Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Giving Thanks On Hanukkah

Tonight is the first night of Hanukkah (or Chanukah) and, appropriately, it corresponds neatly with the Thanksgiving holiday here in the US. Both are times when we celebrate miracles whether it is for the oil which lit the reclaimed temple for eight days rather than one or the everyday miracles that we experience. We should be thankful for all these things.

Take advantage of this rare overlap and be thankful for the opportunity to experience this historic day. Because the Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar, as opposed to the familiar solar-based Gregorian calendar, these two holidays will not coincide again until the year 79,811. I don’t know about you but I’m pretty sure I’m going to miss that one.

While many of you are familiar with the gluttonous holiday of Thanksgiving, I wanted to take a minute to relay the story of Hanukkah as a bit of a reminder. There is more to it than Adam Sandler’s songs and movie. The following is the concise (which is why I’m not going to try and rewrite it) outline of the minor holiday:  

Chanukah -- the eight-day festival of light that begins on the eve of the 25th of the Jewish month of Kislev -- celebrates the triumph of light over darkness, of purity over adulteration, of spirituality over materiality.

More than twenty-one centuries ago, the Holy Land was ruled by the Seleucids (Syrian-Greeks), who sought to forcefully Hellenize the people of Israel. Against all odds, a small band of faithful Jews defeated one of the mightiest armies on earth, drove the Greeks from the land, reclaimed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and rededicated it to the service of G-d.

When they sought to light the Temple's menorah (the seven branched candelabrum), they found only a single cruse of olive oil that had escaped contamination by the Greeks; miraculously, the one-day supply burned for eight days, until new oil could be prepared under conditions of ritual purity.

To commemorate and publicize these miracles, the sages instituted the festival of Chanukah. At the heart of the festival is the nightly menorah (candelabrum) lighting: a single flame on the first night, two on the second evening, and so on till the eighth night of Chanukah, when all eight lights are kindled.

On Chanukah we also add the Hallel and Al HaNissim in our daily prayers to offer praise and thanksgiving to G-d for "delivering the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few... the wicked into the hands of the righteous."

Chanukah customs include eating foods fried in oil -- latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiot (doughnuts); playing with the dreidel (a spinning top on which are inscribed the Hebrew letters nun, gimmel, hei and shin, an acronym for Nes Gadol Hayah Sham, "a great miracle happened there"); and the giving of Chanukah gelt, gifts of money, to children.

Click here for the complete story of Chanukah, and here for a comprehensive "How To" guide for the observances and customs of Chanukah.

Today is a day for celebration and family (and food). Be thankful for the things and people in your life for they are not guaranteed to be there forever. Be thankful for your faith and your heritage because for as long as you are thankful you will not forget. Memories and appreciation can quickly fade if you let them like the candles slowly burning down and dripping subtle reminders below its branches. Show your appreciation this holiday and embrace the opportunity that this time of year affords us.