What do we want our children to know about Chanukah?

  • ParshaRabbiPink
Let’s start at the beginning. The story of Chanukah in a nutshell. During the time of the second Beit Hamikdash (Temple) the Holy Land was ruled by the ancient Greeks. They were not very kind to the Jewish people, they stole their property, and even set up idols in the Temple. No one could stand up against them, until Mattityahu and his sons rose up, together with a small army of Jews called the Maccabees. They managed to overcome the Greek army, and drove it from the land.
by RABBI PINI PINK | Nov 29, 2018

The Chanukah lights remind us of the great miracle, that a small band of Jews defeated the mighty Greek army. When the Maccabees reclaimed the Temple, they wanted to rekindle the menorah, however they could find only enough oil to last for one day. G-d made a miracle, and it lasted for eight days.

Throughout our history, the Jewish people have been persecuted and harassed. However, in the Chanukah story, it was different. The Greeks were philosophers. They accepted the Torah as a book of wisdom, but not as something holy that connects us to G-d. In the end, they made Torah learning illegal, and outlawed mitzvot like Shabbat and Brit Milah (bris). The Greeks, unlike the Persians in the story of Purim, were not out to annihilate the Jewish people through physical destruction. The Greeks were after our souls. So, the battle we fought in the story of Chanukah was not just physical, it was also spiritual.

How did we overcome the mighty Greek army? The Jews of that era had to re-educate themselves, and strengthen their resolve to learn Torah, and perform G-d’s commandments. The word “Chanukah” shares a root with the word l’chanech or chinuch, which means “to mould” or “to educate”. Education, especially the education of children, is the foundation of what we celebrate on Chanukah.

This is relevant to the times we live in. We live in a world filled with darkness. We live in times where anti-Semitism, terrorism, crime and corruption are all too prevalent. We can see from the story of Chanukah that with a strong belief in G-d, and a connection to his Torah and mitzvot, we will have something to be proud of and to stand up for. We are blessed in South Africa with many amazing Jewish schools. We have the opportunity to educate our children to be proud of our roots, proud of our ancestors, and to stand up as happy and proud Jews.

The fifth Chabad rebbe taught that joy has the power to overcome anything negative, and break any evil decree. Hence we have Chanukah parties, with dreidels, latkes, and Chanukah gelt or gifts.

Each night of Chanukah, we add another candle until all eight candles of the menorah are shining. By adding a candle every night for eight days, we charge ourselves up with light, so that we will constantly be adding in Torah and mitzvot (which are compared to light) throughout the year to come.

But what does all this teach us? We may think that this is a story of old, with little or no relevance to our lives today. It took place at a time when the Temple stood; now we are in a bitter exile. We live in a time when it’s not so easy to keep the mitzvot. This is exactly what the Chanukah story is teaching us, a lesson we can impart to our children, too. We need to add even more light, more light than in the story of Chanukah. What’s more, in the Temple, only the kohen gadol (high priest) could light the menorah. Today, we all can. We all have the ability to bring light to the world.

The rabbis teach us that the candles of Chanukah will never disappear. Yes, the temple was destroyed and the candles extinguished, but we, the Jewish people, live on, lighting our Chanukah candles, and being a beacon of light to the world.

The miracle of Chanukah occurred at a dark time when there were harsh decrees against Jews. But, the Maccabees had courage, and never lost hope. Their mesirut nefesh (self-sacrifice) turned the darkness into light! Today too, our mesirut nefesh for Torah and mitzvot will light up the world.

If there is one lesson we can take from Chanukah and pass on to future generations, it is to be proud Jews, and to shine a little light that will dispel a lot of darkness.

  • Rabbi Pini Pink is the Rabbi of Chabad Greenstone and the youth director of Chabad House, Johannesburg.


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