|The Martyrdom of Channah's Seven Sons|
In the Jewish calendar of Feasts and Festivals, we will be celebrating Chanukah this coming Wednesday. The Jewish Festival of Chanukah, or the festival of lights, begins on the eve of Kislev 25, and lasts eight days. It is the newest of the Jewish Feast and Festivals in that it was first celebrated in 165 BC. This year it begins at sundown tomorrow, December 20th and ends December 28th. It celebrates the triumph of light over darkness, purity over adulteration, spirituality over materiality. Chanukah memorializes events recorded in the Biblical Books, 1 & 2 Maccabees.
The Chanukah story begins with Alexander the Great. Following his untimely death, his Empire was divided among his generals. Ptolemy, for instance, took Egypt and most of the Holy Land. Seleucius took the adjoining area north and east of Ptolemy’s which included central Anatolia, the Levant, Mesopotamia, Persia, today's Turkmenistan, Pamir and parts of Pakistan. Much of the eastern part of the empire was conquered by the Parthians under Mithridates I of Parthia in the mid-2nd century BC. Seleucid kings continued to rule from Syria until their eventual overthrow by the Roman general Pompey.
About 170 years before the birth of Christ, the Jewish nation was ruled by the Seleucid king, Antiochus IV called Epiphanes, meaning “Manifest of God,” although the historian Polebius, gave him the epithet Epimanes—madman— because of his cruelty . He tried to impose Hellenistic beliefs upon the Jews. He removed their High Priest and installed his own man, Menelaus. He then marched on Egypt. When Rome overpowered Antiochus in Egypt, a rumor spread that Antiochus was dead. The former high priest, Jason, raised an army and led the people rebelled driving Menelaus him out.
Enraged by his defeat, Antiochus attacked Jerusalem and restored Menelaus. He ordered his soldiers to cut down anyone whom they met and to slay those who took refuge in their houses. They massacred young and old, killing women, children, and infants. In the space of three days, eighty thousand were lost. Forty thousand met a violent death, and the same number were sold into slavery.
CHANNAH and HER SEVEN SONS
Channah and her seven sons were arrested and taken before the king. One-by-one, he ordered the sons to abandon their religion and one-by-one they refused and were killed. As they took the last boy away Channah told him, “Tell your ancestor Abraham, ‘You bound only one son upon an altar, but I bound seven.’”
Her story is told in the Book of Judith. While it is unclear whether her story took place during the war with the Seleucids, the Book of Judith is read in every Synagogue during Chanukah. Her city came under siege by a huge army. Rather than starve to death, the people appealed to their leader to surrender. The Jewish leader asked for five days before he surrendered. Meanwhile, Judith, a young widow, went meet with the general. He invited her to dinner and she fed him her homemade cheese and wine. He got drunk and passed out. In an act reminiscent of David and Goliath, she cut off his head with his own sword, put it in her picnic basket and took it to the leader of the Jews. The soldiers panicked when they realized their general was dead and the Jews defeated this army.
|Judas Maccabeus Leading his Troops in Battle|
ENTER THE HAMMER
Judah was the third son of Mattathias, the Hasmonean, a Jewish priest from the village of Modiin. He and his brothers led a rebellion against the Seleucids. He was a great general and defeated Antiochus’s armies though often greatly outnumbered. For this reason people began to call him Judah Maccabeus, Judah the Hammer. When the war was over, he and his family ruled the country for next100 years. His descendents are often referred to as the Maccabees or the Hasmoneans.
THE MIRACLE of the MENORAH
Once they were victorious, the Jews wanted to purify the Temple that the Hellenists had defiled. When they reached the Temple, they could only find one jug of oil with the high priest’s seal of purity intact. Worse yet, there was only enough oil in the jug to last for one day. Regardless, they used it to light the menorah and this one day’s worth of oil miraculously burned for the full eight days. This miracle has been celebrated ever since as the Festival of Light, or Chanukah.
|Lighting the Menorah in the Temple|
CELEBRATING CHANUKAHChanukah commemorates an oil-based miracle, which explains why Jews eat oily foods to commemorate it. Some eat fried potato pancakes known as latkes, while others eat sufganiyot, deep-fried doughnuts. It is also customary to eat cheese since one of the greatest victories resulted from Judith feeding the enemy cheese.
During Chanukah it is also customary to give gelt (money) to children, so they can be taught the value of charity. During the Hellenistic oppression, the Greeks outlawed Torah schools, so the children had to study in the forests. They posted a sentry to alert them of patrols, and when the alert came, the children would hide their texts and start playing with dreidels (spinning tops).
By playing with a dreidel children commemorate the courage of those heroic children. A driedel is four-sided top with the letters nun נ gimmel ג hay ה and shin ש carved on its sides, which stand for the words nes gadol hayah sham―A great miracle happened here.
They also eat fried foods such as potato pancakes, latkes and deep-fried donuts, sufganiyot, and give children presents every night.
Each day of Chanukah Jews recite the complete Hallel in their morning prayer service. They also insert a special prayer of thanksgiving, V'al Hanissim, in the prayers and Grace after Meals. Every morning they read from the Torah about the inauguration offerings brought in honor of the dedication of the Tabernacle—reminiscent of the Maccabean re-dedication of the defiled Temple.
On Friday afternoon, the menorah is lit before lighting the Shabbat candles. The Friday night Chanukah candles must burn for at least 1½ hours. On Saturday night they light the menorah after dark following the Havdallah ceremony.
Tomorrow we will have our post in the Christian Writer’s Blog Chain. The topic this month is Gifts of the Heart.
Our Christmas posts will resume on Friday when we examine the events surrounding the birth of the Christ child.
Until next time, we wish you Peace and Blessings
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