Delivered by Gil Dekel, December 2016.
Gil: Hi everyone, my name is Gil. I’m going to tell you a little bit about the Jewish holiday of Hanuka, light over darkness.
Hanuka is a Jewish holiday, which is celebrated each year, relating to something that happened some 2000 years ago and there’s also a miracle that happened there. The meaning of the word Hanuka is to rededicate; it means to purify. It relates to a story that happened 2000 years ago in Israel, right there in the holy temple.
Some 2000 years ago, the Jewish community was invaded in Jerusalem in Israel. The ruling empire was fairly good to begin with but then suddenly they decided they would not allow the local people to practice their religion. They would not allow it. They came to the temple and they degraded it.
Now there was a small community of Jewish people called the Maccabeams who revolted. It took them three years but they finally managed to drive them out.
Now why would I tell you this story? This is one of the earliest known stories about a group who fought for its religious freedom. I’m not religious, you may not be religious; that’s not the point. The point is about religious or cultural freedom. This is one of the earliest stories where people actually fought for it, where people actually said, “It doesn’t matter if there is only 100 of us against a mighty empire. We’re going to fight for our religious freedom.” This is also important for today.
I want to tell you about the small miracle that happened there in the holy temple in Jerusalem but before that, I want to tell you about the actual temple. This holy temple is the second temple that stood in Jerusalem some 2000 years ago and inside there was something really interesting.
You would go into that room and there was another room. That central room, that hidden room is what we call Kodesh Kodashim, which means the holy of the holiest. The most holiest spot in Judaism was represented there. A secret chamber; when you would go there, you would see all the glory of the Jewish symbolism.
Let me ask you, can you figure out, can you think what you would find in that little chamber, in that little room, the holy of the holiest. Have you got any ideas?
Audience member: Holy water.
Gil: Holy water, okay. Any other ideas?
Audience member: A relic.
Gil: A relic, okay. What else would you find in the holiest room?
Audience member: Holy book.
Gil: Holy books; excellent.
Audience member: Gold.
Gil: Gold, absolutely. So gold, you said holy water, books, a relic. All are things that you would expect to find in the holiest room but the truth is that none of them was there at all.
The truth is that the room was completely empty. So you would go to the Jewish holy temple, you would go to the most sacred room and there was nothing there, it was completely empty. Because in Judaism, we believe the God lives within you. There’s nothing from the outside that should influence your belief in God or belief in life. Therefore, you went to the holiest room, you would stand there and there was nothing. It was empty. You could stand there and you would feel the silence, you would hear the silence because God lives within every human being.
Before the Kodesh Kodashim, before that room, there was the Menora. This is a Menora. It is a candelabrum that holds 8 candles and that relates to the story of Hanuka.
In the temple, there were 7 candles; there used to be 7. The reason is when the Maccabeams drove out the ruling empire and they went into the temple, it was degraded. The Menora, the candelabrum was there but they couldn’t find oil to light it up. They used oil, wicks and oil.
They found one jar of oil and they said it will light up the Menora for one day. But then a miracle happened. They poured the oil inside and it stood for 8 days. That is the miracle of Hanuka; 8 days instead of one day.
Why 8? Symbolically, if you take the figure 8 and you tilt it, you lay it on its side, as you can see here, it represents the symbol of infinity; represents that the light of life, the light of God is infinite inside your heart.
And for that reason, today we celebrate the holy day using the same Menora and we light up 8 candles. Each day, you add one candle.
So the first day of Hanuka, one candle only on the right. The second day, two candles. Third day, three candles until you end up with 8 candles. In the middle, you see the 9th candle, right there in the middle. That’s called the Shamash, the service. This is the candle you would use to light up all other candles. You are not allowed to use the other 8 candles for anything else apart of enjoyment. If you need to light up anything you wouldn’t use any of the 8 candles. They are just purely for enjoyment. The service, the Shamash is used for lighting up all other candles.
The point of celebrating light, Hanuka as I said is light over darkness, is because in Judaism we believe it’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness. That’s relevant for today as well and many cultures are saying this thing. If you see something bad, something evil so to speak, you have two opportunities, two things that you can do. One, you can stand here and condemn it as much as you want, which is fine. The other thing, you can stand here and you can set a good example of how to do things properly.
That’s two ways of approaching life. We can condemn as much as we want. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Or on the other hand, we can set a good example of good deeds.
And if you ask me what is Judaism in one sentence, I would tell you that’s it. That’s the only thing you need to know about Judaism. It’s better to light up a candle than curse the darkness.
In Judaism we believe that if you take up Jewish law, Jewish rule, the only thing you need to do is to make sure that you are a good person. That’s it. To bring the light into life; bring the light into reality.
The interesting thing about light and about candles, see the little candle? Light can be brought only into darkness. You cannot bring light into light. Only where there’s darkness you can put a candle. So in a way, we should never condemn the darkness because thanks to the darkness you can put up a light.
In Hanuka when we light up the candles, we say a little prayer or a little story. At the top, Al Hanisim; that’s the Hebrew word which means ‘for the miracle’. And Al HaNiflaot, ‘for the wonders’. When we light up the candles, we say thank you God, thank you, life, for the miracles and for the wonders that happened then and are still happening now.
Now for me, this was really confusing. Why do we say thank you, life, for the miracle that happened; the miracle of driving out the ruling empire, the miracle of oil that should last for one day lasting for 8 days, so thank you for that miracle. But also, thank you for the wonders. I must say this is really confusing. What’s the difference between miracles and wonders? So let me ask you, what do you think is the difference between the word ‘miracle’ and the word ‘wonder’? Any ideas?
Audience member: Different words.
Gil: Different words. Who said that? That’s right. Words are just symbols to something so what’s the difference? What do they represent differently? Miracles are something that happen and it is miraculous. In Judaism, we believe everything is miraculous. We believe that everything that happens now is a miracle. You are all miracles. People don’t realize it but every single human being is a miracle.
If you think of it, the ability to breathe air, transmute air, turn it into energy, that’s a miracle. How does this happen? I know there’s chemistry, biology behind this but who governs this rule? Who created this miraculous thing, where we can breathe air, transform air into abstract thought? That is a miracle.
In Judaism, we think that a miracle is not the parting the sea into two; you know, the biblical story of parting the Red Sea into two and the Israelites just walk away through the sea. That’s not a miracle, that’s just playing with nature. But nature in itself is the miracle. We are all miracles. That’s the meaning of the word miracle.
But wonder, I think, wonder would be when you recognize the miracle. So when you realize how miraculous something is, when you realize how miraculous it is to breathe, to transmute air into pure energy… When you realize that as a human being then it’s wondrous. Then it’s become a wonder. So it’s the same thing, miracles and wonders but we thank God for the miracles that happen and also, we thank God for our ability to understand it; our ability to realize things as human beings that can think.
My last slide, I’m going to share with you little practices that we have in Hanuka. Top right, what you see is the donuts. We call them SufGaniot. These are donuts baked in oil because the history and the story of Hanuka is the miracle that happened with the oil so we eat oily food.
We also give chocolate coins, as you can see here, and you see the Jewish Menora symbol embedded in that chocolate coin. Why chocolate? Because children love chocolate. Why coins? Because we want to remind children how blessed they are, so remind them to give to charity.
It’s not just helping other people; but also recognizing that we are able to help other people.
And the third thing; you see this little toy here? In Hebrew, we call it Svivon from the word ‘to spin/to turn’ For Hanuka, there’s four letters on it. You see four letters embedded. On the right, Nun, Gimel, Heh, Shin, which stands in Hebrew for “Nes Gadol Haya Sham,” which means “A big miracle happened there”. If you are in Israel, it says “Nes Gadol Haya Po”, a big miracle happened here. It relates again to the story of the ruling empire not allowing the Jewish community to practice Judaism, so they would read books in hide. When they would see soldiers coming, they would hide the books and pretend to play this Swivon, this Dredl. And it has some other symbolism as well.
Two important things to take from our story. One, you go to the Jewish temple, the holiest of the holiest is an empty room because God or life and wonder always lives within you. The second thing to take from this today is: better light up a candle than curse the darkness. Thank you very much.
Hannukah is also spelled: Hanuka, Hanukkah, Chanukah, Chanuka. חנוכה, חג האורות.
© Gil Dekel. 24 Dec 2016.