Thursday, December 10, 2009

What is Chanuka? The meaning of the word Chanuka

Kislev 23, 5770

The word Chanukah means “dedication” and it is also used in this sense in phrases like “Chanukat haBayit” or dedication of one’s home.

So, to what “dedication” are we referring to in the Festival of Chanukah?

During the Second century BCE the Jews were subjugated by the Syrian-Greek army of Antiochus Epiphanies. The Jews were not permitted to practice their religion (observance of Shabbat, Holydays, Brit Mila, etc were punishable by death). Moreover, the Bet haMikdash, the Holy Temple of Jerusalem, was captured and defiled by the Greeks with the help of some collaborationist Jews (mityavnim). They introduced an image of Zeus Olympus, and dedicated the Holy Temple to him, offering sacrifices of impure animals like pigs.

In the years 165 BCE the Jews lead by Yehuda Maccabi rebelled against the powerful armies of Antiochus and miraculously defeated them. Their first mission was to recover the Bet haMikdash. They purified the Holy Temple but in order to dedicate it back to God Almighty they needed to light the Menorah, which indicated that the Bet haMikdash was functioning. They found one small jar, with an amount of oil which normally would last only for one night. They lighted the Menorah and happily rededicated the Bet haMikdash back to God. Miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days, giving them exactly the time needed to produce new pure olive oil.

Chanukah means the “dedication of the Bet haMikdash” – after years of being defiled to serve idols – to God Almighty.

The festival is observed by the kindling of candles on a Chanukiah – eight branch Menorah – one candle on each night of the holiday, progressing to eight on the final night, in remembrance of the miracle of the oil.

During the eight days of Chanukah we also recite the Hallel and we include in the Amidah and bircat haMazon the prayer al hanisim. In these prayers we remember the miracle of our victory over an enemy more numerous and powerful than us. Every day we also read a portion of the Torah related to the dedication of the Holy Temple in the desert (Mishkan).

Chanukah is celebrated on the 25th of the month of Kislev.

This year, 2009, Chanukah starts Friday, December 11.

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