04 December 2007
About 2200 years ago, Greek kings, who reigned from Damascus, ruled over the land of Judea and the Jews living there. One Greco-Syrian King, Antiochus Epiphanes, forbade the Jewish people from praying to their God, practicing their customs, and studying their Torah. Antiochus forced the Jews to worship the Greek gods. It is said that he placed an idol of the Greek God Zeus on the alter in the Holy Temple of Jerusalem.
In response to this persecution, Judah Maccabee and his four brothers organized a group of resistance fighters known as the Maccabees. They fought against paganism and oppression. The tenacity of the rebels, which came from their steadfast faith in one God, is one reason this military victory has been so celebrated by Jews in future generations.
Against great odds, after three years of fighting, the Maccabees succeeded to drive the Greco-Syrians out of Judea. Hanukkah proclaims the message of the prophet Zachariah: "Not by might, not by power, but by My spirit."
The Maccabees reclaimed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. They cleaned the Temple, removing the Greek symbols and statues. When Judah and his followers finished cleaning the temple, they rededicated it. On the 25th day of the month of Kislev in 164 BCE, the Temple was purified and rededicated.
According to tradition, when the Maccabees entered the Holy Temple, they discovered that the Greco-Syrians had defiled the oil which was used for the Temple's menorah. Only one vat of purified oil remained - enough for only one day. It would take the Jews a week to process more purified oil. Then a miracle occurred. The Maccabees lit the menorah and it burned for not one, but eight days, by which time the new, purified oil was ready. This is why the Hanukkah Menorah has eight candles (not including the shamash candle used to light the others) and one reason why Jews celebrate Hanukkah for eight days.