Chanukah -- the Festival of Lights
This ancient Holiday was instituted about 2,200 years ago by the Rabbis. It is in commemoration of the miracle that occurred during the war of liberation against the Greeks. They had invaded Israel and eventually conquered Jerusalem as part of their overall efforts to subjugate the world to Greek hegemony.
The first thing the Greeks did after gaining control of Jerusalem was to corrupt the Temple service. This was a political move intended to humiliate the Jewish population and assert the superiority of Greek culture over Jewish culture. So, of course, the first thing the Hashmoniim liberators of Jerusalem did was to restore the Temple service to its original state. To do this it was necessary to light the great Menorah of the Temple with ritually pure olive oil. When the Greeks saw that they would lose control of Jerusalem, they vindictively destroyed as much of the paraphernalia of the Temple service as they could. They especially targeted the oil of the great Menorah. This was due to the great symbolic significance the Jewish people attached to the light of the Menorah.
The eternal light of the Temple Menorah had always represented the everlasting relationship between the Jewish people and the Eternal One. Thus, any effort to change or corrupt the nature of the Menorah ritual (especially by invaders) was understood by the people as an attempt to undermine this relationship and negate the identity of the Jewish nation. The Greeks knew this.
After the Hashmoniim liberated Jerusalem they searched all of the storage areas of the Temple to find olive oil to re-light the Menorah. At the end of their search they found one small bottle of pure olive oil. The amount of oil was capable of burning for only one day. They knew that the process of obtaining new oil would take seven days. They were faced with a dilemma. Should they rekindle the Menorah immediately, only to have its light go out once again at the end of the day, or should they wait until new oil was available, and thus delay this important assertion of national independence?
In the end they decided that it was better to rekindle the Menorah, if only for one day, than to delay the ritual. Then the Guardian of Israel "who neither sleeps nor slumbers" performed a miracle and the oil burned eight days. This gave them the necessary time for new oil to be prepared and brought to the Temple.
When the news of the miracle reached the general population, its effect was dramatic. A great sense of national pride was ignited and renewed effort was made to drive out the foreign invaders. Those Jews who still lived under Greek persecution especially needed the news. It gave them the strength to resist and the motivation to fight. The following year, the Rabbis instituted the Mitzvah of kindling lights to commemorate the eight-day miracle of Chanukah.
The actual Mitzvah of Chanukah consists of lighting one light on the first day, two on the second and so on until on the eight day there are eight lights burning. The lights need to be in a straight row and all of them at the same height. Furthermore, the Rabbis decreed that the lights are "Holy" and therefore it is forbidden to use them for ordinary purposes such as reading by them, lighting up a dark area with their light or kindling a fire from them. It is the custom to light an additional light called the "Shamus" (the servant) so as not to have problems with this prohibition. Many people have the custom of using olive oil lamps on Chanukah in memory of the olive oil that was used in the great Temple Menorah. Most people use candles.
The Chanukia (the decorative holder of the lights) must be placed in a place that people passing it by will notice and see the lights. This is called in Hebrew "Persumi Nes", publicizing the miracle. It is also very important to place the Chanukia in a place that the wind will not extinguish it or where there is danger of causing a fire. Many people, especially in Israel, place the Chanukia in special glass and metal boxes. The proper time for lighting the Chanukia is from the beginning of twilight till when the stars come out. Under difficult circumstance one may light even later.
Two delightful customs of Chanukah are the "dreidel" and foods fried in oil.
The "dreidel" is a four-sided top. On each side there is a Hebrew letter: noon, gimmel, hey, shin. They stand for the Hebrew words: Nes Gadol Hayah Sham, a great miracle happened there. In Israel the last letter is changed to: pey. This stands for the word Poh, here. Thus in Israel the message is; a great miracle happened here. The dreidel has its roots in the years of Greek persecution.
The Greeks outlawed, under penalty of death, the teaching or study of Judaism. The Jews then organized secret schools. When ever one of them was discovered, the students and teachers would pull out tops and act as if they were gambling. (Tops with numbered sides were used by the Greeks like dice are used today.) Once the Greek occupation ended, it became the custom to play with tops on Chanukah to remember those times.
The exact origin of fried foods on Chanukah is not known. But it is universally and deliciously followed by all the different Jewish communities around the world. The idea is to remember the miracle of the olive oil by cooking something in oil. We ask our reader to send their favorite recipes and we will put them up on israelVisit.
Beged Ivri -- the source of the Restored Holy Half-Shekel, the Biblical wedding ceremony and clothing for the third Temple in Jerusalem.
The first winner of this month's Holy Half-Shekel drawing will be announced in a special edition of the israelVisit e-zine in about a week's time.
IsraelVisit Magazine interviewed Reb Yankele Shamesh on November 15. Yankele teaches Chassidut at the Bayit Chadash Yeshiva in Jerusalem. He has nine children, three of whom are married, and has three grandchildren. Yankele was a student and friend of the late Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach.
israelVisit: Yankele, what would you like to share with our readers about Chanukah?
Yankele: I remember that Rabbi Shlomo would never light his menorah near a window or outside. He would always place the menorah on a table inside the house. As you know, we place the lights in a window or outside in order to advertise the miracle of Chanukah. And yet Rabbi Shlomo shared so much light with his teachings.
israelVisit: What is one of those teachings?
Yankele: The light of Chanukah is infinite. Sharing the light does not diminish it. If I have an apple and give it to you, then I am left without the apple; I don't have it anymore. The light of Chanukah is so holy that even when I give it away I still have the light.
israelVisit: How is that?
Yankele: I can take the light from the shamash candle in the menorah and light your light. If I put my menorah in the window and the light is shining out to you in the street I still have the light. Or if you look at the light of my menorah in my house I still have the light.
israelVisit: Can you remember some special Chanukah from your childhood?
Yankele: I remember my grandfather lighting the Chanukah candles. He was born in Latvia and was so gentle. The light of those candles stayed with me my whole life. I always received a special present on Chanukah and continue you tradition with giving my own children presents.
Israevisit: I also received presents on Chanukah. I got a little present each night, after lighting the lights and then one big, special present.
israelVisit: What do you like to study on Chanukah?
Yankele: I really like to study Reb Nachman in Likutei Muharan. Rabbi Shlomo said that there are two types of learning. There is sitting and learning which involves effort, thinking, using logic. And there is giving over. What's the difference? Imagine I'm sitting and learning for a month all about the oneness of God and the existence of God in some holy books of Torah. But imagine that in one second I give over to you the light of Chanukah. The light of Chanukah, when you get it in a flash is the light of giving over. You remember how wonderful it felt when you received those presents when you were a child; that is the light of giving over.
You know, the Jewish people put the Chanukah menorah in the window, not in a corner. This is a way for people to have an experience of the oneness of God. This is what Jewish meditation is all about. It's not an exercise and not an intellectual process. It's a giving over.
israelVisit: Tell us something that you have been teaching in the yeshiva.
Yankele: The Zohar says that the Holy One caused the Hebrew letter samech (which is shaped like a circle) to rule over sleep. It also states that God supports (somech) those who fall down. The holiday of Chanukah has many connections with dreams. There are the Torah portions concerning Yosef's dreams and also Pharaoh's dream. The circular shape of the samech is like the unconscious, which surrounds us and supports us. The rabbinical ordination is called semicha from the same root in Hebrew and the semicha is really a giving over. The light of semicha is much deeper than intellectual learning. It is a light that takes you through the unconscious and brings you back to the deepest part of your being. The letter samech also represents the womb where the embryo grows and is supported, surrounded and nourished. You are learning your own personal Torah, what you have to do to fix yourself and the world. This is a fixing only you can do--without you the whole world would fall apart. You are essential for maintaining Creation.
Beautiful buys from israelVisit for Chanukah
The artists and craftspeople at israelVisit offer you a range of beautiful Judaica items to add an additional dimension to your Chanukah experience.
Visit our Chanukiah Webpage to see an overview of the great buys we have for Chanukah.
Those of you who are familiar with Chaim Peretz can see how he applies his over twenty years of artistic skill to create unique and elegant stained glass and sterling silver Chanukiot (menorahs).
Yaakov Davidoff, master gold and silversmith, has produced Chanukiot of exceptional and great value.
What is Chanukah with out a dreidel? Sarah Tamir's dreidels are elegant and beautiful. They even spin!
What better way to remember the Temple than with one of Michael Folickmann miniature paintings of the Kottel, the Western Wall of the ancient Temple.
Miracles are sometimes open and obvious and sometimes hidden and subtle. A visit to Shlomi Amoyal Website will make the point.
The holiday of Chanukah is incomplete without music. Visit our
Music page to enhance your holiday.
There you can hear clips from Splendor Records,