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The Gift of Hanukkah
Posted: 12/13/2012 | Inspirational Comments
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May the lights of Hanukkah usher in a better world for all humankind.
–Author Unknown

Happy Hanukkah!

Even if you’re not Jewish, you’re probably familiar with this holiday. It’s observed in November or December of each year, and it’s often eclipsed by the flash and drama of Christmas. It’s not the most important Jewish holiday, and because it coincides with the Christmas season, it’s often overlooked as a sort of “Jewish Christmas.” While both holidays do have some things in common, like family gatherings and connection within community, Hanukkah is so much more than this limited view. It’s steeped in a rich history and culture, and rooted in strong, profound spiritual values we can all embrace in our lives today, regardless of our religious beliefs and upbringing.

Also called the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah started over 2300 years ago in Judea, under the rule of King Antiochus. The Greeks invaded Judea and as was their custom, they forced local people to adopt their culture and views. Greeks focused on the human form, antithetical to the values of Judaism, which honored that which is beyond the human form. Judaism was abolished, and those who practiced were punished severely and cruelly. Temples were destroyed or used for other purposes. Women were especially persecuted, and if a woman broke the law by having her son circumcized she would be killed and her baby hung publicly. It was a time of intense and overwhelming suffering and oppression.

Judah Maccabee and his brothers formed a small army, intending to defeat the Syrians. They called themselves Maccabees, which means hammer. They fought for 3 years until they defeated the Syrians, a near impossible feat given the odds against them. They reclaimed the Temple of Jerusalem, and set to work cleaning and rededicating the space to God. They searched for oil to light the lamps, and found only one small container that wasn’t defiled, enough oil for one evening of light. A miracle occurred when the oil continued to burn for 8 days, the time needed to travel and retrieve new oil.

And so Hanukkah is an 8 day celebration, meaning, “rededication.” Each day at sundown, one candle of the Menorah is lit, representing miraculous, continuing light in the Holy Temple. It represents “the light of the house without,” a reminder for those who pass by that a miracle occurred. Foods rich in oil are enjoyed, like latkes and jelly donuts. The Dreidel, a game popular in Antioch’s time, is played to commemorate a time when Jews gathered illegally to study the Torah, and pretended to play the Dreidel to cover their actions. Small gifts are exchanged. Prayers, meditations and rituals are woven into this celebration to give thanks and honor the reunification of the Jewish people, their victory over oppression, and ultimately, freedom.

How can we embrace these values as we celebrate this season? We can take the opportunity to clean our own temples–whether our bodies, homes, relationships or our lives–and rededicate them to the highest good. We can take a little time to move our focus from the outside world and turn inward. We can celebrate all the miracles that saturate our lives. We can move our focus from the commercialism of the season, and focus upon what’s really of value. We can connect with others of our “tribe” and celebrate our common human experience. We can remind ourselves of all we’ve overcome in our lives, our many freedoms, especially the innate freedom inside us we can never lose. We can honor and celebrate our inner light, and allow it to shine brightly.

Do you celebrate Hanukkah? What does it mean to you? Please leave a comment, as it makes a difference for all of us.

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