To some, this is a season of custom, of tradition. To others, it's a time to celebrate. To many, this is a time for chinese food.
To me, Chanukkah is an incredibly vibrant and inspirational holiday, all too often drowned out by the hype, the "tradition", and not the practice and the joy.
So in the interest of bringing some strong positivity, some living inspiration to this holiday, here are 10 little known facts about Chanukkah.
- The war of the Maccabees was the world's first ideological war.
- The Maccabees were not warriors by training. They were academics and men of piety, stirred to action by their beliefs.
- This was the first war fought on the roads and not on organized battlefields. The Maccabees introduced the innovation of stealth warfare, attacking the enemy legions from caves and hilltops on the side of the road. These caves are well known, and are situated just outside my parents home in Bet Shemesh. If you're ever in the neighborhood, take along a tour guide and prepare to get dirty. It's a lot of fun.
- The celebration of Chanukkah is a commemoration of the re-dedication of the Beit Hamikdash, the temple in Jerusalem. Part of this rededication was the lighting of the primary menorah that had always resided in the Beit Hamikdash (there were several other minor menorahs throughout the complex). In the interest of doing things right after the temple had been defiled, the priests wanted to use a sealed flask of oil, insuring that the oil was still pure and unused. This is where the many traditions involving oil (latkes, donuts) come from.
- The first miracle at the rededication of the Beit Hamikdash was that they found a flask of oil with it's initial tamper-proof seal intact. The second miracle was that this one day supply lasted so long.
- The light of the menorah symbolizes the light of the soul, flames reaching for the sky while a physical "container" enables the flame to light up a room, to light of the world.
- The custom of playing "dreidel" dates back well before the BCE/AD changeover. The original game of dreidel was used as a means of subterfuge by students illegally studying torah. When the oppressive ruling soldiers would raid a study group, the students would gather around a spinning top, acting as if they were engaged in gambling.
- The core mitzvah of lighting the menorah is only one candle per night per household. We light 8 candles, progressing each night as a hiddur, an extended celebration, bringing additional light into the world.
- Chanukah is a social holiday, a holiday of sharing. This is very much a communal celebration.
- If a person only has 8 candles, one for each night, and his friend has none, it is better to share with your friend for the first few days and not to light during the later days (assuming other candles cannot be procured).
- It is best to light menorah in a place where others can see it, and at a time where someone is available to hear you recite the blessings AND at a time where others can see it.
- The original menorah was made of a solid block of gold. In an effort to recreate this incredible masterpiece, artists and scientists in Israel teamed up to create a menorah formed of solid gold. I don't recall the exact process, but involved using electricity to instantly coat an entire menorah at one time. This menorah currently stands in the old city of Jerusalem (pictured above) and is believed to have cost about 3 million US dollars.
- As with all Jewish practice, the core theme of Channukah is utilizing our physical capabilities for spiritual means. We do not eschew emotions, we celebrate with joy. We marry the physical to the spiritual, utilizing our hearts, our minds, our actions and our prayers to perform tikun olam, to help better the world.
Whether it be helping a stranger find a job, greeting everyone with a smile or lighting the menorah, this is the time of year when we rethink, re-evaluate, rekindle and re-inspire. Special thanks to all of my friends, teachers, Rabbis and family for inspiring me with a love of Chanukkah, a love of torah, a love of life... beyond Chinese food.
And if you're ever looking for some REALLY good kosher chinese food, please feel free to reach out.