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The Story of Chanukah in Brief


During the time of the 2nd Temple, the Holy Land was ruled by cruel Greeks. They robbed the Jews of their property, and set up idols in the Beit HaMikdash. No one could stand up against them, till Mattityahu and his sons rose up and drove them from the land. The Chanukah lights remind us of the great miracle that a small band of Jews defeated the mighty Greek armies.


The Greeks were philosophers. They accepted the Torah as a book of wisdom, but not as something holy that connects us to Hashem. In the end, they made Torah learning illegal, and outlawed Mitzvot like Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh, Brit Milah, and the holiness of Jewish marriage. The Maccabees risked their lives to keep Torah alive! That’s why they won!


An even greater miracle than defeating the Greek armies was the miracle of the oil. The Greeks had made all the oil in the Beit HaMikdash impure. Miraculously, the Maccabees found one jar that had been overlooked. But it only had enough oil for one day. So great was their love of G-d, that they lit it anyway! Hashem made another miracle, and the oil burned for eight days! Everyone could see that the Shechinah dwelt with the Jews.


With tremendous joy, the Jews cleansed the Beit HaMikdash and began to serve Hashem once again! Nowadays, we have to draw on that joy, because the darkness has grown very great! That's why we make Chanukah parties, with dreidels, latkes, and Chanukah gelt. Joy has the power to overcome any negative thing, and break any evil decree!


Every day of Chanukah we add another candle till all eight candles of the Menorah are ablaze. By adding a candle every night for 8 days, we charge ourselves up with light, so that we will constantly be adding in Torah and Mitzvot (which are compared to light), throughout all the days of the year to come.


The light of the Chanukah candles is holy, like the light of the Menorah in the Beit HaMikdash. We are careful not to use it for any purpose — our Mitzvah is just to look at the candles and listen to the story that they tell.


The miracle of Chanukah occurred in a dark time when there were wicked decrees against the Jews. But the Maccabees had courage and never lost hope. Their mesirut nefesh (self sacrifice) turned the darkness into light! Today too, our mesirut nefesh for Torah and Mitzvot will light up the world and bring Moshiach Now!

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The light flickered...

The Sixth Chanukah Light flickered and curtsied and told her story:

My story will take you many years from those days of Chanukah under the Hasmoneans, for I am going to bring you back to our times, sad and tragic though they are. Once again, a cruel tyrant, even more cruel than Antiochus, declared an open war against our people and threatened to extinguish the light of our Torah.

My story takes you back to the early days of the Second World War, when Hitler’s armies were drunk with conquest. My story takes you to a miserable place, a place unfit for human beings, a place which will always be spoken of with horror and aversion; a concentration camp.

This was a concentration camp in France, where many Jews had been herded and where they awaited an unknown fate.

It was into this concentration camp, the little Chanukah Light continued, that I was called to bring hope and courage to the suffering and despairing Jews.

There was a venerable man among them. He was a Rabbi. He was always on his feet going about from man to man, giving hope and solace to his brethren. But to bring hope to those despairing internees was quite a difficult matter.

Then Chanukah came.

For about a month before Chanukah, the Rabbi had been saving up some oil from his daily meals. He collected this precious oil drop by drop, and by Chanukah, he had enough of it to be able to fulfill the cherished mitzvah of kindling the Chanukah Lights. He managed to obtain a raw carrot from the kitchen and cut out in it a little cup for the oil. From a corner of his coat he cut off a little piece for a wick. He now had a 'Chanukah Lamp.'

It was dark in the barracks where these poor Jews were confined, for their tormentors would not give them any light at night. In this silent darkness the venerable Rabbi’s words seemed to come from nowhere, like a voice from heaven.

"My dear brethren," the Rabbi began, "tonight is Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, the festival that brings a message of hope to all Jews oppressed by tyrants like Antiochus. I am now going to light the Chanukah Lamp for all of us. Please listen carefully to the blessings."

Then, lighting the improvised Menorah, the Rabbi recited the three blessings over the first Chanukah Light. There were no tears in his eyes, and his voice rang with solemn hope and courage coming from the very bottom of his heart:

"My brethren," the Rabbi continued, while the little flame threw a dim light in the barracks. He could barely discern the sad faces of the internees but he knew there were tears in many eyes, and a stifled sob here and there confirmed this.

'Tonight," the Rabbi said, "is not a time for despair. Look at this little flame and try to understand what it signifies. When Aaron was about to kindle the Menorah in the Mishkan (Sanctuary), G-d made a promise to him: that although the Menorah of the Temple might be put out for a time, when Israel turned away from Him, there would be a light that would always be kindled. This light would be kindled in the dark night and would bring light and hope to His children in their darkest hours. These lights were to be the Chanukah Lights.

"Let us, therefore, not despair, but pray to G-d to deliver us from the hands of our tormentors, so that we may live to rekindle the lights again next year in our Holy Land!"

Here the little flame paused, but young Chaim wanted to know what happened to those internees, and the little Chanukah Light continued:

Those were the more fortunate victims of Hitler. They had the good fortune to be regarded by him as "enemy aliens" and were held for exchange for German prisoners. After the Rabbi kindled the Sixth Chanukah Light, they received the happy news that they would be exchanged for German prisoners and sent to America. To this day they celebrate Chanukah with special joy because it is also the anniversary of their liberation. I must go and visit them at once. So long, my good little boy. I’ll see you tomorrow!

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The Forgotten Menorah

Once there sat a small Hanukkah Menorah in an old antique store. The Menorah had been in the store for many months. It had been there for so long that the owner of the store had forgotten all about the Little Menorah. (To let you in on a secret – I don’t think that the store owner knew that the Menorah was a Menorah – he just thought it was a funny looking candle stick!)

Well, the Menorah was never dusted, or polished, or even wiped just to get the cobwebs off. And so it got dirtier and dirtier – with more and more cobwebs growing between its fingers.

The Menorah sat on a very high shelf. From this spot the Menorah could see everything that happened in the store. Every time the bells over the door jiggled, the little Menorah would look to see a customer walk in and wander around the store – admiring the many beautiful objects that were there.

It was very hard for customers to decide what to buy – because there were so many things to choose from – but every once in a while – a customer would let out a big gasp – when they found something they just could not live without. They would pick it up very gently as they carried it to the owner of the store to pay for it.

But no one ever gasped when they saw the Menorah – in fact most people never even noticed the little thing – because it sat so high up and was so covered with dust. But, that didn’t stop the little Menorah. Every time a customer would come anywhere close to where it was sitting, the little Menorah would try to shake the dust from off its shoulders and try to stand a little taller so that someone would notice – but no one ever did. Nobody wanted the little Menorah and it was very sad.

As the weeks passed, the little Menorah grew sadder and sadder – and when it was sad it would try to hide in a corner. And from where it hid it watched as the other candlesticks were being sold and carried out by their new owners. It seemed like people bought every kind of candle stick – big ones and small ones – brass and silver – some held only one candle – others held two or three – one even held seven candles – but no one even looked at the little Menorah. It just sat in its corner all alone feeling sad.

The Menorah wondered why nobody wanted to buy it – it began to wonder if maybe it was the way it looked. So late one night after the owner had left the store, the little Menorah decided to find out what was going on and why it wasn’t wanted. So that night when everything was very quiet, the little Menorah began to wiggle and wiggle and wiggle – harder and harder until it had slid along the shelf. (Remember though Menorahs have fingers – they don’t have feet.) And after a lot of work, the Menorah finally reached its goal. There it stood before a big shiny tray in which it could see its own reflection.

As it examined its reflection, the Menorah noticed something strange – it didn’t look like any other candle stick it had ever seen in the shop. All the other candle sticks could hold 1, 2 or even maybe 7 candles – but the little Menorah could hold nine. The Menorah leaned closer, to get a better look, at the nine candle holders – 8 were all the same height, while the 9th one – the one in the middle stood taller than the rest.

For a long time the Menorah just stood there looking at its reflection, wondering why it was so different. As the sun began to rise the little Menorah knew it was time to go back into its corner. And so the Menorah began to wiggle its way back to its spot, thinking that it looked strange, and not wanting anyone to see, the Menorah hid behind a large plate.

The Menorah stayed behind the plate for days, it just stood there moaning and groaning because it was ashamed of looking different. The little Menorah stood gathering dust and watching as the spiders built elaborate cobwebs between its fingers. Sad, dusty and web-covered, the little Menorah hid behind the large plate, hoping never to be seen again.

One day the bells over the door jiggled, and the little Menorah peeked from behind the plate and was startled by what it saw. There was the biggest candle holder it had ever seen – and this enormous candle holder had 9 places just like it had. This new big candle holder was brought in for its annual cleaning and polishing.

The little Menorah shook with joy as it looked at the new candle holder. It was enormous – it must have stood 4 feet high and its arms stretched 3 feet across. It looked so beautiful and proud, standing there tall and straight. The little Menorah just stood there and stared at it all day long.

As soon as the owner of the store left for the night, the little Menorah slid from behind the plate and called out, “Hey you, over there.”

Then, the large Menorah looked around finally spotting the little dusty, cobweb covered Menorah that was sitting up high. The large Menorah smiled and they began to talk.

The little Menorah had so many questions for the large one – it wasn’t even sure where to begin. Finally, the little Menorah said, “I’ve been in this store for months, but you are the first candle-holder that I have seen that looks like me, with 9 candle holders – 8 the same height and 1 which is taller – why is that? Why are we different?

The large Menorah stood quietly for a moment before it began to speak. “A long time ago, in a land far from here, there lived a people whose nation was under foreign rule. In time, the foreign rulers became crueler and they forced the people to adopt a new religion. But the people would not have it. They believed in freedom and that no once could force another how to think or believe. They tried everything to convince the foreign rulers that freedom was important to them. But nothing worked.

Finally, from among the people a small army arose who were willing to fight for freedom. (Though fighting is not the best way to solve a problem, in this situation it was the only way.) Because of their courage, dedication, and belief that what they were fighting for was right, they eventually won. After winning the war, these people rededicated their temple – and held a celebration which lasted eight days.

“Wow!” exclaimed the little Menorah. “I’ve never heard that story before.”

“That’s not all,” continued the large Menorah, “ever since then, about 2,000 years, the Jews have celebrated the victory of their ancestors with the lighting of candles for 8 nights. You and I are the special candle-holders which they use for those 8 nights.”

“Nah – really?” asked the little Menorah.

“For sure”, replied the big one.

“I’m really glad you told me all of this”, said the little Menorah. “I was beginning to feel pretty strange around here. I couldn’t figure out why I was so different. But, one question – that all sounds really good – but if this celebration lasts for 8 days – why do we have 9 places for candles?”

“You are very observant little one” answered the large Menorah. “The extra candle holder – which is taller than the rest is for a special candle called the shamash – which is lit first and used to light the other candles.”

“This is amazing” said the little Menorah. “I didn’t know that being different could be so exciting. I only wish that I had known this earlier – then I wouldn’t have had to stand behind this plate for so long gathering dust – which I’m allergic to. Achoo!”


“Thank you.”

“Remember” said the large Menorah, “always keep your head high and your arms outstretched, because we are very important – we help Jews to celebrate their holiday of freedom and courage.”

And just then, the shopkeeper opened the door and entered the store. Both of the Menorahs kept absolutely still and didn’t make another sound. And the shopkeeper had no idea that the two of them had talked the night away.

A strange thing happened though… the shopkeeper noticed the little Menorah. He reached up and took it from the shelf and gave it a good polishing. Now the Menorah was clean and shiny, and it stood so tall and proud knowing why it was different.

That same afternoon two children came into the store – noticed the sparkling Menorah – and bought it right away. Taking it home, they placed it in the center of a large room table. Everyone who saw the Menorah admired it. Together everyone gathered around as the candles were lit. In their soft glow, the children sang their songs and played with their spinning dreidels.

And the little Menorah was proud to be a part of their celebration. And there it stood with its head high and its arms outstretched.

Adapted from Rabbi Robert B. Barr

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Mon, July 22 2024 16 Tammuz 5784