17 December 2020

Replacing ignorance, fear
and hatred with understanding,
courage and Love

Lighting all the candles of the Menorah on the last evening of Hanukkah (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

This evening marks the last evening of Hanukkah, which comes to an end tomorrow evening (18 December 2020). Tonight in the eighth or last night of Hanukkah and is known as Zose Hanukkah, Zos Hanukkah or Zot Hanukkah. It marks the day on which the great miracle of oil occurred, and so is a particularly special day because it encapsulates all of Hanukkah.

Hanukkah (חֲנֻכָּה‬) commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucid Empire. It is also known as the Festival of Lights and the Feast of Dedication.

The theme of darkness and light is important in both Jewish and Christian traditions at this time of the year, but this is also a theme that resonates in a year of social and psychological darkness, swept in unexpectedly by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The name Hanukkah comes from the Hebrew verb ‘חנך‎’ meaning to dedicate. On Hanukkah, the Maccabean Jews regained control of Jerusalem and rededicated the Temple. Two books, I and II Maccabees, describe in detail the re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem and the lighting of the menorah.

That eight-day rededication is described in I Maccabees 4: 36 to 4: 59, although the name of the festival and the miracle of the lights do not appear there. A similar story is alluded to in II Maccabees 1: 18 to 1: 36, and recalls how Nehemiah relights the altar fire in a miracle on 25 Kislev, which may explain why Judah Maccabee chooses this date for rededicating the altar.

In I Maccabees 4 and II Maccabees 1: 9, the feast is seen as a delayed observation of the eight-day Feast of Booths (Sukkot). II Maccabees 10: 6 links the length of the feast with the Feast of Booths.

Throughout Hanukkah, which began last week [10 December 2020], many families, households and synagogues light a special Hanukkah menorah, a candelabrum with holders for eight candles, one for each day of celebration, plus a ninth, the shammash or ‘server,’ used to light the other lights during Hanukkah.

One candle is lit on the first night of Hanukkah, two on the second, three on the third, and so on through to the eighth night, this evening, when all the candles are lit. A special prayer is recited during the lighting and while the candles burn it is a time for songs and games, including the four-sided toy called dreidel.

A special party to celebrate Hanukkah takes place in Cork city this evening (17 December 2020), with a livestream of the Evening Echo lamp-lighting event – an artwork created by Maddie Leach – in Shalom Park. The Lord Mayor is speaking, and the ninth lamp will be lit at 4.13 pm.

The Munster Jewish Community is inviting people watching the livestream on Facebook to bring along their own chanukiah or Hanukkah menorah, candles and matches, some chocolate coins or nuts and a dreidel for some Chanuka games, as well as latkes and doughnuts.

For my own reflections this evening, I came across these Candle Blessings for the Last Night of Hanukkah on the Ritualwell site, linked with Reconstructing Judaism:

On the shamash:

May this light nourish and replenish all those who work in the world to provide assistance to others.

On each of the candles:

1, May this light be a torch for those who are lost and need to find their way out of the darkness.

2, May this light bring warmth to those who feel the bitterness of the cold on their bodies, in their hearts, within their souls.

3, May this light brighten the spirits of those who are sorrowful illumining the path to hope and joy.

4, May this light kindle the creativity of artists of all kinds who need inspiration.

5, May this light bring clarity to places of confusion and reveal the truths that need to be known.

6, May this light fuel the passions of those who wish to act to change their lives for the better or change the world to improve it for all.

7, May this light illuminate the places of brokenness that need to be healed in ourselves, others, and the world, and be a beacon on the journey to wholeness.

8, May this light shine peace upon those in conflict all over the planet, replacing ignorance, fear, and hatred with understanding, courage, and Love.

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