The Lightman family has just completed lighting candles for the first night of Hanukkah and we are enjoying the candles’ dancing flames. A trip outside to look at our Menorahs is inspiring. What is magical about this holiday that captures hearts of young and old, religiously observant and not observant?
Lighting the Menorah is not a simple matter. Hillel and Shammai discuss in the Gemara how we should light Hanukkah candles, left to right, right to left. Their dialogue includes whether we should light 8 candles the first night and then take away a candle each night so we conclude Hanukkah with one candle, or, as we practice, we light one candle, adding a candle each night until the Menorah is ablaze with 8 candles plus the Shammash.
A glimpse into Al Hanissim, the prayer unique to Hanukkah, affords insight into this holiday. This prayer states “…when the wicked Hellenic government rose up against Your people Israel to make them forget Your Torah and violate the decrees of Your will.” The Greeks mounted a comprehensive campaign to eradicate us and our Torah – not dissimilar from other nations and peoples that have sought our annihilation throughout the ages, including, but not limited to, the Crusades, the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, the infamous Chmelnytsky massacres, Nazi Germany, present day events, etc.
Similarly, our present holiday was precipitated by a concerted effort mounted by the Greeks to not only take us away from our Torah, but for us to violate it and forget about it. They thought that by destroying our light, our source of Hashem in this world, all ties with Judaism would be severed and Judaism would not survive.
Yet we did not capitulate to what the Greeks wanted. Although mired in despair, a small band of people launched a battle with utter confidence in the impossibility of losing. They believed that if they did their part, Hashem would come through and do His. But it was up to them to start the process. And succeed they did. Even though a small amount of oil was found, it was enough to light the Menorah for eight days. Hashem’s presence in this world shone.
The Nesivos Shalom elucidates on why Chazal, when setting up the Jewish calendar, made Hanukkah the last holiday to be established. This hints to what will be the pattern of Jewish history – Hanukkah and its miracles will once again happen but only at the end of a long exile. As this exile unfolds, there will be an increasing number of tests. They will happen as our resources diminish, forcing us to look even more for Hashem.
Today’s world is one of waning resources. The test for us is to believe in Hashem and, by doing so, we will prevail. The so-called civilization that called for our annihilation are relics studied by historians and anthropologists. We are still here, having reinvented ourselves with Torah always at our core and very being. With G-d’s help, we will yet again prevail, bringing to life the words of Shmuel Hanavi – “Netzach Yisrael Lo Yishaker – The victory of Israel will be for eternity.”