by Julia Blum

This week Jews around the world celebrate the Festival of Chanukah. This winter festival is also known as the “Feast of Dedication”. We see evidence that Jesus celebrated this festival in the gospel of John, “And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon’s porch” (10:22-23). But what is the deeper connection between Jesus and this festival?

The History of Chanukah

Contrary to popular imagination, Chanukah is not a Jewish version of Christmas. The word Chanukah (חנוכה) means “dedication” in Hebrew. It commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, in the 2nd century BCE Maccabean Revolt, against the Syrian Empire. After recapturing the Temple, the Maccabees had to cleanse and restore it. Fortunately, a single jar of pure olive oil remained undefiled, which was used to illuminate and rededicate the Temple. Miraculously, the small quantity of oil lasted for eight days, leading to the eight-day festival, The Feast of Dedication.

The light of Israel

The symbol of Chanukah is the Menorah, an eight-branch candelabrum that is lit on each of the eight days of the festival. Menorah comes from the Hebrew word ner (נר) meaning “flame” or “lamp”. Throughout the Bible, this word has a deeper spiritual meaning. For example, when King David grew old he was told by his men not to go with them into battle “so that you do not quench the lamp (ner) of Israel” (2 Sam. 21:17). In the very next chapter, David uttered a magnificent hymn of thanksgiving, “Indeed, you are my lamp (neri), O Lord, the Lord lightens my darkness” (2 Sam. 22:29).

See how Hebrew sheds light on the Scripture

It should therefore come as no surprise that Jesus referred to himself as the “light of the world” (John 8:12) and preached these words: “If you are filled with light, with no dark corners, then your whole life will be radiant…” (Luke 11:36). What is less obvious is that that Jesus uttered these words not in English but in Hebrew ?