What is the Essence of Hannuka?


hanuka, chanuka, hanukkah


Search our Archives:

» Home
» History
» Holidays
» Humor
» Places
» Thought
» Opinion & Society
» Writings
» Customs
» Misc.

What is Chanukah?

By Menachem Mendelsohn

The sages of the Talmud asked, “What is Chanukah?” and immediately they answered their own question:

    When the Greeks entered the Holy Temple they defiled all of the oils that they found there.  But when the House of the Hasmoneans grew strong and defeated them, they found one vial of pure undefiled oil that had the seal of the high priest. There was just enough oil in it for only one day, but it burnt for eight days. The following year, the eight days of Chanukah were fixed as days of rejoicing and thanksgiving together with the lighting of the candles.

When the sages asked “what is Chanukah”, we must understand exactly what it was that they were asking? They knew well the history of the events and of the long and difficult war. What they wanted us to know the real meaning of Chanukah – the deep inner meaning of what happened. Many believed (and still believe) that Chanukah was a celebration of the war against the Greeks, a victory of the small against the mighty, the down trodden against the oppressor. But the sages wanted to tell us that that was not the inner meaning of Chanukah. The war victory was important, but that was not what they wanted to emphasize. Although a war was fought against a mighty and vicious enemy, and many good Jews lost their lives, and the victory was something beyond that of a natural victory, still, the emphasis of the sages was on the candles.


Candles are the light for the world. In ancient time it was the electric light bulb of today. Similarly, we Jews are the light for the world. A good light must be pure; a impure oil gives a poor light. To use the defiled oil would not have fit the occasion and a true miracle was made that we found that vial of pure oil, and even more so, it burnt not the single night that it was intended to burn, but for eight times the normal length! This was to signal to all, that indeed, a true miracle, one that could not be denied, was occurring.

The light had to be pure and holy just like the light that Israel gives over to the nations must be pure and undefiled. Judaism is different from the rest of the world’s beliefs and ‘isms. It is Judaism that illuminates the world as to moral and ethical values.

When so many people today are trying to change Judaism that it should ‘reflect’ the modern mores of the time, they are missing the point. Judaism has no need to change. The fact that the way of living in secular society is constantly changing, why should Judaism have to change to reflect this change? This was the mistake of the Hellenists, they were the Jews who wished to live with ‘modern’ Greek values. Greece was the super-power of that time and many Jews were willing to exchange their Jewish values for the ‘modern’ Greek values.

Judaism is pure to itself; it does not seek converts. Yet it attracts only those who are willing to accept truth and are repulsed by evil and lies. We Jews have lived in Christian and Moslem lands; we have seen the evils that their religions have tried to perpetrate upon us. Only with thanks to G-d were we able to live past their evil and wicked leaders and officials.

In ancient Israel, during the time of the Greeks, the Greek culture found many adherents in the local Jewish population. They boasted how great it was to abandon the faith of their fathers and to become a Hellenist. Yet their hour of grandeur was short in the scale of history and in the end they were killed by the Hasmoneans. Certainly we do not advocate such a path today, but still we loath seeing Jews taking on the life-style of the current decadent society in which they live. Even worse is when they believe that Judaism must change to reflect the perverted values of these very societies.

Judaism has no need to change. Judaism is the light not only for the Jews, but also for the nations of the world. Just because some one feels that the ‘modern world’ is so ‘in’, therefore he feels that Judaism should change to reflect the modern valueless society. He is wrong. The eternal values of Judaism need not to change - just the opposite, to change Judaism would be a disaster for not only the Jews but for the rest of the world.

The message of Chanukah is clear. The great nations and societies of the world come and go, their philosophies and values come with them, rise to great heights and then die with them. Only Judaism is eternal and possesses the eternal truth – like the little pure light of the Chanukah menorah. A little pure light can dispel much of the darkness that abounds in the world, but it must be pure light, not adulterated.

* * * * *

For more on Chanukah, see our Archives


from the December 2008 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

Please let us know if you see something unsavory on the Google Ads and we will have them removed. Email us with the offensive URL (www.something.com)