Hanukkah is a segment of Jewish history that is fascinating, as well as very moving. This episode can serve as a model for understanding that good can win over evil, as long as there is a strong will and conviction to do so.
When the Hellenic empire reigned, the Mediterranean world had a common tongue: Greek art, philosophy, dress, manners and a common literature. The Jewish religion’s democratic institutions were incorporated into the intellectual life at that time. The upper class and those with power didn’t want any one group to keep their faith. Antiochus Epiphanes enforced this law to the extent to which Jewish people were forbidden to keep their Day of Rest (Sabbath) and to practice circumcision (Bris Milah). He even polluted and pilfered the High Holy Temple- Sanctuary. This was a time when Jewish people of all ages from the very young to the very old were either permitted to convert to their ways of living or to die keeping their faith. To be put to death in that time was of a brutal and vicious manner – one would be thrown into a pot of hot boiling oil, for example.
One High Priest called Mattahias and his five sons (Maccabees) didn’t want to partake in Antiochus’ defilement of their honored practices. His sons all were brilliant in warfare and overthrew the might armies of Antiochus. This incident was most unusual in that time- it was quite a big miracle! When returning to the temple, the priests found a Menorah (an eight -stick oil holder) and it was lit. Purified oil was needed and only a small tiny bottle was found. This lasted for eight days when in reality, it was to last one day. Today Jewish people commemorate this holiday of light by lighting a Menorah and eating foods containing oil-like latkes. Young children play with dreidels – a game containing four Hebrew letters. These letters stand for “A Great Miracle Happened Here.” This was the same game the children of this time period also played.
The light Antiochus’ men wanted to extinguish served as a warning of how important it is to believe and have faith to believe in.