Chanukah as a Second Sukkot:
The “True Story of Chanukah”
by Rabbi Paul Kipnes | Congregation Or Ami | Calabasas, CA
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Around this time each year, Chanukah celebrants worldwide remember the popular "Miracle of Oil" story. We recount when the Maccabees recaptured the Temple in Jerusalem, they worked hard to clean it up. They removed the idols and broke apart the altars. They built new altars out of new uncut stones, polished the special holy bowls and tools, put new loaves of challah on the table and hung the curtains. Then they were ready to celebrate. The Maccabees wanted to light the Temple’s golden Menorah. But they found only one small jar of sacred oil in the Temple, enough to burn for just one day. As messengers went to collect more oil, the Maccabees decided to light the Menorah with the small quantity of oil that they had found. With God's help, a miracle happened – the oil burned for eight days.
However, the “Miracle of Oil” story is not the whole story of Chanukah. It was reported in the Babylonian Talmud in 500 C.E., almost 700 years after the Maccabees recaptured the Temple. The editors of this story recast the Macacbean revolution as the story of miracles. They were worried that subsequent generations of Jews, living under oppressive conditions, might turn to the example of the Maccabees and take up arms against their medieval oppressors. By inventing the story to emphasize God’s miraculous actions in the past, these ancient rabbis taught that miracles occur because God makes them occur. Therefore, they taught, our role in life is to pray for God’s intervention in the world.
A more accurate historical record of the Maccabean war is found in the Second Book of Maccabees. This book, written for Jews who lived outside the land of Israel, was composed around 120 BCE – about 300 years after the first Chanukah. The Second Book of Maccabees explains that the mitzvah of celebrating eight days of Hanukkah was actually invented as a substitute for celebrating the eight days of Sukkot. It does not mention the "Miracle of Oil” story.
This "Second Sukkot" story teaches that when the Maccabees recaptured the Temple in Jerusalem, they worked removed the idols and broke apart the altars. They built new altars out of new uncut stones, polished the special holy bowls and tools, put new loaves of challah on the table and hung the curtains. Then they were ready to celebrate. It was winter; Sukkot was long past. King Antiochus, who had forbidden Jews to study Torah or circumcise the male babies, also prohibited Jews from participating in Sukkot celebrations (one of three important pilgrimage holidays). With the Temple holy again, each Maccabee took an etrog and a lulav and made a special, mid-winter celebration of Sukkot. This was the first celebration of Chanukah. Note that Chanukah, like Sukkot, lasts eight days. The message of this “Second Sukkot” account is clear: Judaism is so important that, if necessary, Jews will create new ways to observe our Jewish tradition.
Eight Candles | Eight Rituals
Something Special to Do for Each Chanukah Night
By Rabbi Paul J. Kipnes, Congregation Or Ami, Calabasas, CA
FIRST CANDLE: Before lighting candles, invite everyone to help recall what they remember about the story of the Maccabees and Chanukah. Following the retelling, challenge family members to find a more complete version of the story to tell in the next few days (look on the web, ask teachers or rabbi, or check out the library)
THIRD CANDLE: Create a short skit re-enacting a part of the Chanukah story. Retelling the story of the Maccabees is a central part of the Chanukah ritual.
FOURTH CANDLE: Come to Congregation Or Ami’s Chanukah Services (check the calendar for the service date and time. Bring friends, a chanukiah and candles, and your entries into the Creative Chanukiah Making Contest and the Luscious Latke Taste-Off. Join Rabbi Paul Kipnes and Cantor Doug Cotler as we celebrate our festival of freedom.
FIFTH CANDLE: Play the dreidle game by having all the players ante up into a common pot, using M&M’s, pennies or peanuts in the shell. Each player takes turns spinning the dreidle and winning or losing depends on what letter shows when the spinning stops! Nun stands for nothing; the player neither gives nor takes from the pot. Gimel stands for all; the play takes all the pot. Hey stands for half; the player takes half the pot. Shin stands for put in; the player adds one to the pot. (If the pot empties, each player antes up again.) Remember the letters stand for Nes Gadol Haya Sham, a Great Miracle Happened There.
SIXTH CANDLE: Designate this night for the children give Chanukah presents to parent(s). Set aside time earlier in the day for the child to make a present or a card.
SEVENTH CANDLE: Choose organizations that support freedom and/or the needy and as a family send donation checks to Tzedakah in honor of Religious Freedom.
EIGHTH CANDLE: As you end the holiday, have each family member recall the gifts (besides the presents they received for Chanukah) for which they are most thankful.
How to Play Dreidel
Including History and Origins of the Dreidel
Adapted from Rabbi Amy Scheinerman | http://scheinerman.net/judaism
Shared with you by Rabbi Paul Kipnes and Cantor Doug Cotler | Congregation Or Ami, Calabasas, CA
A dreidel is a four-sided top. The Hebrew letters nun, gimel, hay, and shin are inscribed on the four sides. They are the first letters of the words "Nes gadol hayah sham" which means "A great miracle happened there." They look like this:
In Israel, dreidels are inscribed nun, gimel, hay, pay for "Nes gadol hayah poh" meaning "A great miracle happened here."
To play dreidel, one dreidel is needed along with a large quantity of small items such as pennies, raisins, or hazelnuts. Alternatively, each player may use his/her own dreidel. Each player is given an equal quantity of pennies, raisins, or nuts. Players sit around a table or in a circle on the floor. Each player antes in with 2. Players take turn spinning the dreidel and follow the rules below depending upon how the dreidel lands when it stops spinning.
History and Origins of the Dreidel
I grew up hearing the legend that when the Syrians outlawed the study of Torah in an effort to destroy Judaism, Jews would gather in secret to study, posting children outside the door as lookouts for the Syrian soldiers. The children would play an innocent-looking game with a spinning top, justifying their presence outside the door of a house. If they saw soldiers coming, they would alert the adults studying Torah inside, and the holy books would be safely hidden away.
There is a midrashic explanation of the meaning of the dreidel that holds that the four letters on the sides of the dreidel represent the four kingdoms which attempted to destroy Israel in ancient times, but which passed away from history, while Israel is still alive and well. They are, according to the letters on the dreidel: NUN (Nebuchadnezzar/Babylonia); HAY (Haman/Persia); GIMEL (Gog/Greece); SHIN/SIN (Se'ir/identified with Esau and hence with Rome). Although this explanation is midrashic in nature and does not explain the origins of the dreidel, it is an explanation very much in keeping with the history and theme of Chanukah.
The actual origins of the dreidel go back to a game called "totum" or "teetotum" which was played in England and Ireland in the 16th century. It required a four-sided spinning top with a letter inscribed on each side directing the player to take a specific action: T (take all); H (take half); P (put in); N (nothing). When the game was played in Germany, which by all counts appears to be the source of the Jewish version, the letters were as follows: N (nichts/nothing); G (ganz/all); H (halb/half); and S (stell ein/put in). Yiddish-speaking Jews of Eastern Europe substituted the Hebrew letters producing the same sounds: nun, gimel, hay, and shin.
From these four letters (nun, gimel, hay, shin) the phrase "Nes Gadol Haya Sham" ("a great miracle happened there") was created. When the State of Israel was established in 1948, an Israeli version was created. The letter pay was substituted for shin to correspond with the word "po" rendering the phrase "Nes Gadol Haya Po" ("a great miracle happened here").
In Yiddish the terms "fargle" and "varfl" are sometimes used to connote the dreidel. In Israel, the Hebrew term sevivon (from the root mean turn around or spin) is used.