The eight day festival of light that begins on the eve of the 25th Kislev, celebrates the triumph of light over darkness, of purity over adulteration, of spirituality over materiality.
This year, Chanukah begins in the evening of Saturday, 8 December 2012, and ends in the evening of Sunday, 16 December 2012. (Hebrew Calendar date of 25 Kislev)
The Gemara reveals the origin of the holiday of Chanukah as follows: It is as the Rabbis taught in a Baraisa, found in Megillas Taanis, on the 25th of Kislev the days of Chanukah commence. They are eight days in all, on which it is not permitted to eulogize or to fast.
The Syrian-Greeks entered the sanctuary, they contaminated all the flasks of oil that were in the sanctuary and when the Royal Hasmonean House gained the upper hand and vanquished them, the Hasmoneans searched the Heichal area and found only one flask of oil that was lying out of sight with the Kohen Gadol’s Seal still intact. It contained only enough oil to kindle the Menorah FOR ONE DAY! However, a miracle was performed with this oil and they kindled the lights of the Menorah for EIGHT DAYS, until other ritually pure oil could be obtained.
Recognizing that the miracle had eternal implications, in the following year, the Hasmoneans and the Sanhedrin established and rendered these eight days, permanent festival days, with respect to the recital of Hallel and ‘Thanksgiving’. It is written that on the first day of Chanukah we pronounce blessings for the miracle of our deliverance from the Greek oppressors, and also as an expression of thanks for the discovery of the single flask of undefiled oil.
LAWS REGARDING CHANUKAH
- every night at nightfall the Chanukah lights are lit in a conspicuous place to proclaim the miracle (preferably near a window facing the street)
- on the first night one light is lit, on the second..two, on the third..three etc. We continue in this manner until all eight lights are lit.
- three “brachot” are said on the first night and two are said on the following nights
- …..asher kideshanu bemitzvotav vetzivanu lehadlik ner shel Chanukah
- ….. she asa nsim la-avtainu bayamim haheim bazman hazeh
- ….. she he-cheyanu vekiyamanu vehigianu lazman hazeh (the last “bracha” is said on the first night ONLY)
- the lights are lit from left to right but placed from right to left. We start with a candle on the extreme right and add additional candles every night. The lighting starts from the new candle.
- after lighting we say “Hanairot Halalu” and then we sing “Maoz Tzur”
- the candles must burn for at least half an hour into the night. On a Friday evening the Chanukah candles are lit before the Shabbat candles and since the Chanukah lights must burn half an hour into the night, a bigger candle should be used, or more oil placed in the Menorah.
- no use may be made of the Chanukah lights such as reading, working etc. It is customary not to do any work while the lights are burning, especially the women. One should not take a light from the Chanukah lights. This is why we have the ‘Shamash’ a light higher than the others, in order that one should only take a light from the ‘Shamash ‘
- after Shabbat the Chanukah candles are lit after Havdalah
- even if you saw lights lit at shul, you must still light them at home
- it is preferable to use oil, however candles are also permissible
- the whole of Chanukah “Al Hanisim” is added in the ‘Shemoneh Esreh” and Grace after Meals
Chanukah Customs include:
- eating foods fried in oil – Latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiot (doughnuts)
- playing with the dreidel (a spinning top) on which are inscribed the Hebrew letters nun,gimmel,hei and shin, an acronym for Nes Gadol Hayah Sham – “A Great Miracle happened there”
- and the giving of Chanukah gelt, gifts of money, to children