On Tuesday evening, Dec. 12, Jews throughout the world will light the first candle on their Hanukkah menorahs. Undoubtedly they will also exchange presents. This new observance has come to dominate our Hanukkah celebrations.
The holiday’s origins, however, focus on something quite different. Some 2,200 years ago the Syrian-Greeks ruled the ancient land of Israel. They insisted that Jews adopt their culture and their ways. Some gladly complied. Others refused. These rebels, led by the Maccabees, eventually took up arms against these rulers.
After years of war they finally wrested control from the Syrian-Greeks establishing an independent nation and in Jerusalem, rededicating the ancient Temple to Jewish worship. The word Hanukkah means dedication. This dedication ceremony lasted eight days. According to legend the cruse of sacred oil contained only enough oil to last for one day. Miraculously, it lasted for eight.
For eight nights we light the Hanukkah menorah and recall this ancient victory. We remember that the few can overpower the mighty. We recall that the oil lasted for eight days. When we light these candles we remind ourselves that even when the world appears dark there are still miracles to behold. There is light.
That light never miraculously appears. It does not come as a flash from heaven. One Maccabee had to light the menorah even though everyone thought there was only enough oil for one day and not the required eight. Someone has to light the candle. Someone has to have faith. It takes our effort to change the world. It takes our initiative to bring light to a darkened world.
It always starts with one person. It begins with one candle. And then there is another. And another. And then more take up the lighting.
And then a miracle is born.