While Jews all over the world kindle lights on Hanukkah, as mentioned in recent articles in The Star, the lights on the eight-branched candelabra are but a symbol of a holiday with important historical and contemporary meaning.
In 165 BCE (BC) Ancient Israel Judea was ruled over by the Syrian Greeks. Many Jews were becoming Hellenized, straying from Jewish practice. The Syrian-Greek king, Antiochus IV, eventually forbade Jewish practice, occupied the Temple in Jerusalem and dedicated it to the Greek god Zeus.
For the priest Mattathias and his five sons, the king had gone too far. They formed a small army known as the Maccabees, and through guerrilla warfare were able to overcome the Syrian-Greeks, retake the Temple, and rededicate it to God. The word “Hanukkah” means dedication.
The holiday of Hanukkah commemorates a successful battle for religious freedom and the right of each person to openly observe the religion of his choice.
And the lights? A legend created by the sages of ancient times because of the danger for Jewish people, under foreign rule, of celebrating a military victory. Thus the lights became the symbol of the holiday we know as Hanukkah.
Rabbi Linda Steigman