Eight Nights, Eight Lights

Hanukkah is a holiday of opposites. On the one hand, the winter holiday is a
delight‹eight days of songs, games, candlelight, gifts, and delicious foods.
Yet Hanukkah recalls a violent story about the first great war for religious

Twenty-four hundred years ago, the Jewish people lived as farmers,
shepherds, and grape growers in Israel. They believed one invisible god had
created the entire world and had given them laws to follow for a good and
just life. Other peoples at that time worshiped gods of nature, whose power
and presence could be sensed by everyone. They could feel the warmth of the
sun god and praise the rain god for thundershowers. To them, every element
of the world represented a god.

The idea of just one invisible god puzzled many peoples, especially the
worldly and sophisticated Greeks. They valued education, physical beauty,
and celebrations, and worshiped a family of gods who were supposed to have
special powers over their lives and activities.

Many Jews liked the Greek way of life. Their language, clothes, and beliefs
spread around the world. Some Jews left their farms to take up trade with
the Greeks. Returning home with money, new customs, and perhaps a new Greek
name such as Jason instead of Joshua, they became the trendsetters of the
Jewish community. Still, not everyone followed the new fashion; a few Jews
spoke out against the new life-style.

Antiochus IV, the Syrian king who came to power in 175 B.C.E., insisted that
all Jews become Greek. When Jews didn't convert quickly enough, Antiochus
banned their holidays, burned their books, and killed anyone,
including mothers and children, who wouldn't bow to Zeus, the chief Greek

Antiochus erected altars to Zeus everywhere, including in the Great Temple
in Jerusalem. In those days, there was only one Jewish temple in the world;
it was meant to be the most beautiful building ever, because it was
dedicated to God. It was made of fragrant cedar and polished granite. On
Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot, Jews came from all over Israel to celebrate
at the Temple. They brought gifts from the harvest of their farms to the
Temple to thank God for their crops.

In 167 B.C.E., Syrian soldiers came to the mountain village of Modin, in
Israel, to meet with Mattathias, an elderly and respected Jewish priest.
With flattery and bribery, they tried to coax him and his five sons to come
to an altar where they had erected a statue of Zeus. They also wanted
Mattathias to kill a pig and eat some of it, a food forbidden to Jews: he
would set an example for other Jews to follow. Mattathias refused.

Suddenly a villager, tempted by the soldiers' promises of riches, stepped
in front of the altar, ready to bow before it. Enraged at the traitor,
Mattathias struck and killed him and a soldier. Tearing down the altar, he
thundered, "Whoever is for God, follow me!" Then he and his sons, along with
a few followers, fled to the mountains and planned their attack on

Mattathias and his sons called the Maccabees, which means "hammers", led a
small group of soldiers against Antiochus's immense army. The Maccabees,
fighting with sticks and stones and farm tools, won victory after victory
against the Syrians, who were armed with swords and javelins and used
elephants as tanks.

How the Maccabees won is a mystery and a miracle. It helped that they knew
the country better than the Syrians. And they knew they had to win, because
if they didn't, the Jewish people would be destroyed. But mostly, they won
because they felt the spirit of God inside them, and that gave them special

On the twenty-fifth of Kislev, 165 B.C.E., the Maccabees returned
triumphantly to Jerusalem, ready to celebrate. Instead, they grieved. The
Temple was filthy‹blood, dirt, and ashes covered everything. All the books,
Torahs, and candlesticks were gone.

Worst of all, there was only a drop of oil left for the Menorah. Made of
gold, the Menorah was a lamp with seven branches, one for each day of the
week. It was supposed to burn continuously. One drop of oil would last for
only one day. But when the oil was poured into the lamp, it burned for a
second day, and a third. In all, it burned for eight days, and that is why
Hanukkah is eight days long. Hanukkah means Feast of Dedication, because the
Maccabees rededicated, or restored, the Temple to what it was supposed to
be, a holy place in which to celebrate great days.

The story of Hanukkah is not about military victory, but about miracles,
especially the miracle of a few people triumphing over tremendous odds in a
struggle for the right to practice their religious beliefs. This is not a
magical or supernatural miracle, but something inside everyone, the spirit
to choose what a person believes is right, no matter how hard or dangerous
that may be.



Peter Yarrow- 1983 Silver Dawn Music ASCAP

Light one candle for the Maccabee children
With thanks that their light didn't die
Light one candle for the pain they endured
When their right to exist was denied
Light one candle for the terrible sacrifice
Justice and freedom demand
But light one candle for the wisdom to know
When the peacemaker's time is at hand

Don't let the light go out!
It's lasted for so many years!
Don't let the light go out!
Let it shine through our love and our tears.

Light one candle for the strength that we need
To never become our own foe
And light one candle for those who are suffering
Pain we learned so long ago
Light one candle for all we believe in
That anger not tear us apart
And light one candle to find us together
With peace as the song in our hearts


What is the memory that's valued so highly
That we keep it alive in that flame?
What's the commitment to those who have died
That we cry out they've not died in vain?
We have come this far always believing
That justice would somehow prevail
This is the burden, this is the promise
This is why we will not fail!


Don't let the light go out!
Don't let the light go out!
Don't let the light go out!

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