Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Customs and Traditions of the Festival of Hanukkah

This year Hanukkah begins at local sunset on December 8th.  Hanukkah is a minor festival, not one of the Feast days mentioned in the Torah.  The events surrounding the establishment of Hanukkah happened in the 2nd century BCE, well after the canon of Hebrew scripture was closed and therefore it is not mentioned in all of the Hebrew Bible. It is a kind of National Festival for the nation of Israel and the Jewish people commemorating an important event in their national history.  For those of us who are grafted into believing Israel, it carries the same meaning.

The festival of Hanukkah (it can also be spelled Chanukah) was established to commemorate the Jewish Maccabees' military victory over the Greek-Syrians and the rededication of the Second Temple, which had been desecrated by the Greek-Syrians, to the worship of God. Thus, Hanukkah is a celebration of Jewish national survival and religious freedom.

National Survival

The story of the Maccabees' military feats has been preserved in The First Book of Maccabees. In short, in response to religious persecution and oppression, Judah Maccabee and his four brothers organized a group of resistance fighters known as the Maccabees. The Maccabees, using guerilla warfare, miraculously succeeded to drive the far larger Greek-Syrian army out of Judea. The Hanukkah story proclaims the message of the prophet Zachariah: "Not by might, not by power, but by My spirit."

Religious Freedom

The purification of the Temple began on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev in the year 165 BCE. According to the Talmud, the single-days-worth of pure oil found in the Temple miraculously burnt for eight days until more pure oil could be brought.

Celebrating Hanukkah

(The following is taken from Jewish history and various traditional practices.  There really is no “right or wrong” way to celebrate the Festival of Hanukkah.  The suggestion is to start with this and make modifications to suit your own family and situation.)

In commemoration of these miracles, a Hanukkah Menorah (also called a Hanukkiah) is lit during each of the eight nights of Hanukkah. Lighting the Hanukkah Menorah is the central observance of the festival. One candle is lit the first night, and an additional candle is lit each successive night. Thus, on the last night of Hanukkah, all eight candles of the Hanukkiah are lit. The candles should be lit by a window or door in order to fulfill the commandment to "publicize the miracle." While lighting the candles, blessings are recited and the ancient chant Hanerot Hallalu is traditionally sung. After lighting the candles, it is a tradition to sing Maoz Tzur.

Hanukkah is a fun festival, especially for children. After lighting the Hanukkah candles together, families (and often invited guests) will eat and play games. Traditional Hanukkah food is oil-rich in commemoration of the miracle of the oil that burned for eight days. Potato pancakes (Latkas in Yiddish, Livivot in Hebrew) are a Hanukkah favorite. Israelis eat Hanukkah doughnuts called soofganiot. Dreidel (sivovon in Hebrew) is a traditional Hanukkah game, with game rules so simple that the whole family, from toddlers to grandparents can play together. The custom of giving Hanukkah gelt (money) to children has evolved into a gift-giving tradition in many Jewish families today.

Kindling Hanukkah lights is the most important Hanukkah custom. Jews light Hanukkah candles to remember the miracle of the Maccabees' victory and the miracle of the oil that burnt for eight days in the holy Temple. It is a mitzvah (commandment from God) that Jews "publicize the miracle" by lighting a Hanukkah Menorah each night during the eight days of Hanukkah.

Here's How:

1. What to Light

Buy or make a Hanukkah Menorah. The Menorah should have eight candle holders in a row and a separate candle holder for the "Shamash." The Shamash candle is used to light the other eight candles since it is forbidden to use the Hanukkah lights for any purpose other than viewing.

2. Where to Light

To best publicize the miracle, the Hanukkah Menorah is ideally lit outside the doorway of your house, on the left side when entering. If this is not practical, then the Menorah should be lit in a window facing the public thoroughfare. If the Menorah cannot be lit by the window, it may be lit inside the house on a table, which at least fulfills the mitzvah of "publicizing the miracle" for members of the household.

3. When to Light

The Menorah should preferably be lit immediately at nightfall. If necessary, however, the Menorah can be lit late into the night. It is best to wait until all members of the household are present to light the Menorah. The Menorah should remain lit for at least 30 minutes after nightfall. On Friday afternoon, the Menorah should be lit before sundown.

4. How to Light on the First Night

On the first night, place one candle in the Menorah's far right (as you face the Menorah) candle holder. Another candle is placed for the Shamash (helper candle). Say the below blessings and then light the candle using the Shamash candle.

5. First Blessing to Recite

Barukh Atta Adonay Eloheynu Melekh Ha-olam Asher Kiddeshanu Be-mitsvotav Ve-tsivanu Lehadlik Ner Shel khanuka
Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us by His commandments, and has commanded us to kindle the lights of Hanukkah.

6. Second Blessing to Recite

Barukh Atta Adonay Eloheynu Melekh Ha-olam She-asa Nissim La-avoteynu Ba-yyamim Ha-hem Ba-zzman Ha-zze
Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the universe, who wrought miracles for our fathers in days of old, at this season.

7. Third Blessing to Recite (only on the first night of Hanukkah)

Barukh Atta Adonay Eloheynu Melekh Ha-olam She-hekheyanu Ve-kiymanu Ve-higgi'anu La-zzman Ha-zze
Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has kept us alive, and has preserved us, and enabled us to reach this time.

8. How to Light on the Second through Eighth Night

The second night, place two candles in the Menorah's far right (as you face the Menorah) candle holders. Another candle is placed for the Shamash (helper candle). Say the first two blessings above and then light the candles using the Shamash candle. Light the left-most candle first and then light in order, from left to right. Follow this procedure for each night of Hanukkah.

9. Recited After the Blessings

We kindle these lights to commemorate the miracles and wonders and saving acts that You have performed for our forefathers, in those days at this time, by Your Holy Name. And all throughout the eight days of Hanukkah, these lights are holy, and we behold them in order to offer thanks and praise to you O Lord for Your miracles, for your wonders and your salvation. In John 8:12 You said, “I am the light of the world: he that follows me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.”

Displaying the Hanukkiah

It is an old custom to display the hanukkiah where its light will be visable from the outside. Note that if you place the hanukkiah near a window, the candles should appear lit right to left from the point of view of the one seeing them from the outside.

What You Need:

Hanukkah Menorah , candles or oil candles with olive oil and matches or a lighter.

Suggested Nightly Scripture Readings for Hanukkah

First night: Scripture: Is 51:1-4;Prov6:23;Matt 25:1-4;Prov 13:9;Lam 2:9;Prov 29:18
Discuss: The importance of a new understanding of what Torah really means
Question: What was the light Messiah brought to the nations?
Prayer: That God would bring His light into any darkness in our own lives

Second night: Scripture: Ps 119:1-24
Discuss: How living out the Torah is what makes us light in this dark world.
Question: What does Ps 119:18 mean to you?
Prayer: That God would open our eyes to see wonderful things in His Torah!

Third night: Scripture: 119:25-48
Discuss: Having borders or fences to protect us is good not bad.
Question: What is the significance of Ps 119:44,45?
Prayer: That we may see Torah as what God has given us to protect us.

Fourth Night: Scripture: Ps 119:49-72
Discuss: What do we value more: riches or Torah
Question: What does Ps 119:53 mean to you?
Prayer: That we may learn to put a higher value on what God says

Fifth Night: Scripture: Ps 119:73-96
Discuss: The faithfulness and longevity of God’s Word.
Question: What does Ps 119:89-91 mean to you?
Prayer: That God would settle His Word in each of our lives.

Sixth Night: Scripture: Ps 119:97-120
Discuss: How God’s Word is what lights our path so we won’t fall.
Question: What does Ps 119:103-105 mean to you?
Prayer: That the anointing of the Messiah would fuel the flames of our faith, illuminating the Kingdom of God to those around us so they won’t fall.

Seventh Night: Scripture: Ps 119:121-144
Discuss: Why does God’s servant want God to go to work
Question: What does Ps 119:125,126,135,136 mean to you?
Prayer: That we can comprehend our new identity, respond to the call to be lights and recognize our servant-hood to the King.

Eighth Night: Scripture: Ps 119:145-176
Discuss: Peace comes from Torah
Question: What does Ps 119:165-167 mean to you?
Prayer: Pray the Lord help you be a shining light in Yeshua.

Shalom and have a very happy Hanukkah
Dan & Brenda Cathcart

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