As we get ready for our Hanukkah party this year (Dec. 11), one of our missionaries ran across an article in a Jewish publication trying to answer the question “Why is Hanukkah such a popular holiday?”
There is no question that Hanukkah is one of the more popular holidays in the Jewish calendar, and as the writer of the article notes, there is very little in the Talmud about Hanukkah, especially about the origin and nature of the holiday.
One of the most popular aspects of the holiday of Hanukkah is the lighting of the menorah. As I’ve said before, that custom stems from a “miracle” that occurred after the Maccabees secured the Temple from the Syrians, and cleansed and rededicated it. The story goes that as the priests went to light the lampstand in the Temple, there was not enough undefiled oil to keep it lit. They used what oil could be used, enough to last for a day, but the miracle that occurred is that that little bit of oil lasted eight days, long enough to press and purify more oil. Many traditions of Hanukkah flowed form this oil miracle. The problem, of course, is that the history does not record such a miracle, and the miracle of the oil wasn’t even mentioned in the Talmud until around the 4th century. While some argue for an oral tradition that predates the Talmud, I have often maintained that the miracle of the oil was a distraction for the Jewish people, to take the focus off of the true miracle of Hanukkah, the preservation of the people from whom Messiah Jesus would be born.
I often wonder at what lengths some Jewish people will go to avoid talking about Jesus. The writer quotes a reference from Rashi from the 11th century and says, “This story shows that the popularity of Hanukkah was so great that it was kept even after the Temple was destroyed. Consequently, it implies that Hanukkah was established earlier, even while the Temple stood. This makes sense because if it was enacted after the Temple was destroyed, it should have been counted among the other mitzvot established by Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakai as Zecher L’mikdash, as a reminder of the Temple.”
It implies that Hanukkah was established “even while the Temple stood?” We don’t truly need Rabbi Yochanan or Rashi to tell us that…Rabbi Y’shua tells us very clearly. “At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem (John 10:22).” Y’shua was there, and he used that opportunity to boldly tell the Jewish people that he is the Messiah, born of the Jews. We can light the menorah to do something other than celebrate his birth, or we can light the menorah to celebrate the miracle of his birth. Surely the popularity of Hanukkah is not just a distraction so that we don’t have to talk about Jesus?
Merry Christmas to you, and Happy Hanukkah. It is a wonderful season of true miracles in Messiah!