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What Does Hanukkah Really Celebrate?

Rabbi David Fohrman
Rabbi David Fohrman


We know that Hanukkah celebrates two events, yet the Hanukkah candle lighting is seen as the more significant event of the holiday. Why does Hanukkah draw our focus to the story of the menorah? What is the reason that we celebrate Hanukkah with candles? We could say that both the victory in the Maccabean War and the Hanukkah miracle have similar theological ideas, but didn't the war have a more significant outcome than the story of the menorah? So the question remains: why does lighting candles take prominence when celebrating Hanukkah?

As we search for what Hanukkah commemorates, we can see that the Maccabees’ victory rid them of the terrible forces of Antiochus and also of their own countrymen who had bought into the Greek view on life. But they didn’t win complete freedom and later entered into more dark times. While it is true that Judea won its independence nominally and they cleaned up the Temple, it might be seen as only a short, bright spot in Jewish history. But there was something about the miracle of the menorah candles – an almost unnecessary miracle – that the sages who made Hanukkah a rabbinical holiday wanted us to focus on. Is it the humbleness of the menorah miracle that we are meant to commemorate so joyously? Is this what Hanukkah truly celebrates? Rabbi Fohrman introduces the idea of a hidden text that may shed some light on what exactly Hanukkah is celebrating and what we commemorate through lighting Hanukkah candles.