Why Hanukkah?

The Feast of the Dedication, the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah starts tomorrow night! With a number of friends who don't observe things quite like we do, and with some family, co-workers, and neighbors who remain rather unconvinced, the Hanukkah question is on many lips each year. I never tire of answering it, however, as my love and appreciation for this joyous holiday deepens as time goes on. I have many reasons for this sentiment, too - some of them spiritual, others personal. It's usually the spiritual ones that I end up sharing with my believing (or unbelieving) loved ones, though.

It often disturbs others to learn that Yeshua, too, must have loved Hanukkah. In John 10:22, we find Him in the Temple for the Feast of the Dedication - which is interesting as Hanukkah is not one of the biblical holy days Israel was commanded to observe. Yeshua's presence there indicates that He adhered to the cultural traditions of Judaism, as well as the biblical ones. Still, this lone, New Covenant passage is not convincing enough for most, no matter how enthusiastically I expound on it, and that's when a deeper perspective is offered - one of dedication, transformation and grace.

Many outside of Judaism and Jewish tradition are unfamiliar with the events that Hanukkah commemorates. They know it's eight nights long. They've seen a hanukiah, dreidel, an Adam Sandler movie, but that about sums it up. A deeper look affords us a meaningful, potentially life-changing story where many only see what they think to be the "Jewish substitute for Christmas". In fact, the events that we celebrate at Hanukkah happened long (almost six hundred years) before the official beginning of "Christ's Mass" (which was instituted nearly four hundred years after the Ascension of Yeshua). More stunning still, if it wasn't for the Maccabean Revolt, there wouldn't even be a "Christmas" today - but I'm getting ahead of myself.

In the Second Century BCE, after years of Hellenistic oppression and influence over Judea, the Seleucid Greeks under Antiocus Epiphanes, commandeered the Jewish Temple, routed out the Jews, and basically made the observance of Judaism and possession of Torah illegal. It wasn't until a Jew named Mattithias killed a Hellenistic Jew (who attempted to present an offering to Greek idols in Mattithias' stead) that the tables began to turn. Mattithias (and his five sons) fled into the wilderness - where he would die shortly thereafter. His sons, however, became the Makabim (hammers), a vigilante band of guerrilla warriors that repeatedly staged small scale incursions against Hellenistic Jews, and eventually, against the Greek Army, itself. It wasn't an overnight victory, but Yehudah Maccabee and his brothers never relented. Eventually, they regained control of the Temple, and immediately set about cleansing it and re-instituting the ritual practices that had been all but erased. That's a terrifically bloody start to a holiday called the "Festival of Lights", isn't it? Well, there's also something about oil.

The Talmud tells us that, upon entering the Temple, the Makabim found only one container of oil that hadn't been tainted by the Greeks. It was the only one still bearing the signet seal of the High Priest. This was a tragedy. It wasn't enough oil to light the lamps for the amount of time it would take to cleanse the entire Temple. But through a miracle of G-d, the oil within that single vessel illuminated the Temple for eight nights, providing enough light for all of the cleaning efforts, as well as for more oil to be produced. Incidentally, this is where the four Hebrew letters on the dreidel (A Miracle Happened There, Here, if you're in Israel) come from. So what could this miracle possibly mean to us today?

The spiritual application here is all about the Temple and the Oil - the Battle and the Dedication. Our bodies, more specifically our hearts and minds, are the Temple. G-d desires to transform our heart and be enthroned there. This is the sanctuary from which we worship Him. The perspectives of the world, however, the ever-present Greek ideas of vain philosophy, reason, and anti-Torah persuasions are encamped just outside and constantly assaulting the Temple - vying desperately to overthrow the High Priest who resides there. They're armed with humanistic effigies and myriad false gods. Eventually, over time, we grow tired and our defenses weaken, allowing these marauding entities to succeed in their dark endeavor.

It takes a relentless campaign from a small Hebrew Army (or still small voice, perhaps) to work its way back in and begin to do battle with these harmful influences. Spending time in the Word, in prayer, with believing loved ones who will edify us, will cause the tables to be turned. Yet, once we feel as though things are getting back on track, there can still exist vestiges of harmful ideas, past offenses, sinful thoughts - tainted oil - strewn about our sanctuary. Oil is symbolic of the Spirit. It separates itself from other fluids, and in a sense, is holy. But if its composition is tainted, its properties are compromised. If it contains debris, it may not rise to the top. If it's watered down, it may no longer fuel a flame. There isn't enough of ourselves to bring redemption. That's when the miracle is seen. That is where the grace of G-d illuminates the entire room.

How many times have you felt persuaded to "re-dedicate" your life to G-d? We are not capable of cleansing ourselves, no matter what we do. It will always take an act of G-d, a miracle, His Yeshua - for the lasting cleansing and true dedication to take place. Because He loves us so much, His unseen Spirit will produce the remaining seven days of oil, and fuel the light we will need. He will cleanse the Temple Himself, alongside us. He will prepare His seat before He sits.

The next time you think of Hanukkah, please remember this perspective. Ponder your place within it. Realize that if the Temple had completely fallen and the Jews had disappeared entirely from Judea centuries before Yeshua, He wouldn't have been there, either. Consider the gravity of the many events in Jewish History that have shaped your faith and world today. Lastly, contemplate whether you've made your sanctuary a place of worship for priests or a home for idol worshipers. No one enjoys pondering such things, but stifling the hand of G-d will only bring sadness and destruction to our lives. The ways of this world are intruders in our Temple and the ideas of man are contrary to the ways of HaShem. Meditations on Torah and mitzvot are hammers, but the miraculous oil and the light it provides belong to G-d alone.

I wish a very Happy Hanukkah to you and yours, dear readers!


  1. The more I learn each year about this blessed holiday the more I appreciate it. I don't tend to put too much significance in numbers as I think a lot of the numerology study is a distraction from what's really important. But I do think it's interesting that there are seven biblical feasts not including the feast of dedication. And that the feast of dedication is the eighth feast observed in the calendar year. Eight is such a significant number, new beginnings, rest and all that. And it gets so much more interesting when you think of the Hebrew letter Ches and the bridge and the Shamash and all the rest of the wonderful symbolism. But I digress as I may be spoiling a future post. Much love to you and your family this Hannukah.

  2. No, you're no spoiling anything, Brother. By all means, carry on. :^)

    Thanks so much, Dave - & the same to you and your family!

  3. Thanks. Very informative and timely. Perhaps coffee we can discuss more?

  4. That would be great, Mike. Anytime. Let me know.

  5. Awesome Luke! Enjoyed every word!
    Chag Sameach!

  6. And to you, Kris. I really appreciate the kind words. May your Temple be brightly lit!

  7. Thanks so much, Gev! Means a lot. Hag Hanukkah Sameach to you & yours.

  8. i came here through facebook out of a curiousity about hannukah. I wasn't expecting to be impacted this way... especially the part about rededicating my life to God is true...
    alls I can say is thanks for the information and for giving me something to think about. sc

  9. What's interesting, according to most rabbinic commentators, is that it wasn't the Kohen Gadol's habit to seal the oil used for the menorah with his seal...
    It is also understood that the menorah is symbolic of the Oral Torah while the Tablets, of course, are for the Written Torah. Oil is symbolic of wisdom, and oil in the menorah represent new insights and wisdom into Torah that illuminate the world...
    Just things to meditate on :) Great post Luke, as usual!

  10. Hey Luke, here are some more insights and biblical allusions to Hanukkah I found:

    1)In Parashat Emor (Lev 21-24) the Torah discusses all the festivals that are to occur throughout the year. Whats neat is that right after the discussion on Sukkot, the mitzvah of maintaining the Eternal Light in the Temple with pure olive oil is given. The Sages discuss the proximity of the passages and conclude that the Torah was anticipating a future time when kindling the Menorah would become an annual festival directly following Sukkot. And Hanukkah follows Sukkot!

    2)The 25th of Kislev is Hanukkah. The 25th word of the Torah scroll is "or" [light]. The 25th place of Israelite encampment in the desert was "Chashmonah" [Hasmonean].

    3)Midrash Shemot Rabbah 36:1 says that Israel may be compared to olive oil and when oil is mixed with other liquids, it keeps separate. So when the Jewish people keep HASHEM's will, they will stand separate from every other group. Kindling the Menorah this way commemorates the separateness that has kept Israel immortal (Bnai Yisas'char).

    4)Israel said to the Holy One, Blessed is He:"You are the light of the world and You ask us to kindle a light before You?" G-d answered, "Not because I require your light but in order to elevate you before the nations who will then exclaim, 'Israel is lighting before Him Who provides light for all!" (Shemot Rabbah 36:2, Cf. Shabbat 22b). Reminds me and reinforces what our Great Rebbe told us about being a light to the world.

    1. Swanny, you officially blew my mind, Sir - and already had me at number 1. Thank you so much for these gems. Awesome, awesome stuff. Not too much I can add, though, which is probably for the best. When are you going to start your own blog, man? :^D