“Outside the curtain that shields the ark of the covenant law in the tent of meeting, Aaron is to tend the lamps before the LORD from evening till morning, continually. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come.” — Leviticus 24:3
The eight-day festival of Hanukkah begins tonight at sunset. While Hanukkah is not mentioned in the Jewish Bible, it is mentioned in the Christian Bible in John 10:22. Jesus would have celebrated Hanukkah. It also is one of the most well-known Jewish holidays as it is celebrated in close proximity to Christmas. This is one of eight devotions exploring the many lessons this observance has for Christians. To learn more, download our complimentary Bible study.
Hanukkah is the only Jewish holiday that isn’t commanded in Scriptures, and while we do have the Book of Maccabees, it was never made part of the Bible. So it makes sense that generations later the Jewish sages asked, “Why Hanukkah?” What is the focus of this holiday?
Now, one answer could be in order to remember the miraculous military victory of the Jews over the Greeks. But instead, the sages point to the miracle of the oil. When the victorious Maccabees recaptured the Temple, they only found one jar of oil, enough to light the lampstand for one night. Miraculously, it lasted for eight nights giving the Jews enough time to make new pure olive oil without any interruption in the burning of the light.
Why did the sages choose the miracle of oil over the military battle for the main focus of the holiday?
While the military victory was great and miraculous, it was not full or permanent. It would be another two decades before the Jews fully succeeded in ousting the Greeks from Israel. Even that liberty would be temporary; a few centuries later, Jerusalem fell to Rome and the Jews were exiled from their homeland for 2,000 years. The miracle of the oil, on the other hand, was a victory that would last forever because it was not a physical victory, but a spiritual one.
When God first commanded Aaron and his descendants to light the menorah, the lampstand, in the Tabernacle and then the Temple in Leviticus, Scripture says that it is an eternal commandment. However, the Temple was destroyed in 70 CE, so how could this commandment possibly be for all generations? The sages explain that when the Maccabees, a family of priests, lit the Temple menorah leading to the Hanukkah miracle, they made the lighting eternal. We fulfill the lighting of the Temple menorah through lighting our Hanukkah menorahs each year.
This is why the holiday was included in the Jewish yearly cycle. In Judaism, the menorah symbolizes the light of God and the light of the Torah. When we light the menorah on Hanukkah, we fulfill a biblical mandate after all. We bring the light that God desires into every generation. We rekindle our passion for His Word and share its light with others.
Hanukkah celebrates an eternal triumph of God’s light over all darkness. This spiritual light is an everlasting one. Goodness will always overcome evil, and light will ultimately outshine the darkness forever.
To learn more about the Festival of Lights that Jesus would have celebrated, download our complimentary Bible study, “What Is Hanukkah?”.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President