Not all miracles in Jewish history get holidays unto themselves. What was so special about Hanukkah that it became something to celebrate every year?
It celebrates the rededication of the Holy Temple (in this case specifically the Second Temple), which stood on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem from 536 BCE to 70 CE. (The First Temple stood from 1006-586 BCE, roughly.)
As the story goes, during the Second Temple Period, the Greeks had gained control over Eretz Yisrael, enacting harsh decrees that were aimed at destroying the Jewish people. Their decrees were directed at those activities that helped shape Jewish identity.
Furthermore, they defiled the Holy Temple by erecting idols within its holy boundaries. In response to the Greek oppression, the Chashmonaim rose up and miraculously defeated the Greek army, they then purified and rededicated the Temple. One undefiled crucible of oil which would light the menorah for only one day was found … but it miraculously lasted for eight days. Hence we light our menorah for eight nights and days.
End of story, right? Not so fast.
Hanukkah is closely related to “chinuch” (education) both grammatically and literally (e.g., the dreidel itself was used to both educate and protect Jews by fooling the Greek soldiers into thinking they were playing games, when in fact they were learning Torah in violation of the Greek decree prohibiting it).
Grammatically, “chinuch” is related to the Hebrew word “hatchala,” which means “beginning.” Through tracing this grammatical relationship we reveal the deepest lesson of Hanukkah, which is that it educates us to always be ready and courageous to begin again!
There are many times in life where we must begin again. Especially now with all of the challenges we are facing, we need to hear this message: Each day is in a deep way a call to begin again.
Hanukkah (through its rededication of the Temple, recasting the Temple’s vessels, pressing new oil, building a new altar for the offerings, and rebuilding Jewish identity) teaches us that a person should always be willing to start again, to always be a student, to always be learning.
This is what life, true life, is all about—being dedicated to allowing ourselves to move through our challenges despite the obstacles we face, to think in ways that encourage our ability to truly grow, and surround ourselves with light and love so that we can become the wonderful creation each one of us is.
Tammy Keces is a contributing writer to Kiddish Magazine.