Rabbi’s Corner

Chanukah celebrates serenity amid turmoil

Rabbi Israel Becker
Rabbi Israel Becker

Names are very important in Judaism. When parents give a name to a child it should be carefully chosen. The names of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and all the 12 tribes of Israel were specifically chosen not only to commemorate an event but to trigger a response within us when we hear them. The same is true for each and every Jewish holiday.

Let’s take the name Chanukah. It actually is a combination of two Hebrew words Chanu (they rested) and KH (the 25th). It refers to our miraculous military victory over Syrian Greek tyranny.

Observing Shabbat, keeping kosher, observing the holidays, circumcision, the study of Torah were all punishable by torturous death. The untrained Maccabees led an open revolt against the Syrian Greeks, the mightiest military force in the world (mostly fought in the hills between what is now Tel Aviv and Jerusalem). On the 25th of Kislev we re-entered our Holy Temple that had been ravaged by the Greeks.

The Talmud though focuses on another miracle, “And when the royal Hasmonean House gained the upper hand and vanquished [the Greeks] they searched and found only one flask of oil … with the High Priest’s seal, and it contained only enough oil to burn for one day. A miracle occurred and it burned for eight days.” In commemoration of the miracles, one year later the sages established the Festival of Chanukah and its observance by praising G-d and lighting the menorah.

But how could we celebrate, resting on the 25th, when the war was not yet over? Contrary to what many people think, the victory over the Greeks was not quick and surely not easy. The Chanukah miracle took place three years into the revolt and the war raged for more than two decades before the Syrian Greeks finally surrendered. Despite all the turmoil, the open miracle of the menorah burning for eight days generated internal serenity, thus the name Chanukah was truly fitting because it reminds us of our connection to G-d. Through the miracle of the oil, the presence of G-d became almost tangible. We deciphered G-d’s message, “I will never abandon you, I am here, I am with you, I care about you, I love you and there is more light to come.”

This Chanukah, 2,179 years later, although in our time we find ourselves in an externally unstable world, we light the Lights of Chanukah, as our ancestors did before us, to show that we, too, decipher G-d’s message of love. And we, too, despite everything, can celebrate Chanukah as a day of spiritual serenity. As the candles of the menorah glow, we, too, rest on the 25th as we are reminded of G-d’s presence and G-d’s love and that one day the entire world will be aglow with peace.