Chanukah is a holiday that reminds us of Jewish people-hood. It represents the first recorded struggle for religious freedom, as the Maccabees fought for the national sovereignty and religious freedom in the Land of Israel against an oppressor who denied that freedom and forbade the practice of Judaism.
In the ancient world, Hellenism was spreading; other forms of worship were being banned and outlawed. Jews who refused to conform were massacred. The revolt of Mattathias with Judah Maccabee and his brothers was the first recorded struggle for religious freedom in history.
The first meaning of Chanukah is shown by dividing the name of the holiday: “Chanu” means “they rested” or “made camp,” and the letters “kauf” and “hey” in Hebrew add up to 25. It was on the 25th of Kislev that the Jews re-dedicated the Temple in Jerusalem after liberating it from the forces of the Greco-Syrian emperor Antiochus Epiphanes. The word “Chanukah” reminds us of the battle, and tells us that on the 25th day of Kislev, the Jews rested.
For the second meaning of this holiday, we put together the word and read “Chanukah,” which means “dedication” because, ultimately, this was the purpose of the battle. The unified word shows that the battle was not fought for military glory and achievements. The battle was fought for the purpose of re-dedicating the Temple which had been desecrated by the invaders; the battle was fought to ensure the right to live in freedom in our homeland.
For the third meaning of our Festival of Lights, we look at the Hebrew letters in the word “Chanukah:” “chet” “nun” “kauf,” which, when put together, mean “education.” This reminds us that to understand the ideals around which we have always built our lives, requires education. It reminds us that learning about our history and heritage gives us the spiritual strength and direction to fight the current rendition of these battles, thereby championing the just causes of our day, just as our ancestors did in ancient Israel, BaYamim HaHem BaZman HaZeh, in those days at this time.
Rabbi Jonina Pritzker, Alumni Parent