The Holiday of Hanukkah, the eight day long festival of lights, a beautiful time of celebration and leisure without the prohibitions of other holidays, a relaxing week and a day of family fun and fried Jewish foods and dreidel by the light of the Hanukkah Menorah. Gambling over chocolate money and a spinning top called a dreidel and enjoying jam filled doughnuts together, this holiday is definitely out of the ordinary.
And that is as it should be, since the celebration is an ode to a historical epic even more unusual – a wonderful tale following the Macabees, a small family group of fighters who won a battle against the giant multitudes of the Greek army. They were fighting for their freedom to live in peace as Jews and practice their religion, for King Antiochus had placed many decrees against their religious practices, prohibiting even the study of the Bible and desecrating the temple with ruin and idols. Led by Matitiyahu, and later his son Judah the Maccabee, The Macabees finally freed the Jews to practice Judaism on the 25th of Kislev, the entire escapade full of miracle. And the Miracles didn’t stop there, for Antiochus had destroyed all of the special olive oil pure enough for the Hanukkah Menorah in the temple and sealed by the high priest. Not only did they find a small jug of the oil, but it lasted eight whole days long, much longer than it should have and long enough for them to procure more oil. From then on we have been celebrating the miracles of that time in an eight day long holiday where we light menorahs, add Hallel to the prayers, and eat foods made in oil to remember the miracles God gave us.
The rules of lighting the menorah are intricate and specific, so here is a guide.
– Ashkenazic tradition is that each family member light their own Menorah, while in Sefardic tradition the family has one together.
– The menorah should be lit ideally by the front door opposite the Mezuzah, in public view, but if that’s not doable the focus should be on making it public, for example in a window. If that too isn’t possible then the mitzva is still fulfilled by the whole family seeing it.
– The candles can be wax, although many prefer olive oil candles, and they must burn for at least half an hour after nightfall. During that half an hour traditionally families don’t do work, and they celebrate Hanukkah with songs like Maoz Tzur (Rock of Ages) and holiday foods and games.
– You light the candles from the Shamas, and other than the shamas (which is an extra candle, not the same as the mitzva candles which can’t be used for anything), the candles are lit from the right to the left, starting with only one, and another one added each day.
-Ideally the menorah is lit at nightfall, but later is acceptable.
-These are the blessings said:
ברוך אתה י-ה-ו-ה אלו-הינו מלך העולם, אשר קדשנו במצוותיו, וציוונו להדליק נר חנוכה
Baruch ata ado-nai elo-heinu melech ha’olam, asher kideshanu bemitzvotav, vetzivanu lehadlik ner Chanukah.
Blessed are You, Lord our G-d, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us to light the candle of Chanukah.
ברוך אתה י-ה-ו-ה אלו-הינו מלך העולם, שעשה נסים לאבותינו, בימים ההם בזמן הזה
Baruch ata ado-nai elo-heinu melech ha’olam, she’asa nisim la’avoteinu, ba’yamim ha’hem bazman ha’ze.
Blessed are You, Lord our G-d, King of the universe, who performed miracles for our forefathers in those days, at this time.
And on the first day only:
ברוך אתה י-ה-ו-ה אלו-הינו מלך העולם, שהחינו וקימנו והגיענו לזמן הזה
Baruch ata ado-nai elo-heinu melech ha’olam, she’hechiyanu ve’kiyemanu ve’higiyanu lazman ha’ze.
Blessed are You, Lord our G-d, King of the universe, who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this occasion.
Have a wonderful Hanukkah, full of light and happiness and the spirit of miracles. And make sure to enjoy your dreidel, songs, gelt, latkes, sfigim and sufganiyot doughnuts!