The Meaning of Hannukah: Dedication
The meaning of Hannukah is rooted in Jewish themes and stories going back over
two thousand years ago. The menorah, or Hanukiya (the Hebrew word for candelabra)
has become one of the symbols of Judaism, visualized by the nine slotted Hanukkah
What is Hannukah?
Hannukah itself goes by many names, called by some the Festival of Lights, and
others the Feast of Dedication. It is an eight-day celebration which begins
at sundown on the 25th day of December, the 25th day of Kislev on the Hebrew
calendar. Hannukah is a commemoration of the rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem
in 167 BC. The story tells of how the Maccabees rejected the occupier Antiochus
Epiphanes and retook the temple against great odds. When Judah Maccabee rededicated
the temple, they did not have enough oil, but for one day. That little bit of
oil though lasted for eight whole days until more oil could be prepared.
Antiochus IV was one of a long line of Greek rulers who held other religions
and those who disagreed with his own views in disregard. After he attempted
to use the Jerusalem Temple as an alter for Zeus and himself, Mattathias rebelled
with his five sons and fought for the temple. When Mattathias passed away, his
son Judah, nicknamed Judah Maccabee (“the hammer”) took up his father’s
cause and in 167 BC was able to reclaim the temple after nearly two years of
war and unbelievable defeats of Antiochus’ superior forces.
What is a Menorah?
The festival of lights today is an eight day celebration of that eight day
miracle and the power of will it symbolizes for the Jewish people. The most
commonly known and widely practiced Hannukah ritual is to light the Menorah,
a candelabrum of nine candles, one for each day of the holiday and a shammas
“servant” candle to light the others.
Menorahs do not need to be made of the typical nine armed metal that most often
appears in store windows in December. The act is merely a chance to provide
a representation of those eight days by lighting eight lights. In older times,
lanterns would be lit so as those outside the house could see the lights. The
purpose of the celebration is to publicize and share with everyone outside of
your home the story of Hannukah.
How to Light a Hanukkah Menorah
The candles of the Hanukkah Menorah are placed in the menorah from right to
left. The candles are lit from left to right. None of the eight candles can
be used for anything beyond publicizing the Hannukah story. The candles must
be lit and allowed to burn for one half hour after it has become dark. On the
first day of Hanukah, three blessings are said with the lighting of the first
candle. On each subsequent day, only the first two blessings are repeated.
The Hannukah Blessings
The First Hannukah Blessing
The first Hannukah blessing is recited on all eight nights just prior to lighting
Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha-olam, asher kid'shanu b'mitzvotav
v'tzivanu l'hadlik neir (shel) chanukah.
Translation: Praised are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who sanctified
us with His commandments and commanded us to kindle the Hanukkah lights.
The Second Hannukah Blessing
The second Hannukah blessing is recited all eight nights just prior to lighting
Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha-olam, she-asah nisim la-avoteinu,
bayamim haheim, (u)baz'man hazeh.
Translation: Praised are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, Who performed
wondrous deeds for our ancestors, in those days, at this season.
The Third Hannukah Blessing
The third Hannukah blessing is recited only on the first night just prior to
lighting the candles:
Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha-olam, shehecheyanu, v'kiyemanu,
vehigi-anu laz'man hazeh.
Translation: Praised are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, Who has
kept us in life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this season.
Singing of Maoz Tzur After the Lighting of the Hanukkah Menorah
After the lighting of the candles of the Hanukkah Menorah, the beautiful song,
Maoz Tzur, is sung. The song praises God for survival despite the tragedies
of persecution in Jewish history. Below are all of the words to Maoz Tzur, although
typically, just the first verse is sung.
Ma-oz Tzur Yeshu-ati, lecha na-eh leshabei-ah. Tikon beit tefilati vesham
todah nezabei-ah. Le-et tachin matbe-ach mitzar hamnabei-ah. Az egmor beshir
mizmor chanukat hamizbei-ah.
Ra-ot sav'ah nafshi, b'yagon kochi kilah. Chayai meir'ru b'koshi, b'shibe-ud
malchut eglah. Uv'yado hag'dolah hotzi et has'gulah. Cheil Par'oh vechol zaroh
yardu ke-even bim'tzulah.
D'vir kodsho hevi-ani vegam sham lo shakateti. Uva noges v'higlani ki
zarim avad'ti. V'yein ra-al masachti kimat she-avarti. Keitz Bavel Zerubavel
l'keitz shivim noshati.
Kerot komat b'rosh bikesh Agagi ben Hamdatah. V'nih'yata lo lefach ul'mokesh
vegavato nishbata. Rosh y'mini niseita ve-oyev shemo machita. Rov banav v'kinyanav
al ha-etz talita.
Y'vanim nikbetzu alai azai bimei Chashmanim. Ufartzu chomot migdalai vetimu
kol hashmanim. Uminotar kankanim na-aseh nes lashoshanim. B'nei vinah yemei
sh'monah kavu shir urna-anim.
Chasof z'roa kodshecha v'karev keitz hayeshu-a. Nekom nikmat dam avadecha
me-uma haresha-a. Ki archa lanu hasha-a ve-ein keitz limei hara-ah. Dechei admon
b'tzeil tzalmon hakeim lanu ro'im shiv'ah.
Lasting Impression of Hannukah
Hannukah is a means of celebrating the impenetrable spirit and devotion of the
Jewish people to God and his faithfulness by keeping that candle alight for
eight days. The Temple’s cleansing itself, completed after defeating the
insurmountable odds of Antiochus’ armies represents much about the Jewish
faith, as well as displaying an annual and prolonged devotion.