Hanukkah begins tonight at sundown and Jews around the world will repeat that phrase, meaning “Happy Hanukkah!” (Pronounced: Cha-nu-ka Sa-maech, with gutturals on the ‘ch’ sounds!) Yesterday we talked about the meaning and significance of Hanukkah and today we’ll discover the focus of Hanukkah.
7-branched Menorah near the Knesset
The focus of the Hanukkah celebration is the Hanukkah menorah, or the hanukiah. Different than the 7-branched menorah we see symbolizing the Jewish state of Israel, the Hanukkah menorah has 9 branches, commemorating the 8 days in which the Temple menorah remained lit with a 1-day supply of oil. (We’ll talk about that 9th branch shortly!)
Lighting of the Hanukkah menorah takes place in homes and publicly. At home, it is customary (though not required) for Jews in Israel to place the Hanukkah menorah outside, facing the street in order to commemorate the miracle of Hanukkah as publicly as possible. Most in the diaspora (living outside Israel) place the menorah indoors to prevent antagonism, vandalism and harsh weather. Because the mezuzah is placed on the right door post, the menorah is customarily stationed to the left of the door or entryway. There are specific rules about the height of the menorah (usually low), but basically it should be easily seen by others.
Giant Hanukkah menorah, in preparation of lighting on the first night (Jerusalem 2015)
During the 8 days of Hanukkah, one additional light (or candle) is lit each evening. The 9th branch of the menorah, which sits higher or offset from the other 8, is the shamash, the “servant candle” from which each of the other candles are lit.
At dusk on night 1 of Hanukkah, a light or candle is placed in the furthest right branch, Hanukkah blessings are recited, the candle is lit (using the shamash) and remains lit until 1/2 hour after sundown. Each night, an additional candle is added until, on the eighth night, each branch of the menorah is aflame, giving testimony to the great miracle that occurred! Know this, however: candles are added right-to-left, but are lit left-to-right, always with Hanukkah blessings pronounced in between!
While Jewish traditions can be fun to enact, they serve no purpose for Christians other than to symbolize Biblical principles. (ie – Observing Jewish feasts and celebrations does not make us more spiritual, nor does it determine our salvation, righteousness or anything else.) For example, let’s go to God’s Word to see how Jesus is the Light of the World, on display in the lighting of the Hanukkah menorah!
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it…. And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.
~John 1:1-5, 14 [Emphasis mine]
Jesus is Light…and He shines in the darkness! Need more? Check this out:
For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
~2 Corinthians 4:6 [Emphasis mine]
I find it fascinating that, when Jesus observed the Feast of Dedication (John 10:22), he had already proclaimed Himself to be the Light! He had done so in John 1 (above), and he does so again in John 8:
“I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.”
You see, Jesus knew what His purpose on earth was, and He was teaching His followers about Himself. When He proclaimed Himself to be the Light of the world, the Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah) was a mere hours away, and He knew those followers would recall His statement when the lights of Hanukkah were lit. (Want to dig deeper? Read John 8-10!)
Today we have God’s written Word to tell us the same thing that Jesus said verbally! He is indeed the Light of the World who gives us light. Isn’t it interesting that, even in secular celebration of Christmas, we hang Christmas lights! As Christians, if we choose to celebrate Hanukkah, we honor the historical significance it holds for our Jewish brothers and sisters, but we also know it is God’s written Word coming to life symbolically as we light the candles of Hanukkah!
Here is a very short video tutorial if you wish to properly light a menorah! Happy Hanukkah!