion of Torah – the letter that landed on top would determine the topic of the study, tradition even says that the spinning of the dreidel even led to the haftarah portion. When the possession of Torah scrolls was forbidden, the dreidel letters helped remind them of what Torah portion they should be reading, and then they would find sections of the scrolls of the prophets that corresponded, giving us the haftorah section we know today.
*The Rabbi’s teach that the 4 sides represent the 4 exiles of Israel. First in Babylon, then Persia, the Greeks, and finally the Romans. Yet its always the hand from above that spins it and is in control, reminding us that it is the hand of Yahweh that controls the fate of His people.
*The numbers associated with these letters also tell a story for us today. The Nun = 50, Gimmel = 3, Hey = 5, & Shin = 300 – 358, the value of nachash/serpent and Mashiyah/Messiah! This reminds us that we each have a choice, we can either follow the ways of the nachash/serpent or we can choose to serve the Messiah/Mashiyah and shine His light no matter what type of exile or oppression we may be experiencing.
So as we finish out this year’s celebration of Hanukkah, we are reminded that His light should be shining in us and that no matter what nations may begin to oppress us or how intense the fight may get, that it’s the Hand from above that controls our fates, Yahweh is always in control.