Quick Jewish Literacy Question: Where Is The Mitzvah Or Story Of Chanukah Found In The Bible?
Many of our readers will know that this is a trick question. The story and holiday of Chanukah cannot be found in the Bible because the episode happened during the period of the Second Temple—hundreds of years after the Bible was canonized. Chanukah is a unique holiday in that it is strictly a Rabbinic observance.
What Is The Message Of Chanukah?
What lessons did our sages want us to emerge with by observing the holiday? Perhaps the best way to answer this question is to read their words of the prayers that they wrote for the holiday.
The Chanukah prayers tell us a story of the Assyrian-Greek army in Israel attempting to force the Jews to abandon Judaism. They desecrated the Temple, outlawed Shabbat, circumcision, the Jewish Calendar, and Torah study. Books were burned and Jews were forced to sacrifice and eat pigs. Then, an unlikely band of dedicated, sanctified, resilient, and righteous Jews stood up to fight against the Assyrian-Greek influence. They refused to dilute their Judaism and assimilate. They refused to turn their backs on their history and abandon the Torah. They placed their trust in the Almighty and staged an insurgent revolution, defeating the mighty Assyrian-Greek army against great odds. When we step back and look at the bigger picture we see that they experienced a miraculous victory, however the miracle was only apparent from seeing that bigger picture. The sea did not split and no manna fell from heaven; there was no one miraculous moment, no one defining battle. Instead, slowly and methodically the small band grew and won one small incursion after another until the Assyrian Greeks and their influence were defeated. The Jewish people rededicated the Temple and returned to their traditional Torah observance.
Why Is Chanukah So Relatable?
Chanukah is a microcosm of all of Jewish history. Although the Torah and the Jewish people's survival has seemed unlikely so many times, somehow, miraculously, we have survived. The Greeks, Romans, Spaniards, Poles, and Germans all tried to eradicate us from the world, yet despite their brutality, we survived. Looking through the lens of history, we have survived spectacularly. Today, Iran and many others publicly and actively seek to destroy us. At the risk of spoiling the ending—we know that the Jewish people will live on. Miraculous? Definitely. Yet, like Chanukah, there is no one moment. It is only miraculous when taken in the context of history.
Physical Threats And Spiritual Threats
Torah Judaism has survived spiritual coercion by the Catholic Church, radical Islamists, Communists, and many more. However, at other times, the threat to our ideas and way of life is not coercive and in fact completely friendly. We are invited— not forced—to assimilate. We must recognize the importance of responding to that threat as well. Chanukah is a story of Torah Judaism surviving the Greek/Hellenist influences, both friendly and coercive. We survived then and we will survive today’s secular influences.
When We Light The Candles This Year
Let us take a moment to understand that the miracle of Chanukah has continued over the past 2200 years since the actual Chanukah revolution. All the spiritual and physical threats have failed to extinguish the flame of Torah and the Jewish people. When we stand by the window and light the candles we announce to the world “Am Yisroel Chai”, the Jewish People and Torah live on. We are lighting candles exactly as we have for 2200 years and we are confident that our children and grandchildren will for the next 2500 years. Mark Twain commented, “All things are mortal except for the Jew.” Anyone who studies history understands that. Anyone who lights a candle and celebrates our survival and the Almighty’s hand in history affirms and announces that.