What is Hannukah?


The Meaning of Hannukah: Dedication

The meaning of Hannukah is rooted in Jewish themes and stories going back over two thousand years ago. The menorah, or Hanukiya (the Hebrew word for candelabra) has become one of the symbols of Judaism, visualized by the nine slotted Hanukkah Menorah.

What is Hannukah?

Hannukah itself goes by many names, called by some the Festival of Lights, and others the Feast of Dedication. It is an eight-day celebration which begins at sundown on the 25th day of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar. Hannukah is a commemoration of the rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem in 167 BC. The story tells of how the Maccabees rejected the occupier Antiochus Epiphanes and retook the temple against great odds. When Judah Maccabee rededicated the temple, they did not have enough oil, but for one day. That little bit of oil though lasted for eight whole days until more oil could be prepared.

Antiochus IV was one of a long line of Greek rulers who held other religions and those who disagreed with his own views in disregard. After he attempted to use the Jerusalem Temple as an alter for Zeus and himself, Mattathias rebelled with his five sons and fought for the temple. When Mattathias passed away, his son Judah, nicknamed Judah Maccabee (“the hammer”) took up his father’s cause and in 167 BC was able to reclaim the temple after nearly two years of war and unbelievable defeats of Antiochus’ superior forces.

What is a Menorah?

The festival of lights today is an eight day celebration of that eight day miracle and the power of will it symbolizes for the Jewish people. The most commonly known and widely practiced Hannukah ritual is to light the Menorah, a candelabrum of nine candles, one for each day of the holiday and a shammas “servant” candle to light the others.

Menorahs do not need to be made of the typical nine armed metal that most often appears in store windows in December. The act is merely a chance to provide a representation of those eight days by lighting eight lights. In older times, lanterns would be lit so as those outside the house could see the lights. The purpose of the celebration is to publicize and share with everyone outside of your home the story of Hannukah.

How to Light a Hanukkah Menorah

The candles of the Hanukkah Menorah are placed in the menorah from right to left. The candles are lit from left to right. None of the eight candles can be used for anything beyond publicizing the Hannukah story. The candles must be lit and allowed to burn for one half hour after it has become dark. On the first day of Hanukah, three blessings are said with the lighting of the first candle. On each subsequent day, only the first two blessings are repeated.

The Hannukah Blessings

The First Hannukah Blessing

The first Hannukah blessing is recited on all eight nights just prior to lighting the candles:

Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha-olam, asher kid'shanu b'mitzvotav v'tzivanu l'hadlik neir (shel) chanukah.

Translation: Praised are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to kindle the Hanukkah lights.

The Second Hannukah Blessing

The second Hannukah blessing is recited all eight nights just prior to lighting the candles:

Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha-olam, she-asah nisim la-avoteinu, bayamim haheim, (u)baz'man hazeh.

Translation: Praised are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, Who performed wondrous deeds for our ancestors, in those days, at this season.

The Third Hannukah Blessing

The third Hannukah blessing is recited only on the first night just prior to lighting the candles:

Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha-olam, shehecheyanu, v'kiyemanu, vehigi-anu laz'man hazeh.

Translation: Praised are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, Who has kept us in life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this season.

Singing of Maoz Tzur After the Lighting of the Hanukkah Menorah

After the lighting of the candles of the Hanukkah Menorah, the beautiful song, Maoz Tzur, is sung. The song praises God for survival despite the tragedies of persecution in Jewish history. Below are all of the words to Maoz Tzur, although typically, just the first verse is sung.

Ma-oz Tzur Yeshu-ati, lecha na-eh leshabei-ah. Tikon beit tefilati vesham todah nezabei-ah. Le-et tachin matbe-ach mitzar hamnabei-ah. Az egmor beshir mizmor chanukat hamizbei-ah.

Ra-ot sav'ah nafshi, b'yagon kochi kilah. Chayai meir'ru b'koshi, b'shibe-ud malchut eglah. Uv'yado hag'dolah hotzi et has'gulah. Cheil Par'oh vechol zaroh yardu ke-even bim'tzulah.

D'vir kodsho hevi-ani vegam sham lo shakateti. Uva noges v'higlani ki zarim avad'ti. V'yein ra-al masachti kimat she-avarti. Keitz Bavel Zerubavel l'keitz shivim noshati.

Kerot komat b'rosh bikesh Agagi ben Hamdatah. V'nih'yata lo lefach ul'mokesh vegavato nishbata. Rosh y'mini niseita ve-oyev shemo machita. Rov banav v'kinyanav al ha-etz talita.

Y'vanim nikbetzu alai azai bimei Chashmanim. Ufartzu chomot migdalai vetimu kol hashmanim. Uminotar kankanim na-aseh nes lashoshanim. B'nei vinah yemei sh'monah kavu shir urna-anim.

Chasof z'roa kodshecha v'karev keitz hayeshu-a. Nekom nikmat dam avadecha me-uma haresha-a. Ki archa lanu hasha-a ve-ein keitz limei hara-ah. Dechei admon b'tzeil tzalmon hakeim lanu ro'im shiv'ah.

Lasting Impression of Hannukah

Hannukah is a means of celebrating the impenetrable spirit and devotion of the Jewish people to God and his faithfulness by keeping that candle alight for eight days. The Temple’s cleansing itself, completed after defeating the insurmountable odds of Antiochus’ armies represents much about the Jewish faith, as well as displaying an annual and prolonged devotion.

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