Did Chanukah happen years ago, or is it happening now? Looking at the events today, you start to wonder. The story of a little candle pushing away the monster of frightening darkness, of human sensibility overcoming terror and brute force, of life and growth overcoming destruction — the battle is very much alive within each of us, and in the world outside of us.

After all, the victory of light over darkness is the cosmic mega-drama — the ongoing story of all that is. It reoccurs at every winter solstice, at every dawn of each day, with every photon of sunlight that breaks through the earth's atmosphere bringing it warmth and life-nurturing energy. With every breath of life, every cry of a newborn child, every blade of grass that breaks out from under the soil. With every flash of genius, every stroke of beauty, every decision to do good in the face of evil, to be kind where there is cruelty, to build where others destroy, to move humanity forward when others pull us toward chaos. And that is Chanukah.

Chanukah is more than a holiday; Chanukah is an eight-day spiritual journey. Many people know the story of Chanukah — but only as a historical pretext to give gifts and eat latkes. We can call that the body of Chanukah. The soul of Chanukah is its meditation, joy, warmth and light. Not only in our homes with our loved ones, but with the entire world. In this tradition, Chabadonline.com presents Chanukah 2001, Body and Soul. Our hope is that by igniting the soul, the body will follow and light the world, one candle at a time.

Night One * Night Two * Night Three * Night Four
Night Five * Night Six * Night Seven * Night Eight



Alexander the Great respected the Jews. He didn't war against tiny Judea, only required heavy taxes. The Talmud details conversations young Alexander had with the Sages, many of whom traveled to Greece to tutor royalty.

Alexander's death, in 165 BCE, split his kingdom into three: Greece, Egypt, and Syria. The rulers of Syria, called Seleucids, were not interested in co-existence, but assimilation.

The Talmud, Book of the Maccabees, Josephus, and other works detail what happened. The Seleucid government sent ministers to force their Hellenistic views upon the people. Most Jews went along. What could one do against the Empire? The Zohar says of this period, "the Greeks darkened the eyes of Israel with their decrees."


Chanukah is about not being afraid of the dark. We need that even more today, when the enemy is terror itself. Our own media fuels the fire, spreading fear throughout the land. Yet we go on with life, refusing to be terrified of every letter in the mailbox. And in a precious country half way around the world, our brothers and sisters defend themselves from an enemy that has no borders and knows no rules.

Our challenge, whether we are manning the front lines or fighting rush hour at home, is to strike a match and light up the dark. That's all it takes to discover that this is not a dark closet after all. It is a magnificent creation, full of wondrous things. In fact, that is why darkness was allowed in this world to begin with: So that we would learn the power of the light each one of us holds within, and appreciate the beauty that stands around us.



Not every citizen of Judea was passive. Eliezer, a priest, refused to abandon his Jewish beliefs, and was put to death. Hanna, a simple Jewish women, watched her seven sons put to death for refusing to surrender their heritage. Many women circumcised their sons and died for having done so. Yehudit used cunning tactics to assassinate a Seleucid general. However, the big trouble for the Seleucids began in the village of Mod'in. With an aged priest's cry of, "Whoever is for G‑d, follow me!" the fight for religious freedom began.


King Solomon writes, "Everything has its season& A time to be born, a time to die & a time for war, a time for peace." Truth does not lie at any extreme, but in a wise and careful balance. In Judaism, peace is the ultimate ideal. Yet, if one is being attacked, Jewish law forbids a passive stance. Peace and the sanctity of humanity requires, at times, that one must defend oneself, family, and country. We must not only work to build a world of light, peace and freedom; we must also defend it.

At the time of the ancient Greeks, the world could tolerate evil. Not so today. Human technology has reached a point where humanity can no longer coexist with evil and survive.

At one time, the state of technology was such that the most lethal weapon known to humankind was a wooden stick with a sharp stone tied to one end of it. Eventually, the most lethal weapon was a stick of TNT with a fuse lit at one end of it. Until recently, it was a missile with a nuclear device at one end of it.

Today? A comb with a razor blade tied to one end of it?

No. Today, the state of technology is such that the most lethal weapon of mass destruction ever created is a human being who believes that death is the gateway to paradise. Before such a creature, the security forces of the world are as tissue paper against a savage spear.

The Maccabees felt they had no choice but to stand up against the oppressor, despite all odds. Today, humanity has no choice but to destroy evil, whatever it takes. It is no longer a dream, but a necessity.



The Seleucid king, Antiochus, did not begin with a plan for physical genocide against the Jews, as Pharaoh and Haman had plotted before him. Neither did he intend to destroy their society. Rather, he acknowledged the Mitzvot as the Jewish people's culture, and the Bible as their great work of literature. What he could not tolerate was that these people claimed their practices to be divinely ordained.

The Greeks were great philosophers, but they refused to acknowledge that a human being could have any relationship to the Primal Being. This not only appeared irrational to anyone bred in Hellenist culture, but downright dangerous — for it prevented the Jews from total obedience to any flesh and blood king.

So he outlawed three specific Mitzvot (commands), predicting that when the Jews would cease to observe these actions, it would lead to their end as a people dedicated to G‑d. And so the war began — not against their bodies, but as a war against their souls.


Light comes from beyond, penetrates our world and brings it clarity. Darkness enters when the human mind closes the channels of above, deciding there is nothing but that which can be measured and understood.

Tell an astro-biologist, "I don't believe there is life anywhere else in the universe, since all I have seen is life on earth." He will certainly call you closed-minded. Yet a scientist who tells you "I don't believe there is anything but the material world since all I have seen is the material world!" is still considered rational.



The three mitzvot Antiochus forbade were: Shabbat, the determination of the new month, and circumcision.

Shabbat is a testimony that there is a Creator, who rested on the seventh day. The new month was declared by the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, according to the appearance of the new moon, imbuing time itself with Divine meaning. Circumcision imbues holiness into the body. A world without a Creator, time without sanctity, people with no connection to the Divine; this is the spiritual ghetto that Antiochus wanted to force upon the Jews.


Evil occurs when people lock G‑d out of His universe, brazenly asserting that they can do as they wish. Some deny His existence altogether. Others are indifferent, as though the Creator has abandoned His creation. Yet others recreate G‑d in their own image, as an artifact of their own egos, their cravings for power and glory.

Whenever we do a mitzvah or study Torah, we become G‑d's autograph on His masterpiece, declaring for all that this is not just a mess of atoms flying about haphazardly. Neither is it a jungle where the strong devour the weak alive. This is a creation, and one that is filled with the life of its Creator.



Followers of Mattisyahu, the priest from Modi'in, began to challenge the Greek strongholds. Historical sources estimate their numbers at six thousand, while Antiochus sent forty thousand troops to overwhelm them. After loses at Shchem and Bet Choron, the king sent an additional sixty-five thousand troops. The followers of Mattisyahu, called Maccabees, fought bitter, yet intelligent battles that are studied today by military tacticians. After three years and thousands of lives, Judea was finally free.


Chanukah was a victory of few over many. Each Maccabee was a hero, essential to the victory.

One could think that, in those days, when the population of the world was so much smaller, a single individual would have more power to change the world. In fact, just the opposite is true. Technology and information has put enormous power in the hands of whoever wants it.

Just over fifty years ago, one madman came to the verge of destroying the world. His failure to develop atomic weapons on time is still inexplicable — it can only be attributed to the great mercies of the One Above who takes care of His world and promised it would always stand. Today we have seen that not even an army is needed, nor warheads or missiles — but only an obsessive willpower.

Such is the power of darkness. A thousand times over is the power of light, of any one of us to transform the entire world to good. A small child kissing the mezuzah on the door of her house, an act of kindness asking nothing in return, a sacrifice of convenience to benefit another — each of these things are as brilliant bursts of light in the nighttime sky. True, they make less noise. Rarely are they reported in the daily news. But while darkness passes as the shadows of clouds on a windy day, this light lasts forever and leaves no room for evil to remain.



The word, "Chanukah" has several different, yet related sources. It comes from "Kah," the Hebrew equivalent of 25 and "Chanu," meaning rest. The word "Chanukah" is also connected with the words "dedication" (chanukat) and "education" (chinuch). On the twenty-fifth day of the Hebrew month of Kislev, the Maccabees rested from their battle. They marched victoriously into the holy Temple in Jerusalem, ready to rededicate the holy service. They would forever serve as role models — educators — to future generations.


What does a soul look like? Look at a flame on a candle. The flame is bright, jumping, never resting. The soul's natural desire is to, "jump" up to G‑d, to leave the physical. It is the wick and candle that hold the flame down, forcing it to do its job, to give light and warmth.

The human body is likened to the holy Temple. The Baal Shem Tov always advised against asceticism, fasts and hurting the body. Better, he would say, to use it to do a deed of kindness. Goodness is contagious. When our soul tells our body to do a kind deed, both are affected. What's more, other souls around us take note and tell their bodies to do the same. Before long, we create an international epidemic of kindness, what the Prophets alluded to throughout the Bible.



The victory turned bittersweet when the Maccabees found the Temple desecrated, and the pure oil to light the menorah ritually defiled. A single, jar of oil was miraculously found. It had remained holy and pure, inscribed with the high priest's seal. With this oil the Temple was rededicated.

Why didn't the Seleucids just destroy the oil, as opposed to defiling it? Oil is a symbol for holiness. It can permeate anything, yet when placed in water, it rises to the top. Defiled — not destroyed — oil is exactly what Antiochus wanted. The Jews can adhere to their culture and keep their laws, as long as it is "touched" by the Greek ideals and philosophy.


Jewish law states that the shamash (the candle used to light the candles of the Menorah) must be set aside, or higher than the others. Jewish mysticism explains that one who helps another to do a mitzvah sets alight the, "soul of man, which is the candle of G‑d." The person who causes another soul to "light up," reaches yet a higher plane, so to speak, than the illumination achieved through the mitzvah alone.



The Maccabees had done all that was physically possible, but the jar of oil was only enough to purify the Temple and relight the menorah for one day. To prepare more oil would require a process of at least seven days. After just defeating the world's most powerful army and gaining religious freedom for generations to come, the great Maccabees were not about to let a little oil get the better of them & Miraculously, the single jar burned for eight days and 2000 years, as Chanukah continues to illuminate our home and world.


The last night of the holiday is called, Zot Chanukah ("this is Chanukah"). Our sages say that, zot is a state where the object is revealed to the degree it can be pointed at with a finger. Most would acknowledge the miraculous nature of the Maccabee victory. However, a person could say that there have been other fights for independence, and attribute military success to superior strategy. When the nation witnessed a scientific impossibility, there was no denying G‑d's hand in human affairs.

Without miracles, we might come to believe that the laws of physics define the underlying reality. Once we see the inexplicable, we witness that there is a transcendent reality. We attain a higher consciousness. And then we look back at physics and say, "This too is a miracle."

Coincidences are miracles in which G‑d prefers to remain anonymous. They happen every day. We need only to open our eyes and hearts to notice them.

The final war is not fought on battlefields, nor at sea, nor in the skies above. Neither is it a war between leaders or nations. The final war is fought in the heart of each human being, with the armies of his or her deeds in this world. The final war is the battle of Chanukah and the miracle of light.