Hanukkah is a wonderful time of year when Jewish families set aside special time to be together and remember how, many years ago, God delivered our people and the Temple from the hands of the Syrians. We also recall the miracle of the oil, the legend of God’s intervention in keeping the ner tamid (eternal light) burning for eight days on only one day’s supply of oil while the Temple was being rededicated and new oil was being prepared.
That is the serious part of Hanukkah, but my early personal holiday memories revolve more around the fun things than considering the wonders God performed. I remember the onion smell of latkes (potato pancakes) sizzling in hot oil, and then the fun of eating them. I remember playing with the dreidle, the Hanukkah top inscribed with the first letters of the reminder, a great miracle happened there.”
Most exciting to me as a child was the present I received each night of the eight nights of Hanukkah. Each night my brother and I would take turns lighting the candles in the menorah. Our family would pronounce the traditional Hebrew blessings over the candles, and then it would be PRESENT TIME! Usually my parents gave us toys, but as we grew older, we received Hanukkah gelt (money) instead.
Yes, we did hear the story of Hanukkah many times, and in a sense we realized that the primary focus of the holiday ought to be God and his delivering power. Even the well-known Hanukkah song Maoz Tzur (Rock of Ages) speaks of God’s saving power. Every year we sang:
“Rock of Ages, let our song praise thy saving power.
Thou amidst the raging foes wast our shelt’ring tower.
Furious they assailed us, but thine arm prevailed us.
And thy word broke their sword, when our own strength failed us.”
Yet as a child I was so caught up in the festivities of Hanukkah that I missed the real message embodied in that song.
As an adult, and a believer in the Messiah, I think more often of that primary focus of Hanukkah. Now I can look past my childhood perspective. I see that God is at the center of this delightful holiday which commemorates a great miracle that happened so many years ago. God delivered our people out of the hands of the Syrians, and he has continued to deliver us out of the hands of countless others who would seek to destroy us. Today my Jewish people need to remember more than ever that Israel is a strong nation once again, and that Jews all over the world are preserved because of God’s faithfulness. Even now, as in times past, he protects and delivers us from our enemies.
As I celebrate Hanukkah, I thank God for the deliverance he has accomplished in our people. I thank him not only for the physical deliverance, but also for the spiritual deliverance. And now, though I no longer receive presents on Hanukkah, I am satisfied, for the lights on the menorah remind me that our Messiah, the light of the world, has come.