Hanukkah is the story of a great victory of the Jews over the Syrian-Greeks. In 165 BCE, led by the Hasmonean family of Mattathias the High Priest and his youngest son, Judah, the Jews succeeded in evicting the Syrian-Greeks from Israel and restored the Temple.
According to the Talmud, after the Temple had been cleaned and the Priests were ready to light the Temple
menorah, they could find only one jug of oil that was fit to use. This was only enough for one day, but it lasted for eight. This is why Hanukah is eight days long. For eight days beginning on the twenty-fifth day of the month of Kislev we light the menorah to celebrate the victory and the miracle of Hanukah.
Hanukkah comes from the Hebrew word “Khanu” meaning “and they rested,” and from the Hebrew date Kaf Hey which equals 25. That is why we celebrate Hanukah beginning on the 25th of the month of Kislev.
Miracle of the Oil
Why is it important that the oil lasted eight days?
In the temple, a menorah was lit every day. The oil used in the menorah was the purest olive oil. The rabbis say the oil was so pure, only the first drop of oil from each olive could be used. Because of the need for strict purity of the oil, it took seven days to make a single batch of oil.
The small jar of oil that had not been disturbed lasted for the one day it was expected to last and continued for the full week it took to make new oil.
Hannah and her seven sons
Hanukah is the story of heroes and bravery. It took great courage to go against the king and not worship idols. It took courage to fight against a powerful enemy and win as the Maccabees did.
One of the most amazing parts of Hanukah is in the Book of the Maccabees. It is the story of Hannah and her sons. She loved them very much and they were loyal to HaShem. They would not do what the king wanted them to do and worship idols.
One day the soldiers came and took Hannah and her sons away. They brought them to the temple where there was an idol of Zeus and ordered them to bow down and worship and say that they accepted Zeus as their god. Hannah and her sons refused.
The soldiers killed her oldest son, hoping that when the others saw this they would worship their idol. But they did not. One after the other they were killed as was Hannah. She died declaring her faith in HaShem.
For three years Judah the Maccabee led his followers, those loyal to HaShem, against the Syrians. The Syrian Greeks had weapons, the Maccabees did not. The Jews were greatly outnumbered.
They hid in the Judean hills, and attacked whenever they could. Slowly but surely, they wore down the enemies, and retook Jerusalem and cleaned out the temple of the idols and restored it. That is the festival of re-dedication called Hanukah.