Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, is a precious and heart warming national holiday.
For eight days on the 25th day of Kislev (according to the Hebrew calendar), families and friends light up the candles of the Hanukkiah - a nine-branched candelabrum which is traditionally placed on the windowsill so passers by can see it, or outside of one's gate.
A popular, family-oriented activity many enjoy is walking around the old neighbourhood of Jerusalem and observing the lighting of the Hanukkah candles. What a sight to see the different and creative Hanukkiahs displayed on windows and outside the doors on the street in special wind-resistant glass boxes.
Although Hanukkah is not a biblical holiday, it is still observed by religious and secular Jews and is a great cultural opportunity for parties and celebrations as it brings much joy and warmth to the country during the cold and rainy winter season.
Families and friends light the candles together, sing traditional songs, eat sufganiyot (a round, deep-fried, jelly-filled doughnut) and other oil-based foods, spin dreidels, and play games.
Hanukkah is a joyous holiday whose origin story is one of a gruesome war, a valiant and impossible victory, and the miracle of the cruse of oil.
Hanukkah commemorates the recovery of Jerusalem and the subsequent rededication of the Second Temple at the beginning of the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucid Empire in the 2nd century BCE.
With the reign of Antiochus IV, Jews were prohibited from practicing Judaism and were commanded to worship Greek gods.
When Antiochus IV invaded Jerusalem (168 BCE), killing thousands of Jews and erecting an altar for Zeus in the Holy Temple, a small group of Jews, known as Hasmoneans or Maccabees, revolted zealously to regain control of the Temple and Jerusalem.
After two years of warfare, they pushed out the Greek army - whose forces were much more powerful and well-equipped than theirs, as God almighty was on their side.
After gaining control of the holy city of Jerusalem, the Jews found the desecrated Temple ransacked and destroyed.
Bit by bit and with great care, they rededicated the Temple to the Lord, with one of the Temple's daily rituals being the Menorah which was commanded to burn continuously before the Lord always:
"Command the Israelites to bring you clear oil of pressed olives for the light so that the lamps may be kept burning. In the tent of meeting, outside the curtain that shields the ark of the covenant law, Aaron and his sons are to keep the lamps burning before the Lord from evening till morning. This is to be a lasting ordinance among the Israelites for the generations to come." - Exodus 27:20-21
As the story goes, there remained only one cruse of oil which had not been defiled, containing enough oil to last only one night.
Yet, miraculously the one cruse of oil continued to provide oil lasting for eight nights, a sign of God's providence in the midst of darkness.
To this day, the Macabee's revolt is remembered by millions of Jews all over the world as an example of courage in the face of grave opposition.
The enemies of Israel were intimidating, using fear tactics to coerce them to serve other gods and forget their Jewish identity together with their calling to serve the one true God of Israel.
The Maccabees could have retreated back into the long shadows of intimidation cast by their oppressors, and yet they chose to advance upon darkness, armed with the truth, and reclaimed their rightful place in the presence of God in the Temple.
Unfortunately, the world we live in today offers us plenty of reasons to be anxious and intimidated. Wars and politics, inflation and sickness, ungodly morals plaguing the innocent, and a pandemic of the fear of men - are all looming in the background of our minds, stealing away our joy.
All this would leave us hopeless unless we put our hope and trust in God Almighty to fight our battles and give us strength to resist the enemy.
Yeshua commanded us to be a light to the world, understanding our place as sons and daughters of God, and giving us the confidence to face our daily fears head-on.
He not only commanded us to be bold for our own sake, shining forth His light but also for those who are locked in the chains of doubt:
"You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven." - Matthew 5:14-16
With Him, victory is guaranteed because Yeshua sits at the right hand of the Father - King over those who oppose Him and those who surrender with a humble heart.
The Temple is a symbol of our body, mind, and soul, which often becomes contaminated by the world and its ungodly ways, and the zealousness of the Maccabees is an example of how we should fight fear and rededicate our lives to God in holiness and purity of heart.
The Hanukkah story is a great reminder of how even though fear is great, the light of God in us is much greater and can defeat the darkness.
A traditional song sung during Hanukkah is called 'Banu Hoshech Legaresh', which means: we have come to banish the darkness.
It is sung around the luminous candles of the Hanukkiah, declaring we have come to banish the darkness with light and fire and that even though each of our lights illuminates little, together, we make a great light.
The last lyrics of the song are sung even more aloud as we command the darkness to flee from us (the light), singing it twice as it grows stronger in our hearts.
So how can we combat fear and darkness in our own lives? Especially when it seems like the darkness is so much greater than us.
By carrying the light of Yeshua in our hearts, a light so great it has the authority to banish the darkness and gives us strength to encounter any enemy standing in our way:
"When Yeshua spoke again to the people, he said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." - John 8:12
Not only is Yeshua the light of the world, but he gave us the privilege of being a shining beacon of hope to all those in need of courage.
As we enter into the Hanukkah season, let us remember that with each day of Hanukkah, as we add a candle to the Hanukkiah, the light grows and becomes stronger, just as we do when we rely on the Creator, who, with His words declared light into the world.
From Barry and Batya and the Vision for Israel team, we pray your hearts be illuminated with God's joy, peace, and pleasant memories with your loved ones this Hanukkah season.