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Hanukkah


Hanukkah Menorah

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Teaching God's Word Since 1994
"Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ."

Colossians 2:8

Hanukkah is the "Feast of Dedication." This feast remembers a great Jewish victory during the Greek era, which was prophesied in the Book of Daniel. (Dan. 11:29-45) In those days the Greek ruler attempted to make it illegal for anyone to follow God's Law. The temple of God in Jerusalem was desecrated. Swine flesh was burned on the altar, and a statue of Zeus was set up. While some Jews agreed the Laws of God should be considered archaic, and left in the past, those who loved God and His Word stood up, choosing to fight, even giving their lives, rather than disobey God's Law. Eventually, these God fearing believers retook Jerusalem and the temple!

However, as they cleansed the temple, and began the process of rededicating it to God, they ran into a problem. In their great desire to bring the presence of God back to the temple, they relit the temple lamp (called a Menorah), but they only had enough of the special oil, commanded by God to be used in this lamp, (Ex. 27:20-21) to last one day. It would take several days to make more of this special oil, and it was in this time the sign came that God was truly still with them. That one day's supply of oil lasted the entire eight days it took to produce more oil!

While Hanukkah does remind us of the Jewish military victory over those who would attempt to outlaw God and His Word, it is important to our understanding of Hanukkah that we recognize the observance is not about that victory. Hanukkah is a celebration of the fact God confirmed to His people, He had not left them nor forsaken them! (Deut. 4:25-31) This fact was seen in the miracle of the oil, and that is why the lighting of the Hanukkah menorah is the major observance of the feast! This is also why Hanukkah is often referred to as, "The Festival of The Lights"!

Hanukkah is an eight day feast that begins on the twenty-fifth day of the Hebrew calendar's month Kislev. This most often puts the eight days of Hanukkah, or at least a majority of them, somewhere in the month of December. Because of this, many non-Jews wrongly assume Hanukkah is connected to or in someway is representative of, a Jewish version of Christmas. However, the feast of Hanukkah pre-dates The Messiah's birth, and certainly the choice that the celebration of His birth should be held in December at or around the same time as the pagan winter festival(s).

In fact, as Jesus walked this earth, John records He came to the temple on "...the feast of dedication,..." (John 10:22-28) and Jesus even prophesies that the temple and the Jewish nation would, once again, suffer in the latter days - referring to Daniel's prophecy again. (Matt. 24:1-22, Dan. 12) Sadly, the temple was destroyed not many years after Christ by the Romans in 70 A.D., and many Jewish people were removed to other lands. However, Hanukkah was and has been continually celebrated by God's chosen nation with or without the temple, and irrespective of their location. In many ways this feast follows right along with what Solomon prayed at the dedication of the first temple in Jerusalem, when he asked God to remember and hear the cry of His people when they look toward the temple's location from wherever they might be! (I Kin. 8:22-66)

Now, there are seven Biblical feasts given to the nation of Israel in the Law of God. While Hanukkah is not one of these seven commanded feasts, we should realize its reason for existing is part of the Bible's prophecy nonetheless. Hanukkah reminds us of some very important points that are crucial to our understanding of Biblical prophecy, and today, Hanukkah can be celebrated with a little more expectation, as we have witnessed the rebirth of the nation of Israel, along with the continual return of her people. We now await the day the temple will once again be rebuilt and the Temple Mount, along with all of Jerusalem, rededicated to The One True God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob! (Jer. 33:14-18, Zech. 14:20-21)

To understand how Hanukkah is observed, one must first understand that the Jewish day does not start in the morning or at the stroke of midnight. The Jewish day begins at sunset! Because of this truth, many non-Jewish people may look at a calendar and see that a Jewish feast starts on a particular day and be puzzled by the fact some of the observances begin the night before. Hanukkah is one of those feasts which shows us this. For example, if the twenty-fifth of Kislev falls on a Monday, we might think the first night of Hanukkah is when we all come home from work, school, etc. on Monday evening, but that is not the case. The first night would begin at sunset on Sunday, or what many would call Sunday evening. This is important to understand because the major observance of Hanukkah is the lighting of the Hanukkah menorah, which happens each of the eight nights of the feast.

For lack of a better way to say it, I will say a "proper" Hanukkah menorah is made after the pattern of the temple menorah. The temple menorah first appeared according to God's instruction given to Moses, as part of the creation of the mobile temple or tabernacle Israel first used in the wilderness. A temple menorah has a main stem that goes straight up from the base. Connected to this stem are three U shaped branches that are progressively wider and taller so they form three evenly spaced branches on each side of the center stem. All of which reach up to an even height with the center stem. Overall, this gives the temple menorah seven lights or lamps.

Now, the reason I used the term "proper" is that one will see Hanukkah menorahs come in many different shapes and sizes. This has some to do with the simple fact it was more important, even in very difficult times, to hold the observance than to not due to technicalities. Jews living even under difficult circumstances still observe Hanukkah as best they can. After all, this celebration is about remembering God is with His people, and that's important in no greater time than when the going gets tough. Thus, through the centuries, Jews have not allowed the inability to obtain or have a "proper" menorah to stop them from observing Hanukkah. Even a simple wooden block with holes drilled in it will do; and because this is true, many Hanukkah menorahs through the years have been intentionally built in many different styles.

The simple point I wish to make here is that a strict Hanukkah menorah be patterned after the temple menorah, which reminds us we should pattern all things in our lives after what God has shown us in, and through, His Word. Thus, a Hanukkah menorah looks very much like the temple menorah, but with two distinct differences! First, a Hanukkah menorah has four instead of three U shaped branches attached to its center stem. This gives it nine lights instead of seven. The second difference is that the center stem is not at the same height as the other eight lights, but stands just a bit taller. The reason for both these differences will become obvious.

There are eight nights of candle lighting during Hanukkah. Each night a candle is placed on the menorah to represent the days of Hanukkah. On day one, one candle. On day two, two candles, etc. until all eight days are represented on the last night. Understanding this for the first time should lead to the somewhat obvious question of, why if there are eight nights of Hanukkah, is there nine lights on a Hanukkah menorah? The answer again turns us to the respect we should have for God and His Holiness. The eight lights of Hanukkah represent the lights of the temple menorah, and each of the days it miraculously continued to burn, on just one day's supply of oil! Thus, Hanukkah candles are very special. Because they are special, they are to be enjoyed, but they are not to be used for common purposes. Just like the Sabbath, they are not for the labor of man, but for our communion with God. To help assure this, the Hanukkah menorah gives room for one extra candle. This one extra candle, while not part of the count, is lit each night and is a special candle in its own right!

This set apart candle resides in that center stem of the Hanukkah menorah, which is just a bit higher than the other lights, and it is called the "Shammus." In English it is to say, "The Servant," and it represents The Messiah. Again, this tradition has been observed since long before Christ walked this earth at His first appearing. However, it goes hand in hand with what Jesus told us about His coming to serve, so we might follow in His footsteps. (Luke 22:24-27) Like the Shammus is lifted up so it is easily recognized as the Shammus candle, Jesus told us to lift Him up and He would do the work of drawing all men unto Himself. Jesus said this in reference to the way He would die, being lifted up on the cross for the sins of the entire world! (John 12:30-33, 18:31-32) Jesus came to this earth as a man, born to common parents, and willing to be sacrificed for what we needed the most. The Shammus candle of Hanukkah is placed in the menorah so we have a candle that can be used for the common purposes a normal candle can be used for, and which the other candles in the Hanukkah menorah can not. However, the true purpose of the Shammus is to use it to light the other candles of Hanukkah each night!

Once we understand the menorah and the candles, we are ready to light the lights of Hanukkah, which also follows specific steps that have meaning to and for God's people. As we talked about before, we light the menorah after the sun sets, and begins each new day of Hanukkah. The obvious first step we must take is to place the candles. Each night Hanukkah candles are placed in the menorah starting on the far right side and placing each new candle going to the left. This is done in honor of the language God's law, the Torah, was written in. This, of course, is the Hebrew language, which is written from right to left. The lighting of the candles is done just the opposite. The Shammus of course is lit first and then used to light the other candles going from left to right. This is because we honor that which is new. However, talking about lighting the candles is getting a bit ahead of ourselves, because there is something very special that comes between lighting the Shammus and using it to light the others.

Of course, lighting the menorah is all about enjoying time in the presence of God. Thus, there are berakhot or "blessings" which go along with the lighting of the candles. Of these, there are three. There is a blessing over the candles, a blessing for Hanukkah, and the She-hekhianu. The first two are recited every night of Hanukkah. The third is just for the first night, because, as you will see in reading the words, this third blessing is about thanking God for bringing His people through all the trials of life to this particular time of year once again. Each of these blessings are done with a poetic or song like cadence, which really only flows properly if spoken in Hebrew. However, reciting the words in English, or whatever language you're familiar with, still brings home their message, and, of course, God sees your heart no matter what language you speak! As non-Jews read through the words of these three blessings, one may be tempted to think they do not apply to them. However, we should remember that while not all true believers are by ancestry part of God's chosen nation, we all strive to be God's chosen people. (Matt. 22:1-14, Mark 13:14-20, John 15:16, Rom. 8:12-17)

Blessing over Candles

Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melekh ha'olam
Blessed are you, Lord, our God, sovereign of the universe

asher kidishanu b'mitz'votav v'tzivanu
Who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us

l'had'lik neir shel Chanukah. (Amein)
to light the lights of Hanukkah. (Amen)

Blessing for Hanukkah

Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melekh ha'olam
Blessed are you, Lord, our God, sovereign of the universe

she'asah nisim la'avoteinu bayamim haheim baziman hazeh. (Amein)
Who performed miracles for our ancestors in those days at this time. (Amein)

She-hecheyanu (first night only)

Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melekh ha'olam
Blessed are you, Lord, our God, sovereign of the universe

shehecheyanu v'kiyimanu v'higi'anu laz'man hazeh. (Amein)
Who has kept us alive, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this season. (Amen)

To be clear on the sequence of Hanukkah menorah lighting, it steps out as follows. First, we place the candles in the menorah starting at the far right and moving to the left. We then light the Shammus, and while holding it, we recite the blessings - three on the first night and just the first two every night after that. After reciting the blessings, the Hanukkah candles are lit, starting with the newest one on the left and going to the right. Once all the candles are lit, the Shammus is placed in the center holder.

Now, a couple of final detail points to remember and observe is Hanukkah candles should not be blown out! We do not intentionally extinguish the light of God. Thus, each candle should be allowed to burn until it goes out on its own. Waiting and watching to see which one goes out first and the smoke stream which goes up toward heaven as each candle dies is part of remembering the sacrifice of Christ, and the fact we must all give up this life if we desire to be born again into life eternal with and through The Messiah! One technical note is that Hanukkah candles should be able to burn for a minimum of 1/2 hour. In my experience, unless you specifically buy normal stick candles, or the like, with the intend of having them burn a good deal of the evening, many of the smaller Hanukkah candles will burn for well past the half hour mark, but not too much over an hour, if even.

All this might seem a bit confusing and/or like a lot of strict ceremony, but the point of a ceremony is not to feel as though God is going to strike you dead if you don't get it exactly right each time. The point is to involve yourself in something that has been done for centuries, by countless numbers of God's people, in remembrance of God's marvelous presence at His temple in Jerusalem, to which we all pray He will soon return! The best way to understand Hanukkah it is to experience it for yourself. Unlike Passover and some of the other ceremonies of the law that non-Jews are forbidden to take direct part in, Hanukkah is a wonderful celebration put together after the pattern all our so called "Holy Day" should have been modeled after. Because it was not directly commanded in God's law, Hanukkah stands as an example of how God's people can choose to offer to God more than what is asked of us, in worshiping God by celebrating an important event in our lives and/or history, in which God did something great! Hanukkah shows us how such a celebration should not seek to overlay pagan practices with Biblical sounding excuses, in order to appease or entice those who do not yet or truly believe, but use Biblical practices to create something that reminds us of the life God wants all of us to live, allowing God to draw all men unto Him through the things that are of Him! In closing, I will say simply this. If Hanukkah is observed with respect and in sincerity, you will find God is truly a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him! (Heb. 11:1-6)

Shalom!




I hope you've enjoyed this look at Hanukkah. By far, this writing could be more extensive; and Lord willing, it is my hope to expand it in the future to include more information about the history and traditions of Hanukkah. I hope you'll check back again to see what has been added, and use the comment form on this page to share your thoughts about this writing, along with any questions you might have!


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