I am often accused of changing my ideas about many things; politics, religion, world leaders, war etc. so I’m happy to note, on re-reading one of the ideas that I wrote 18 years ago, that my ideas on the subject of the meaning of Hanukkah, have remained consistent.
Here is an expanded revision of my idea that the festival of Hanukkah was introduced by our sages, of blessed memory as a reminder that Judaism is opposed to war and all the terrible things that go with it.
I wrote my original Hanukkah message, on this subject on the 16th Dec. 1998, on the occasion of President Clinton’s visit to Jerusalem, during which he participated in the ceremony of the lighting of the first Hanukkah candle.
Clinton’s visit of course, was to promote peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
At first glance Hanukkah is not associated with peace. On the contrary, the first thing that comes to mind is the victory of Judah the Maccabee over the Greeks.
On re-consideration, however we notice that our sages relegated the books which recount the history of this great victory, Macabees I and II, to the archives of profane books (better known as the Apocrypha), to be hidden and not read by Jews.
Then on looking up the meaning of the word “Hanukkah” we find that it doesn’t have anything to do with victory. It refers to the rededication of the holy temple in Jerusalem, which had been defiled by the Hellenists (Jews and others who introduced Greek customs into temple worship, such as the offering of a pig on the altar).
The most shocking event of that Hellenist occupation of the temple and Jerusalem, which lasted 6 years, was the extinguishing of the 7 branched candelabra, the Menorah.
The Macabees’ greatest aspiration was to rekindle the 7 branched candelabra (Menorah), which God commanded to be kindled day and night in the temple. They had fought for the right to carry out this holy act. But the very act of fighting and killing precluded them from carrying out their aspiration.
The laws pertaining to the menorah required that only pure olive oil could be used, namely olive oil that had been made by people with pure hearts, namely by people who didn’t have blood on their hands or in their thoughts.
The Macabbees couldn’t make pure olive oil because they had blood on their hands, putting them in the category of unclean people, who were forbidden to enter the temple or to make oil for the lighting of the menorah.
Jewish law required them to wait 7 days and on the 8th day to purify themselves.
This meant a great disappointment in not being able to re-kindle the menorah for 8 days. A further delay of 8 days, during which the spirit of God, symbolized by the menorah, left the world in darkness. (the temple symbolized the world)
Our sages come to the rescue, revealing that a vial of olive oil, with the seal of the high priest, showing that it was pure olive oil (made my people who had been in a state of purity, from a time prior to the Hellenist occupation of the temple) was found.
This naturally brought great joy to the nation and, even though the oil was enough for the menorah to be kindlend for only one day, they re-kindled the menorah and celebrated the re-dedication of the temple.
Our sages emphasize that the celebration was not for the military victory of the Macabees but for the re-dedication of the temple worship.
We can imagine the joy and surprise when the next day the menorah was still burning and the next and the next and so on for another 7 days.
Our sages explain that God had made a miracle and we are bound to rejoice in gratitude for God’s miracle every year since then by kindling the 8 branched candelabra, in memory of the oil which was meant to burn for only one day burnt for 8 days and allowed the nation time to purify itself.
The whole point of the lighting of the 8 lights of Hanukkah is a reminder that the menorah, the 7 branched candelabra may only be kindled by people who don't have blood on their hands.
Wishing you all pure thoughts, untainted by any desire for war and thereby hasten the day of the coming of the Messiah and the rebuilding of the temple. It will not take place through war. That only delays the wonderful event.