What’s It All About?

I know, for sure, that it’s not about the presents. It’s also not about the gelt. I don’t think it’s really about the dreidels. And, I’m pretty sure it’s not really about the candles.

So, what is Chanukah really all about? Well, it’s definitely about giving. It’s also about sharing. I really think it’s also about having fun. And I’m pretty sure it’s really about light.

Even more than all that, the real meaning of Chanukah is “faith in miracles.”  When we think of Chanukkah, more often than not, we first think of giving gifts and gelt (money), eating latkes and sofganyiot (donuts) and lighting the Chanukiah (Chanukah menorah).   However, to find the real meaning of Chanukah, we must look beyond all of that. We must look at what is the reason for the latkes, the dreidels, the Chanukiot and the candles.

Most of us know that the story of Chanukah is a story about how the small army of the Maccabees fought for their right to practice Judaism and even had to fight for their survival.   We know that when they won, and they re-dedicated the Temple they found oil which lasted for 8 days, instead of what appeared to be only enough oil for one day.

However, there is more to the story than just that.  The fact that this amazing group of Jewish survivors found any oil to relight the flame was a mere miracle, and the fact that the oil lasted for eight days was an even greater miracle. Perhaps, though, the greatest miracle of the Chanukah story was that the Maccabees and Judaism survived and to this day, continues to thrive as we continue to keep the flame burning. As we discuss the ancient story of the miracle of the Maccabees, it can only be paralleled to the modern miracle of Israel’s formation and survival, as well.

Chanukah is a time in which we have the opportunity to appreciate all the miracles God performed for the Jews throughout our history, and it’s also a time for us to think about all the miracles we experience in our own lives. Chanukah should also serve to remind us of being open to the possibility of miracles in each and every day of our lives.

When you spin the dreidel and look at the letters which represent the words, “Nes Gadol Hayah Sham” – “A Great Miracle Happened There,” may we be always open to receiving and appreciating miracles in our own lives- here and now!

Rabbi Emily Ilana Losben-Ostrov serves Temple of Israel in Wilmington, North Carolina.  She also blogs at

One reply on “What’s It All About?”

It isn’t something that many Reform Jews would crow about or even accept as something to be stressed or emulated, but Chanukah is also about exercising the strength of one’s resolve. That the Maccabean rebellion succeeded in driving out the Greeks under Antiochus or, as in revisionist thinking, successfully challenged Jews who had assimilated to Hellenized practices and thinking, is clearly a major element of the festival’s underpinnings. One may emphasize the miraculous and apply that rightful approach to the holiday, but let us not eschew another critical message which can be derived from our celebrations. With faith in the Almighty, we can achieve our goals by exercising our God given strengths.

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