Advent 2020 – December 10
December 9, 2020
The First Night of Chanukah
(Caroline Lehman is faith leader with Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity and a member of Temple Beth El, Berkeley, CA)
“When God restores Zion’s fortunes, we should be like dreamers. Then will our mouths fill with laughter and our tongue with glad song. They will say in the nations ‘great things has God done…’ We shall rejoice…bearing his sheaves.”
The festival of Chanukah celebrates many things. The word Chanukah means dedication. The holiday celebrates the dedication of the Temple after its defilement by Anthiochus’ forces who had been defeated by the Jewish resistance, led by Judas Maccabaeus, around 166-160 B.C. Much of the Temple precincts, the altar and the other ritual items had been plundered or destroyed. The altar was rebuilt and new sacred vessels were made. Incense was burned on the altar and the lights on the lampstand relit, using the one jar of oil which was found intact with the high priest’s seal. The most known tradition, for this festival, is that there was only enough oil for the light to last for one day. The miracle, which this holiday celebrates, is that the light lasted for eight days.
Interestingly, “these days of Chanukah, were established as holidays, for the recitation of the Hallel and for Thanksgiving.” Hallel, meaning “praise” is the name of a Jewish prayer, consisting of psalms 113-118, which are specially sung on the three major festivals of Pesach (passover), Shavuot (pentecost) and Succot (thanksgiving/harvest). There is a less well known explanation for the eight days of celebration which is connected with the singing of the Hallel and the leafy branches and palms which were carried in the temple. It is surmised that it had not been possible to celebrate the festival of Succot, and so it was being celebrated for eight days when the Temple was re-dedicated, and so another reason for Chanukah to be celebrated for eight days! This also gives precedence (though there are other references, in Leviticus for example) for celebrating holidays at a later date when it was not possible to do so on the prescribed date. A problem which is very relevant today, as families have so many challenges to getting together.
These days, Chanukah, is celebrated by lighting candles every night for eight days. We use a nine branched candlestick, which comes in all shapes, sizes, colors, and materials called a chanukiah. Not to be confused with a menorah, the seven branched candlestick which was in the Temple. We purchase special boxes of 44 candles! They burn for less than one hour. On the first night two candles are used; one candle, called the shamos (servant) is lit and it is used to light the other candle. On each subsequent night, one more candle is added so that as the days progress, the light becomes brighter! On the first night, we recite an ancient prayer, grateful for being alive, for having been sustained and for being able to be together again to celebrate the holiday. Traditionally, foods fried in oil are eaten, like potato pancakes called latkes, chicken and doughnuts, to commemorate the one consecrated jar of oil which was found. While the candles burn we play games using a dreidel, which is a four sided top, one hebrew letter on each side for the words which spell a “great miracle happened there.”
For me, the spiritual significance of this holiday lies as much in the pleasure of lighting candles in one of our chanukiahs, which has been used for four generations and enjoying the time together of watching the candles as they burn down, as in recognizing that light is the spark of hope in these the darkest days of the year and this is in fact something shared by many faiths at this time of year.
LABC Zoom Gatherings
Together In Spirit – 6:00 p.m. Thursday
Holiday Letter Writing to those in detention – Thursday 7:15 p.m.
A Time For Prayer- 10:00 a.m. Saturday
Virtual Tour of Bethlehem – 11:30 a.m. Saturday (contact Pastor Allison for information)
LABC Worship – 10:00 a.m. Sunday
Adult Bible Study Class – 11:45 a.m Sunday
Blue Christmas Service – 2:00 p.m. Sunday
LABC Youth Group – 7:00 p.m. Monday
No Soup, But Study – 6:00 p.m. Tuesday
LABC Church Council Meeting – 7:00 p.m. Tuesday