Chanukah Story and Traditions
During the Second Temple period, the Syrian Greeks infiltrated Israel and seized power. They tried to impose their cruel Hellenistic culture on the Jewish people, defiling every holy thing and forbidding Torah learning. Their goal was to eliminate the Jews’ connection to G-d and to indoctrinate the Jews with immoral values in a futile attempt to deny the existence of the Creator.
This dubious plot began with prohibitions against keeping central laws of the Torah, such as study and circumcision. It ended with physical danger and desecration of the Holy Temple. Despite the Greek onslaught, a small group of courageous Jews known as the Maccabees emerged to fight for the survival of the Jewish people and their cherished Torah.
There were several special miracles that happened during this time, for which our Sages established the holiday of Chanukah. These days commemorate for all time the Jewish people’s eternal connection to G-d and our ability to choose the right path.
The military victory of just a few Maccabees over a huge, well-armed Greek army was the first miracle of Chanukah. Here, G-d delivered the mighty into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the wicked into the hands of the righteous.
Immediately after the military victory, the Jews returned to the Holy Temple only to find it defiled and completely desecrated. Wanting to rededicate the Temple in order to perform the daily services for which it was designed, the Jews needed to light the Menorah with oil certified as pure by the High Priest. While the Temple was horribly defiled, one vessel of pure oil was found among the ruins, which contained enough fuel for only one day. Miraculously, the Menorah stayed lit for seven additional days! This miracle provided the Jews with exactly the amount of time necessary to prepare a fresh supply of oil for the Menorah.
In order to commemorate these miracles, Jews light their own mini Menorahs, called Chanukiyas, for eight nights each year. The lit Menorahs must be placed outside or adjacent to a window in order to publicize to the world the miracles that G-d did for the Jewish people.
One the first night, one candle is placed to the Menorah’s far right. On each succeeding night one more candle is added. It is preferable to sit with the lit candles, studying Torah, singing songs, telling the Chanukah story, and relaying the personal miracles we have witnessed in our own lives. With each moment spent in front of the Menorah, we fulfill the commandment of the Chanukah lights!