Monday, December 22, 2008

Happy חנוכה‎ (Hanukkah)!

Tonight, due to time constraints our family is celebrating an early Christmas. I'll still leave my Christmas posts for the next few days. I'm writing this article a few days early so that it can get to you for Hanukkah amongst all my Christmas hustle - speaking of which Pastor Darren Chapman recently blogged "Slow Down" - something I think is a very important message for this time of year.


The eight day Jewish festival of Lights celebrating the re-dedication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem is celebrated on the 25th of Kislev each year, which varies on the Gregorian calender, and this year falls on the 22nd December.

The בית המקדש (Beit HaMikdash or Holy Place) was destroyed around 587 BCE by the Babylonians after standing for around four hundred years, but was rebuilt, with the re-dedication occurring in 515 BCE.

The Second Temple was torn down and rebuilt by Herod the Great in around 19 BCE, however the resulting structure is also referred to as the Second Temple as the sacrificial rituals continued throughout it's reconstruction.

The festival commemorates the "miracle of the container of oil", it is said that after period of turmoil there was only enough sanctified olive oil left to fuel the eternal flame of the Temple for one day. Miraculously the oil continued to burn until they were able to press, prepare and consecrate fresh olive oil, a whole eight days.

The Talmud presents three options for celebrating Hanukkah, they are:

  1. The law requires only one light each night per household,
  2. A better practice is to light one light each night for each member of the household
  3. The most preferred practice is to vary the number of lights each night.
However, according to Wikipedia there is some Rabbionic dispute over how the last option is to actually be performed.

Other Hanukkah rituals include special additions to the daily prayer service and a section added to the post-meal blessing. Hanukkah is not like the Sabbaths where abstinence is required, people go about their life uninterrupted, with the exception of being home beore dusk to kindle the lights.

There is other significance here to the number eight. The first book of the תּוֹרָה (Torah), בראשית (lit: "in the beginning" or Genesis) describes in detail the seven days of creation, taking another past the point of creation you look towards אין סוף (Ein Soph, lit: "Without End") which in itself emanates all ten divine aspects represented by the sefirot. Eight therefore represents transcendence.


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