This evening, the Festival of Lights, frequently called Hanukkah, begins to commemorate the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after it was defiled by Antiochus of Syria. A great battle led by Judah Maccabeus preceded the victory, although the battles are often downplayed these days. The focus is on the rededication, and the lighting of the holy lamp in the temple by Nehemia.

One tradition says that the holy lamp from the sanctuary burned throughout eight days without ever going out despite the fact that it had only one day of oil in it. Many scholars discount this story, and simply focus on the cleansing and rededication of the Temple. I personally like the story of the miracle of the oil.

Whatever story you prefer, it remains that Jews down to the present time mark the Festival of Lights by lighting a nine-branched Hanukkah Menorrah over the eight days of the Hannukah celebration. One candle is lit each night, often at sunset, moving from right to left, and allowed to burn for about a half hour. The next night another candle will be added to the glow until all eight days have been marked and eight candles burn in memory. At each lighting, special prayers are said, three the first night, and two on each successive night.

The Hanukkah Menorrah is usually prominently displayed in a front window or outside the home in the hopes it will cast its light on those who pass by. It is important to note that the central light, the highest one, is there to cast light which may be used for ordinary purposes, because the light of the Hanukkah candles themselves is not supposed to be used, but simply revered.

One of the most beautiful Hanukkah prayers is this:

We light these lights for the miracles and the wonders, for the redemption and the battles that you made for our forefathers, in those days at this season, through your holy priests. During all eight days of Hanukkah these lights are sacred, and we are not permitted to make ordinary use of them except for to look at them in order to express thanks and praise to Your great Name for Your miracles, Your wonders and Your salvations.

Happy Hanukkah!