Chanukah — the eight day festival of light — begins on the eve of the 25th of the Jewish month of Kislev, which this year corresponds with Sunday, December 6.
More than 21 centuries ago, the Holy Land was ruled by the Seleucids, who sought to forcefully Hellenize the people of Israel. Against all odds, a small band of faithful Jews defeated one of the mightiest armies on earth, reclaimed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and rededicated it to the service of G-d.
When they sought to light the Temple’s menorah, they found only a single cruse of olive oil that had escaped contamination, miraculously, the one-day supply burned for eight days, until new oil could be prepared under conditions of ritual purity.
At the heart of the festival is the nightly menorah (candelabrum) lighting: a single flame on the first night, two on the second evening, and so on until the eighth night.
On Chanukah we also add the Hallel and Al HaNissim in our daily prayers to offer praise and thanksgiving to G-d for “delivering the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few...the wicked into the hands of the righteous”.
Chanukah customs include eating foods fried in oil such as latkes and sufganiot (doughnuts); playing with the dreidel, a spinning top inscribed with an acronym for “a great miracle happened there”; and the giving of Chanukah gelt, or gifts of money.
Over the eight nights, Jewish people across Glasgow will remember an ancient triumph of freedom over oppression, and renew their faith in the possibility of miracles.
Even in the darkest days of winter, the Festival of Lights brims with hope. The courage of the Maccabees reminds us that we too can overcome seemingly insurmountable odds.
The candles of the Menorah remind us that even the smallest light has the power to shine through the darkness. And the miracle — that the oil lasted for eight nights instead of one — reminds us that even when the future is uncertain, our best days are yet to come.
May this Chanukah embolden us to do what is right, shine a light on the miracles we enjoy, and kindle in all of us the desire to share those miracles with others.
Together with Avraham, Perel and Devorah, I wish you a very happy and bright Chanukah.