Chanukah is a time of joy, celebration and family. Meaning re-dedication, this holiday commemorates the victory of the Maccabees in defeating the Greek empire and the subsequent purification and rededication of the Beis Hamikdash. It is also a time to remember and publicise the miracles that occurred.
During the time of the Second Beis Hamikdash the Greek-Syrian army, led by King Antiochus, outlawed Jewish religion and practices in an attempt to secularise the inhabitants of Jerusalem. He prohibited practices that are central to Jewish life, including Shabbos, Bris Mila and learning Torah, ultimately giving them the option of choosing between converting or death.
Yehudah the Maccabee led a revolt against the oppressive Greek Empire to restore freedom for the Jewish people and miraculously succeeded in defeating them after three years of fighting. The Maccabees reclaimed and restored the Beis Hamikdash that had been desecrated and rededicated it to Hashem. They rebuilt the Mizbeach and attempted to light the Menorah, but there was only enough untainted oil to keep it alight for one day. Miraculously, after the candles were kindled, they remained burning for eight days and nights.
Because of the miracle that occurred in the Beis Hamikdash, the Menorah is at the heart of all Chanukah celebrations and is central to the holiday. To commemorate and publicise the miracle of the oil lasting eight days and nights instead of just one, we light the chanukiah every night of Chanukah. On each night an additional candle is added until all eight candles are lit. The shamash, an additional candle which is set apart from the other lights on the Menorah, is placed either to the side or higher than the other candles and is used to light the other candles.
In order to publicise the miracle of Chanukah, the Menorah is often placed either outside the doorway or in a window that is visible to the public and must burn for at least thirty minutes. Before lighting the Menorah special prayers are recited and afterwards traditional songs are sung, usually beginning with Maor Tzur.
In addition to lighting the Menorah, there are many traditions and customs that we observe on Chanukah. It is customary to eat deep-fried foods to symbolise the oil that lasted eight days. These foods often include doughnuts, latkes and the Sephardi delicacy bimuelos. Many families also exchange gifts with each other to celebrate. Children also often receive Chanukah gelt or coins.
It has become a custom for families to play with a dreidel – a four-sided toy with the Hebrew letters nun, gimmel, hei or shin on each side. This game is often played with sweets or Chanukah gelt and is a popular Chanukah tradition.
It is believed that the custom of playing dreidel is a homage to when the Jews would learn Torah in secret to avoid punishment by the Greek authorities. If discovered, they would quickly hide their torah scrolls and act as if they were playing with dreidels. Some also believe that the reason behind why we play dreidel is because the numerical value of the letters totals 358, which is the same as the gematria for ‘Moshiach’.
From everyone at Kosher Kingdom, we wish you a Chag sameach!