On this final night of Chanukah, it should be remembered that the Festival of Lights is not simply about abstract Light, nor hypothetical Darkness. If the Hamas Pogrom of October 7th has taught us nothing else, it should be that from the Seleucids to Hamas, the battle for Jewish existence is just as real today as it ever has been – ever since the War of Jewish Liberation from the Seleucid invaders… a victory which is the meaning of this Jewish Holiday Season.
This Chanukah, Jews around the world find ourselves terrorized and targeted by Antisemites who have been amongst us all along. Neighbors and even some who we may have considered friends before, have now come out and shown us their true colors.
The most repugnant aspect of this sociological plot twist, is that some of these same people also have the audacity to performatively mention or post wishes for a Happy Chanukah.
This has always struck me as very strange, seeing as how Chanukah is a celebration of Jewish (Yehudi) victory over foreign colonizers of Judea (Yehudah). Furthermore, acknowledging the historicity of events behind the Chanukah story in fact simultaneously acknowledges the existence of Jewish Kingdoms in the Land of Israel, a little over 2,200 years ago.
The occurrence of Chanukah – coming on the 24th day of the month of Kislev – corresponds with approach of the winter solstice. The holiday brings a reminder that no matter how immersed in darkness we are, Light will always return. As such, we need not merely wait on the return of a light outside of our control – whether the light of dawn or the light of those warmer months – but we can engage the darkness through co-creation, deliberately acting to create light within the darkness.
The significance of the holiday goes even deeper than this. The mystical teachings of Chassidut relay that the lights of Chanukah represent the regenerative power of the spirit. The Chanukah menorah, or Chanukiyah, is to be lit around nightfall. It is to be placed on the left side of the doorway, no more that 10 handbreadths (tefachim) high.
The placement is an invitation to the Divine Presence, (Shekhinah), to descend and meet us at whatever our level of comprehension may be. The significance of the “left” side of the doorway lies in the concept that the left side, or pillar of the Kabbalistic Etz Chayyim is mystically associated with the Sitra Achra.
Every detail of this ritual symbolizes the spiritual power to illuminate the Sitra Achra or “dark side.” When we count up the number of lights lit throughout the whole holiday, we find that number is 44, the number by which all base materialism is defined. We thus see that in Chinese the sound of the number four (四) is a homophone with the word for “death” (死), both pronounced sǐ. Thus, the Chanukiyah alights 44 protections against the Sitra Achra.
This protection is borne, however, from our intentionality of tiqqun `olam. If we merely go through the motions of the ritual, with empty form then we derive little benefit. The purpose of the ritual is to cement the intention towards Hashlamah – reconciliation borne of completion.
By shining this light into the streets one symbolizes their individual commitment to bring about positive change in a world where light often grows dim. This is because each Jew is to be an Aur l’goyyim, a light unto the nations. That is spiritually what it means to be a praiser of Yah – a Yehudi. The cosmological battle of spiritual and moral Light over darkness, which occurs as we approach the solstice, bears a strong parallel to the uprising of the Jewish people over two millennia ago, continuing on to this very day. Of course, it is well known that herein the ritual of Chanukah originated.
The Roots of the Tradition
With the victory of Alexander in 333 BCE two states that succeeded under a series of Hellenistic kings, descended from his generals. These were known primarily as the Seleucids in Syria and the Ptolemies in Alexandria, Egypt. The region of the Levant swung back and forth between the control first of the Seleucids, and second of the Ptolemies. As a general tendency, relations with the latter were more cordial than those with the former. The War for Independence, erupting in 167 BCE, was waged because of, and against, not only Seleucid Hellenization but their religious intolerance towards monotheism.
The war against the Seleucids was primarily led by Judah Maccabee, Yehudah HaMakabi, and his father Mattathias, Mattityahu ben Yochanan Ha’Kohen. The Greeks had invaded the Land of Israel, desecrating the Beyt Ha’Miqdash, the Holy Temple, and persecuting the Jewish people. The spiritual leaders of the day feared, or perhaps recognized, that the extreme egocentrism and disproportionately materialistic outlook of the Greek culture would be a negative influence upon the captive people.
And yet, this was not merely a battle to throw off foreign influence, but influence of a culture which took monotheism itself to effectively be treasonous. In the mindset of the ruling power, and the Romans who followed, if you refused to honor the gods of other nations, and give a sacrificial tribute to them, even customarily, this was regarded much the same way that refusing to salute the flag or participate in Fourth of July celebrations would be in the United States today.
“The Abomination That Causes Desolation”
Chanukah is the Hebrew word for dedication. Accordingly, this holiday represents and commemorates the dedication of the Beyt Ha’Miqdash to Ha’Shem after it had been completely desecrated. The prophet Daniel refers to the “Holy Ones,” Qedoshim, as making war on an evil adversary or foreign invader who has violated the Beyt Ha’Miqdash and pillaged it.
This foreigner who had “abolished perpetual sacrifice,” is undeniably Antiochus “Epiphanes” (Daniel 7:13-8:12). Antiochus has been the villain in Chanukah festivals ever since. What does this mean though? Isn’t sacrifice barbaric? Weren’t the Greek’s “enlightened” for abolishing it?
In fact, the reality is much different that it seems on the surface. The Greeks were well know to eat any animal they craved and to kill any animal, anywhere, in any quantity they desired. The Jewish people were told in the Torah that in our Edenic state, the ideal was to live in peace with the natural world, to not kill any animal whatsoever. Eventually, nevertheless, permission was granted to those who persisted in their desire for animals. Everyone from the Rambam to Rashi understood this to be a concession to existing polytheistic customs, and never the ideal. When sacrifice is first mentioned in the Mitzvot, the Radak points out that the Torah uses the word “ki” to mean “if any of you brings a sacrifice” (Vayiqra/Leviticus 1:2). This topic is covered in detail within my Times of Israel piece on Biblical Vegetarianism, entitled “Meat is NOT a Mitzvah.”
There were always examples throughout the Tanakh against this. The prophets tell us that Ha’Shem does not desire sacrifice and finds it abhorrent (Yeshayahu/Isaiah 66.3-4, Yermiyahu/Jeremiah 7:21-23, Hoshea/Hosea 8:11-13; `Amos 5:21-25). Many believe that when the Beyt Ha’Miqdash stood, animal consumption was required, even though the Talmud clearly says otherwise (Tosafot, Yoma 3a, and Rabbenu Nissim, Sukkah 42b).
After the expiration of the Nazirite oath, or if it was terminated early, one would bring an animal to the Beyt Ha’Miqdash to be sacrificed. Why? Because eating an animal was only permitted in Judaism if one brought an animal of the rigorous specifications laid out in the Torah, and brought it to the Temple to be killed. This was the only way that meat could be eaten. If you stopped being a Nazirite, the assumption was that you returned to consuming animals. The notion of only eating an animal killed at a certain spot, in a certain way was a strange idea to the hedonism of the Seleucid barbarians. Far from spreading Greek “Enlightenment”, the Seleucids spread intolerance of carnal restraint.
In practice, the Torah greatly reduced meat consumption. One could not simply say, as the nations, that they were going to sacrifice their weak and sickly animals to their gods. If their was their excuse, they would have to take the best of their animals, ones that could otherwise be used. They would have to do this, travel, wait, and have the animal killed in just such a way, in just such a place. How few animals must have died, comparatively to the those in the other nations! Indeed, Rav Kook felt that based on the prophecy of Isaiah – that “the lion will lay down with the wolf” – that there will only be sacrifices involving vegetarian foods during the Messianic Era!
What the Greeks opposed then, were these rules and regulations that sought to restrain the human hedonistic impulses. We see this epitomized in the act of Antiochus’s sacrifice of a pig in the Beyt Ha’Miqdash.
The Greek culture could not relate to a path which would tell them to show regard even for animals, which would tell them that the ideal, original state of humankind was living primitively in a state of harmony with animals. They could not relate to a path where even as a bare minimum, there were certain meats that no one could eat. They could not see the point to restricting intercourse during niddah as the Jewish people observed in common with Eastern cultures who had realized the energetic benefit of the same thing. They could not relate to a people who held the Supreme Name and conceptualization of Divinity to be a verb, rather than a noun describing an anthropomorphic deity.
The Torah is an insult to dualism and divisionism of the polytheism, and pantheons of the nations. For the Torah, there is no “god” there is a VERB – “Y-H-V-H” – which is to be worshipped and revered as though it were the One and Only “God” in existence. But IT IS Existence. For this reason, the Greeks and Romans considered the Jewish religion to be atheistic in nature.
With the advent of “the Abomination That Causes Desolation”, from the Jewish perspective of Yehudah, the Beyt Ha’Miqdash had been polluted. This pollution symbolizes the pollution of the Jewish people by the thinking of the nations. So though we were told that the Exile, the Galut was for us to gain Jews from amongst the nations, we find that the oppressions of the nations caused us to believe what they told us about ourselves. Rabbi Yochanan was confirmed by Rabbi Eleazar ben Pedat, in asserting that Ha’Shem exiled the Jewish people for only one reason, to increase the number of people from the nations who would become Jews (Pesachim 87b)
The nations however, told us that to be a Jew was not a spiritual practice, but a secular identity, a race. Why did they tell us this? Because like Esau, they were shown the Torah and they rejected it. Like Esau, they regarded the Torah as death and rejected it when offered it as their birthright. Instead, they sold it for a pitiful price; the price of barbarism, hunting down wild animals as if we were some blood thirsty predatory, craving “red-red” stew; barely human, more a cave-man than anything yosher or yashar.
Just as Esau craved the red-red stew, the Christian church speaks endlessly of Mithraic blood-rites, in ways that make it scarcely possible to imagine that their religion’s roots were in Judaism. Because they rejected the Torah, because Paul regarded it as death, just as did Esau, then they had to have some way to explain the Jewishness of a Messiah which they taught had come to abolish the Torah and Mitzvot. If his Jewishness was not defined by what he did, it had to be an ethnic Jewishness, a Jewishness that the Europeans could only identify as a look of being foreign to them. They could not conceive of a Torah-based definition of Jewishness. They could not wrap their minds around the story of Esther, that “many Persians” simply “became Jews” (Megillat Esther 8.17 מתיהדים) by implementing Jewish practice.
Chanukah marks the triumphant and miraculous victory of the Hebrew people, led by the Maccabees, against the oppression of the Seleucid Greeks, on a continuum of oppression, religious persecution and suppression that culminated in the Romans. This victory was miraculous, not only in the sense that the revolutionary forces were greatly out numbered by their adversaries, but in another spiritual sense as well. The “rededication,” or Chanukah of the Beyt Ha’Miqdash, rebuilt by Zerubbabel, was performed by the revolutionary leader Judah Maccabee, Yehudah Ha’Makabi, in conjunction with its cleaning from impure hands. When the Maccabees came to rededicate the Beyt Ha’Miqdash, they found only one unopened cruise, or flask, of oil with which to light the Menorah.
Despite the fact that this amount of oil was clearly insignificant to last for more than one day, it did. In fact, this seemingly insignificant amount of oil lasted for eight days. After this period of eight days the Beyt Ha’Miqdash was restored and purified; accordingly new oil was then able to be obtained.
The miracle of the oil that lasted for eight days tells us that we do not need to wait for the Messianic Era, the Yamot Ha’Mashiach, to initiate and inaugurate it. It tells us that we do not need to wait for Mashiach to save us from the problems the Jewish people face today – including the looming threat of Hamas and other Caliphatist Fascist Terror organizations. It tells us that if we will take the spark and light the fire, the light will burn for as long as it needs to so long as we set the process into motion and put the Torah into action.
The miracle of the oil that lasted for eight days reawakens the children of the Most High to an appreciation of the Holy Mystery and the Infinite One, symbolized by the number 8, symbolizing the underlying spiritual current which flow throughout the material universe, (which is generally associated with the number seven). Interestingly, perhaps synchronically, an eight turned on its side is the mathematical symbol for infinity.
One candle is lit every evening after sundown until the menorah shines fully on the final night of the festival. These candles are sanctified and not used for any other purpose than for this. Why? To remind us that we have but one purpose here. It is not for us to become intoxicated by our jobs, wealth, women, men, politics, secular xenophobic nationalism, identifications with false boundaries of political or physical, biological borders. We are here to be an aur l’goyyim, a light in the darkness, a light which does not light itself, but a Light lit from the source of all Light, symbolized by the shamash. The Talmud teaches us that we were given the Torah in order to bring it to the nations (Tanhuma Devarim 2).
The Chanukiyah candles are placed on the menorah from right to left, indicating the order of emanation. However, conversely, they are lit in order from left to right thus symbolizing the reality that we embrace holiness with increasing devotion as we progress through life, and that our later deeds will receive light more quickly than our earlier ones, due to the nature of increasing, exponential perfection as we journey on.
Though this holiday is also celebrated in synagogues, Chanukah is first and foremost a celebration of the people in their homes, for it is there that liberation truly begins. In living Chanukah, each of us transforms our places of dwelling into Holy Temples; wherein our actions towards bringing about actuation of the Divine Will creates a light that shines into the very core of our Creator’s Being. As we act in partnership with our Creator, in bringing back the light and “raising the sparks,” we pray that the inextinguishable human spirit of righteousness and holiness banish the overwhelming forces of darkness and oppression in this world.
Though at times this battle may seem overwhelming, we learn from and ritualistically symbolize in Chanukah, that even a small amount of light can illuminate a mass of darkness, and even though it seems impossible, if we will light that light, it will keep burning even when it seems impossible for it to be maintained.
Hannukah and Hamas
As the War still rages against Hamas in the Land, we should remind our Muslim neighbors of a few relevant matters…
First, there are 44 references to the Children of Israel in the Qur’an (this is a Kabbalistically significant number related to Chanukah).
Second, the Torah is mentioned 18 times, which any Jew can tell you, is the gematria of “Life” or “Chay“. The word for “Islam”, by contrast, is only mentioned 10 times in the Qur’an and then in reference to verbal activity, not as a proper noun (as linguistically, it is not).
Third, the Qur’an tells us that Allah “assigned” the Land of Israel to the Children of Israel – the Jewish People, and forbad Jews from ever turning away from it willingly (and thus, to return when given the opportunity).
Fourth, the Qur’an foretells that if the Jewish People return to the Land of Israel after the destruction of the Second Temple, the Beyt Ha’Miqdash, then Allah will be with us, and protect us.
Fifth, the Qur’an follows, condemning all who oppose our return to our Indigenous, ancestral Land of Ethnogenesis, to a “Prison” in Jahannam (Hell). A deeper exploration into this topic can be found in my Times of Israel article “The Zionist Qur’an Condemns All Who Oppose Jewish Return to the Land of Israel“.
Sixth, with over a century of embracing literal Nazis like Hajj Amin Al-Husseini, and endless pogroms (even Nazi-funded pogroms), intended to thwart us before even one Arab was displaced in the war of 1948, with all of the billions of prayers mutaslimin, Allah’s silence is itself an answer to the Palestinian People… that answer is “No.”
Seventh, the act of carrying out such a horrific mass slaughter, pogrom, genocide, on the holiday of Simchat Torah, and on Shabbat as well, essentially cursed the Palestinian people with a curse that will not and cannot be lifted unless and until they make full Repentance, Teshuvah, Tawbah, and denounce the Terror Cult of Hamas, standing with us to purge them from Eretz Yisrael. Whether one views that as a literal curse, or a figurative one, which is just as socio-politically true, it is no different.
Eighth, we can, as always live together in peace, within the Land of Israel – Eretz Yisrael – which the Qur’an has said our Creator literally assigned to the Children of Israel. We can now, as we did in Biblical times and through the Second Temple Era, coexist with Noachide Gerei Toshav, so long as they pledge their allegiance to our legitimate return to the Land of our Ancestors, and of our Ethnogenesis.
Those who cannot bring themselves to obey the words of the Qur’an on this matter, should simply move to a fundamentalist country. But in Israel, we will not have it.
Or… they can stay, and keep fighting, dying, losing more land, more loved ones, more dignity, more honor, more merits, more believability of the lie that their opposition to us is about “Zionism,” not about our Jewish existence.
And when they do this, they will lose, as all of the enemies of the Jewish People always have and always will.
If it is in accordance with the Perfect and Holy Will of Ha’Shem, the Verb of Perpetual Being – im yirtzeh Ha’Shem – it will not be long before we have a new holiday falling after Simchat Torah, celebrating the destruction of Hamas in the Holy Land, a Land which their very existence therein desecrates.