Tuesday, December 19, 2017

THIS is Chanukah

Tonight is the eighth and final night of Chanukah. After the flames die down, many people will pack up the menorah and think little of the holiday again until next year. However, the lighting of the menorah at nightfall is only the beginning of the eighth day, and, according to tradition, the eighth day of Chanukah is the essence of the holiday.

This final day of Chanukah is known as Zot Chanukah, which translates as “This is Chanukah.” The designation comes from the eighth day’s Torah reading, the final verse of which begins with the words “Zot chanukat hamizbeiach, This is the dedication of the altar (Numbers 7:88), an allusion to the ceremony dedicating the altar of the Mishkan (Tabernacle).

Beyond the overlap of the term chanukah (dedication), the fact is that “eight” is a significant number in Jewish life as it represents that which is beyond nature. As Chanukah is a celebration of miracles, it seems to make sense that the eighth day, the day beyond the natural week, should encompass the essence of the holiday.

It is interesting to note that the only other specific eighth day celebration is the Torah command to observe Shemini Atzeret, the Gathering of the Eighth, which is an independent holiday connected to the festival of Sukkot that celebrates the unique relationship of God and the Jewish people (whereas Sukkot itself includes the other nations - click here).

Chanukah is a holiday that commemorates the Jewish people making the profound choice to remain loyal to their spiritual heritage rather than the more immediately rewarding lifestyle of the Hellenist Greeks. And the eighth day is, metaphorically, when the people’s dedication to their heritage shines brightest.

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