Hanukkah — “The Festival of Lights” and “The Feast of Dedication”

I wanted to send out a quick story I wrote several years back about the story behind the Festival of Hanukkah. Tonight we celebrate the second day of this eight day festival! I hope to have a more in-depth write up by the end of the feast, Lord willing. But until then, I hope this wets your appetite to find out more about this amazing holiday…a holiday that even Yeshua celebrated in the New Testament! (Look it up!)
With that, here is the amazing miracle story of Hanukkah!
More than 2000 years ago after Alexander the Greats death, his four Generals divided His Kingdom into 4 parts. One of Alexander’s Generals, Antiochus III, became King over Syria and Conquered Judea. Antiochus was Greek and did not understand the religious customs and commandments that the Jewish people followed. His son Antiochus IV tried to take away the religious freedom of the Jews.
That is where the Story of Hanukah begins. In the year 162 B.C.E. (Before the Common Era) Antiochus issued a decree, which said: “Antiochus, king of Judea and commander of the army, to the Jews. Be Warned. Anyone caught praying to God or obeying the Jewish law will be killed. ‘ALL JEWS MUST BECOME GREEK AND BOW DOWN TO Zeus.’” This frightened the Jews but it would not make them change.
Their ancestors had promised God to worship Him and Him alone, whatever the cost, so as not to break the covenant God had made with them. They continued to study their holy books and the Torah. (The first 5 books of Moses) Many horrendous acts were committed at that time by Antiochus’ soldiers. Yet, even then, the Jewish people would not stop studying and worshiping God. Finally Antiochus became so enraged that he ordered the Holy Temple of God invaded. His soldiers looted the building, pouring out all the holy oil for the menorah, making the floor thick with oil. They smeared filth on the walls, sent pigs into the Temple, sacrificed pigs on the altar, and as a final insult, brought a statue of Zeus and set it up in the Holy Place.  Antiochus insisted on being called Antiochus Epiphanies, which means “God manifest,” enough to repulse any religious Jew. The Jewish community soon came up with an appropriate reflection of their feelings, calling him Antiochus Epimanies, which means “crazy man”.
The Jews were heartsick. Their Holy Temple had been defiled. Antiochus thought that the Jews were conquered and went on to Egypt to fight another land war.
Bust of Antiochus Epiphanies IV 
But the Jews did not lose hope. In the city of Modi’in lived an old, godly priest named Matthias Hasmon. He lived with his 5 sons: Yehudah, Yonatan, Shimon, Eliezer, and Yochanan. (Names in English = Matthew, Judah, Jonathan, Simon, Eliezer & John) The Syrian soldiers chose Matthias to lead a pagan ceremony knowing he was a priest of God and a great leader. Matthias and his sons reacted with holy indignation, “enough was enough.” They killed the soldiers and started a revolt against the oppressors. Matthias said: “Antiochus will not rest until he has destroyed us, we must fight back! It is better to die for God than to live as slaves…God wants living servants and not dead law-keepers. Whoever is ready to fight for God, come with me!” 
Matthias and his followers moved into the Judean hills. Matthias rose up and said: “Everyone must learn to fight, my son Yehudah has been a mighty warrior from his youth. He will lead you.”
Yehudah began to train men and women, young and old, how to use bow and arrow, slingshots, spears and daggers.
Each night he sent people down from the hills to gather food, weapons, and information. The pious Jews became good warriors. Enemy soldiers who tried to climb the hills could not get very far. The Jews would hit them with sling stones and arrows; almost every one of them hit its mark. As certain as hammer-blows, was the aim of the Jewish warriors. For this reason they became known as the “Maccabees” which means “Hammers”. The Jewish people had to fight for their lives against the tyranny of the Greeks and Syrians.
“Matthatias refuses to sacrifice to idols”
By Gustave Popelin. 1882
Antiochus was furious when he heard that the Jews were fighting back, He wrote to his General’s in Jerusalem: “Antiochus, king of Judea and the commander of the army, to his General in Judea. Lose NO time. Assemble the army. Slay the Jews who fight in the hills.”
By this time in the fighting, Matthias had died of old age and his oldest son Yehudah had taken his place.
When the Jews saw the vast army they grew pale: “How can we, only a few thousand strong, make war against such a multitude?” Yehudah spoke up; “Victory does not depend on the size of the army but on heaven, Antiochus may have thousands of soldiers, but we have God.”  The Jews were made strong through their faith in God. Encouraged by their leader’s words the Jewish people took up their weapons. Until then they had largely defended themselves in small-scale guerilla battles, but now the war had begun in earnest. The Jews fought on, pushing Antiochus’s forces farther back. After 3 years of fighting, the enemy lost heart. They saw that they could not defeat the Jews, so the put down their weapons, and gave up. When Antiochus learned that the Jews had defeated his men, he was so ashamed, that he drowned himself in the sea.
The Jews were free at-last; they came down from the hills and reclaimed Jerusalem. They faced the sober task of restoring the Temple to the true worship of God.
Rededication of the Holy Temple with the lighting of the Menorah
The Temple compound was in shambles, desecrated by the idolatry of the Syrians. The Maccabees quickly cleansed the altar and restored the holy furnishings. Of particular importance to them was the menorah the lamp-stand, which symbolizes the light of God. They restored the lamp, and attempted to light it.
Jewish tradition recounts that as they were cleaning the Temple, they found a jar of oil that was still holy, with the seal of the priest on it. The people rejoiced over the oil, but they knew it would only be enough to burn for one day. It would take at least 8 days for new oil to be produced. What to do? They decided to light the menorah anyway; at least the light of God would shine forth immediately. To their amazement the oil burned not only for one day, but instead, burned for eight days until new oil was available. The people took this as a sign from God.
On the 25 day of the Jewish month, Kislev, in the year 165 B.C.E. Yehudah and the priests rededicated the Temple to the God of Israel. God had once more preserved his people through whom the Messiah would come only decades later! With the dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem some 2000 years ago the holiday of Hanukah was born.  Every year we recall the three-fold miracle of the oil, the miraculous military victory, and the restoration of the Holy Temple, God’s house, where all nations will come and someday worship. May the restoration of the Holy Temple come soon and bring with it the restoration of all things! And may the light of this holiday shine in our hearts, to remind us that, despite all the odds we face in this world, the God of the miracle story of Hanukkah still performs His wonders in this time and at this season.
  Chag Sameach! Happy Holiday!

Shanah Tovah—Happy New Year!

As the New Year (Rosh HaShanah) approaches, bringing us ever closer to the Day of Judgement (Yom Kippur), I wanted to write a short note of encouragement for all of us to think on as we enter this special and sobering time. 

As I watch time turn around, I’m reminded of a passage in Ecclesiastes which says, “That which has been is what will be, that which is done is what will be done….” It is a reminder to us that history repeats itself. 
But why is this the case?

In Rabbeinu Bahya, Shemot 32:7, it is speaking of the Israelite’s sin with the golden calf. It says, “Unfortunately, history repeats itself, the children not learning from the mistakes of their parents.” And in Shemot (Exodus) 20:5 it is written, “For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations….”
From this we learn that history repeats itself because each generation does not learn from the mistakes of the past generation. God visits the “iniquity of the fathers upon the children.” Is this fair? It seems to imply that children receive punishment for the sins of past generations.
While it is true that each generation deals with the consequences of the choices of the generations before them, it cannot be true that God punishes children for the mistakes and sins of their fathers. Why? Because all throughout scripture it tells us “Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall children be put to death for their fathers.”(Deuteronomy 24:16. See also, Jeremiah 31:30, Ezekiel 18:20, & 2 Chronicles 25:4)
Is this a contradiction? No, actually it’s a blessing! While no one is put to death or punished for the sins of another, God “commits the punishment” of the fathers on the children in order to give the children an opportunity to change. God gives each generation the prospect of breaking the sins of the fathers. To be the difference makers and world changers in paving roads of freedom from the “old blunders and errors in sin.” This is why “history repeats itself.” It is to give each generation the opportunity to choose differently than their ancestors.
Every Generations Choice
In trying to break the mold and create a new revolution for the future, the world has created a hamster wheel that leads to death. As we enter into the New Year, let us take the opportunity to jump into God’s circle, how He wants the world to turn.
The most well known Psalm of David is Psalm 23. In this Psalm we read the line, “He leads me in the paths of righteousness.” But in Hebrew, instead of, “paths of righteousness” it says, “Maglei Tzedek – Circles of Righteousness.” Why does it say “circles of righteousness?” The same reason God “visits the iniquity of the fathers on the children.” In one case, He is giving us the opportunity to change the “circling mistakes” of our forefathers. In the other case, He is allowing us to walk in His “circle of righteousness” instead.
We can choose to follow in the path of our fathers…or the path of our Father
As a new year comes around the circle, let us take the opportunity to get off the merry-go-round of the circling mistakes of our ancestors and instead walk in the circle of righteousness that God offers for all who come to Him.

Happy Rosh HaShannah to all!
L’Shannah Tovah Tikatevu!