The story of Chanuka took place over 2000 years ago. It was a time when the land of Israel was under control of the Greek-Syrian empire. The Jews were under attack physically by the large armies and spiritually by Hellenistic culture and its worship of the human body. During this time a Syrian king known as Antiochus began to persecute the Jew’s religion and enforce idol worship.
Tensions came to bloodshed in the town of Modin. It began when a Syrian officer made an altar and demanded that a priest named Matityahu make a sacrifice. When Matityahu refused, a Hellenistic Jew came to make an offering in his stead. Matityahu struck the man with a sword and his sons and followers proceeded to kill the officers and destroy the altar. From there, Matityahu and his followers fled to the hills of Judea. Over some time, Matityahu’s son, Judah Macabee, led a vastly outnumbered Jewish force in guerilla warfare against the Syrian army. The Syrians were miraculously defeated again and again and eventually withdrew.
When the victorious Jews returned to the Holy Temple, they cleared the idols and the mess left by the Syrians and built a new menorah. They only found enough oil, with High Priest Yocheved’s seal, to last for one day. A great miracle proceeded to occur as the oil lasted eight days, enough time for the new oil to mature and thus assure that the Holy Temple’s light would shine continuously. The miracle served as a message from Heaven, proclaiming that the Jews were still G-d’s chosen people.
The bottom line of the Chanuka story is that wars are not won through large armies and horses, but by faith in the Almighty.
Today we celebrate the miracles by lighting a menorah for eight nights. Each night of Chanuka, we take one candle and light the others, progressively making one to eight lights. This teaches that we should use the fire of our spirit to light the wicks others. If we take our good fortunes and joy and use it to satisfy ourselves, our light will eventually go out. But, if we use it to enlighten the lives of those around us with acts of kindness and teaching the ways of G-d and the light of the mitzvot, our own lives will be much brighter, and we will be surrounded with light and refueled when our fire runs low.
So, in this season of miracles, may we all merit to spread the fire and live in light and warmth.
Written by Moshe Silver