TONIGHT IS THE FIRST NIGHT OF CHANUKA.
One lonely flame tonight on the Menorah. It corresponds to Abraham, one lone voice of G-dliness in a world of paganism. Don’t worry about being a lone voice, for many candles come thereafter. You see, the one light of tonight will be joined tomorrow by another, and the next night by another… Never be afraid to blaze a path alone, for there will be others who join in later.
[Here is the Chanuka story/customs in a wrap-up, quick-telling version. Enjoy!]
The astrological sign of Kislev is a bow. The first rainbow (that Noach saw) was seen in Kislev. A bow is also an example of how people should teach the next generation. The archer has to concentrate when fitting the arrow into the bow. The more he prepares and the more he pulls back the bow, the straighter and further the arrow will fly. The more parents think beforehand how to raise a child and the more they prepare, the better the children will end up. The holiday in Kislev, Chanuka comes from the word Chinuch (education).
Kislev can be read to say Kays Loh – the Throne is His. That was the theme of the Chanuka story – that the few really religious Jews fought to put G-d first in their lives.
Brief history of Chanuka story:
The Greeks (the Yavanim) worshipped body and mind, but refused to believe in the soul. Everything in their culture was about human power – sculpted bodies, artwork, gyms, and science and literature. G-d was out of the picture for the Greeks –they were too busy worshiping themselves. A group of Jews called the Misyavnim fell in love with the Greek way of life. In the beginning they tried showing other Jews how the two cultures actually complemented each other – that you could have Torah and Greek culture. Glatt Kosher Gyms. Colleges with a little of Judaism sprinkled in. Then, as people became more and more into the movement, Judaism became less and less and Greek influence became felt even more. For example, first they had gyms that catered to Jews – then they began having plastic surgery to “cover up” the brisim (signs of circumcision) of the guys going to the gym so that no one could tell they were Jewish.
One Kohain family who lived in Yerushalayim worried their children would lose their Judaism being surrounded by these Misyavnim and their ideas. So this family, whose father was Mattisyahu, moved to a small town called Modi’in where they thought the next generation would be safe from Greek influence. But the Greeks were out to destroy Judaism so they decreed Jews could keep all Mitzvos except Shabbos, Rosh Chodesh and Bris Milah. They also began passing other decrees, such as no girl could get married without sleeping with a Greek general. Idols were put into the Bais Hamikdosh and in every town square.
The person who started the war: the daughter of Mattisyahu got up and said, “are you going to let that happen to the Jewish women”. Mattisyahu and his five sons started an army, and there were just a handful of people on their side, but they took on the Greeks who were then the world power. They fought long, they fought hard, some of Mattisyahu’s sons got killed. But eventually they won. And they then went to Yerushalayim and cleaned up the Bais HaMikdash. They wanted to light the Menorah but could not find oil that had been kept pure – they only found one small jar enough to last one day. They needed 8 days to produce more oil. They lit the Menorah using the jar of oil – and the jar of oil’s light lasted the full 8 days. That was the Chanukah miracle.
The last day of Chanuka, on the 8th day, is called Zohs Chanuka – THIS is Chanuka. Why? The simple explanation is that the reading on that day begins with those words. But then you have to ask yourself, why is the reading of those words saved for the last day of Chanuka? Okay, so listen carefully. Seven is the number that belongs to the physical world. Seven days of the week. Seven primary colors. Seven planets. Seven notes in music. Seven continents… The Greeks said, what you see is what you get – you guys can keep any Mitzva showing connection to this world, to physicality. However, don’t come and talk to us about spirituality, about souls and things beyond this temporary world. Eight is beyond this world. We are told that there will be an 8th note in song, more beautiful than all previous seven notes of song, when Mashiach comes. In other words, 8 tells us there is something beyond our physical world, something greater than the sum total of our intellect and body – and that greater thing is called Olam Ruchanee – the world of spirituality. The Maccabim fought for the right to live their lives focused on the Olam Ruchanee. Therefore, when the Menorah stayed lit for 8 days, it showed what they knew – that with G-d everything goes beyond the physical world. The 8th day of Chanuka is the actual embodiment of the lesson of Chanuka so we call it ZOHS Chanuka – this is what the Chanuka story is all about.
The name Chanuka is based on several words: Chanu Kaf-Hay – The armies who fought against the Greeks got to rest on the 25th day of Kislev when the war was over and they had purged the idols from the Temple. Chanuka from Chanukas – the dedication – they rededicated the Bais HaMikdosh in this month.
Chanukah from the word Chinuch. Many of the stories of Chanuka is about bringing up children the right or wrong way. Some stories:
For the good: Chana and her 7 sons. By the age of not-yet-3, her youngest son was able to be Mekadesh Shem Shamayim (stick to the right thing and die for G-d).
For the bad: When the Greeks came into the Bais Hamikdash, there was a Jewish woman there from a Kohain family who had intermarried. She was wearing strappy sandals, and when she passed the Mizbayach [altar], she took them off, slapped the Mizbayach with her sandals and screamed, “Mizbayach, you are just a fox eating the sacrifices of the Jews and giving nothing in return.” The Greeks thought it hilarious entertainment. When the Maccabim took back the Bais HaMikdash, one of the first things they did was find out what family this girl came from. Each Kohain family had cubbies in the Bais HaMikdash, but the cubbies of this girl’s families were then blocked up and they had no personal space in the Bais Hamikdash. The reasoning was this way – the Maccabim knew that if she went so far off and against her people, she must have heard badmouthing of the rabbis and of the service in the Bais HaMikdash at home. You want to have good kids, make sure you don’t speak badly about the Mitzvos.
In the olden days, they began teaching kids to read on Chanuka. The custom of “chanuka gelt” came about because they would ask the children to show how well they were learning on Chanuka and would reward them with money for learning well. That is why it is also a custom to “tip” teachers of Torah on Chanuka.
Chanuka is hinted at in the Torah She’biksav (written Torah). Where? Count 25 words from Braishis and the 25th word is Ohr (when Hashem said there should be light). Then, when it lists the different places where the Jews camped while traveling in the desert, the 25th place they camped was called Chashmona.
Mitzvos of Chanuka: adding Hallel to the prayers, adding Al HaNisim in the Amida and in Grace after meals, having good meals, and, most important, lighting the Menorah.
Customs of Chanuka: playing draidel. The draidel has four sides and one top piece that spins it. This is to show us that the four corners of the world (everything that happens) is spun by the One above!
Eating things fried in oil – to remember the miracle that happened with oil.
Eating dairy foods. There was one Greek general that needed to be killed. A Jewish woman named Yehudis (daughter of Mattisyahu) packed herself a picnic basket with good foods, dairy ones especially, and went to the Greek army camp. She was very beautiful and she told the soldiers she had come to meet their general. He was thrilled and invited her in. She fed him dairy, and when he became sleepy, she lopped his head off with a sword, put it into her basket, covered it up with her cloth and left the camp. That was the end of that battle – won by a brilliant woman.