The First Chanuka- Was it Just a Late Sukkot?

In the Book of Maccabees II, 10:1-8 we read: “The Maccabee and his companions, with God leading them, recovered the Temple and the city. They demolished the altars that the foreigners built near the marketplace as well as the sacred precincts. They cleansed the Temple and made another altar. Then they struck flints to make fire and they offered up sacrifices after a lapse of two years and they prepared incense, lamps and sacred loaves. After they had done these things they bowed to the ground and pleaded with God that they would not experience such misfortunes again but if they should ever sin they would be disciplined by Him with fairness and not turned over to slanderous and barbaric nations.

On the anniversary of the Temple’s defilement by foreigners, on that very day, the sanctuary was purified on the twenty-fifth of the month which is Kislev. And they kept the eight days with gladness, as in the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) remembering that not long before they had held the Feast of Tabernacles when they wandered in the mountains and dens like beasts. Therefore they bore branches and fair boughs and palms also and sang psalms unto Him that had given them good success in cleansing His place. A measure was passed by the public assembly that the entire Jewish people should observe these days every year.”

We see from here that the first Chanuka was celebrated to make up for the fact that they were unable to celebrate the holiday of Sukkot that year due to the war. This explains why the holiday was eight days, why they carried palm branches (lulav), offered sacrifices and sang Hallel.

At the end of this first Chanuka (late Sukkot celebration) it was decided that they would continue to celebrate at that time each year in honor of the rededication of the Beit HaMikdash (Temple).

In the Talmud, Shabbat 21b we see the famous dispute between Beit Hillel and Beit Shannai. Do we increase the amount of candles that are lit each night (do we light one on the first night, two on the second etc. following the philosophy of Beit Hillel) or do we light all eight candles the first night and then decrease by one candle each night (seven on the second, six on the third etc. following the philosophy of Beit Shammai)?

We follow is Beit Hillel’s approach, “maalin bakodesh vilo moridin”, “in sacred matters we elevate and do not lower the degree of sanctity”.

Why is Beit Shammai’s view also valid (even if we don’t follow it)?

Beit Shammai’s view was that we should have a continual decrease from eight lights to one to correspond to the bull sacrifices of the Sukkot festival (on Sukkot a total of seventy bulls were sacrificed: thirteen were sacrificed on the first day, twelve the next day etc.).

Beit Shammai’s thought was to include another parallel between Sukkot and Chanuka.

It is interesting that today throughout the world Chanuka is celebrated more than Sukkot even though Sukkot was the Biblical holiday that Chanuka was derived from.

This Chanuka, let’s take the opportunity to teach about what Chanuka and Sukkot have in common and bring Sukkot into the consciousness of the entire Jewish nation.

After all who would turn down another holiday?

About the Author
Sharona holds a BA in Judaic Studies from Stern College and an MS in Jewish Education from Azrieli Graduate School, Yeshiva University. Sharona was the first Congregational Intern and Madricha Ruchanit at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, NY. After making aliya in 2004, Sharona founded Torat Reva Yerushalayim, a non profit organization based in Jerusalem which provides Torah study groups for students of all ages and backgrounds.
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