Much more than merely spinning tops and eating potato pancakes, the holiday of Hanukkah marks one of the greatest tales of miraculous salvation for the Jewish people. In truth, Jewish tradition celebrates two miracles on this day and in order to understand these miracles, we must step back into the historical context, the second century BCE.
Following their return from Babylon, the Jews had succeeded in establishing a stable Jewish monarchy in the Land of Israel. However, after a few centuries, their power began to wane. Soon enough, the Syrian Greek Empire extended its hegemony over the small Jewish state. By the middle of the second century BCE, the Syrian Greek ruler, Antiochus, began to enact a number of discriminatory policies against the Jewish people.
Circumcision and the kosher dietary laws, among others, were outlawed. Under his rule, the Temple in Jerusalem had been violated and vandalized, as well.
As Jews began to feel the pressure of this religious persecution, Mattathias and his five sons, soon to be known as the Maccabees, led an unlikely insurgency against the mighty Syrian Greek armies. In the year 167 BCE, the Jews began to fight back and were ultimately successful in driving out the foreign armies. Here we have the first miracle of Hanukkah: the victory of the outnumbered Jewish army over the powerful Syrian Greeks.
As the Jews returned to the Temple, they were unable to locate the necessary amount of pure olive oil to light the menorah, the golden candelabra. They found only enough oil to be sufficient for one day, but when they kindled it, the oil miraculously lasted for eight full days, marking the second miracle of this holiday.
The military victory ultimately restored Jewish sovereignty for the next two centuries. Unfortunately, this newly restored Jewish commonwealth did not last forever. In the year 70 CE, the Romans conquered Jerusalem and destroyed the Jewish temple. For the next two thousand years, the Jewish people remained in exile, hoping for the day to return to their ancient homeland, praying for their final redemption.
And then at the most unlikely time, God once again delivered His people back to Israel. Following their near extinction during the Holocaust from 1939-1944, the remnant of Jews who had survived declared their independence and proclaimed the independent State of Israel in 1948.
The great prophet Jeremiah made a startling and ambitious declaration. He wrote that the future redemption of the Jewish people will be even more marvelous than the redemption from Egypt:
“‘Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that they shall no more say: ‘As the LORD liveth, that brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt’; but: ‘As the LORD liveth, that brought up and that led the seed of the house of Israel out of the north country, and from all the countries whither I had driven them’; and they shall dwell in their own land.” (Jeremiah 23:7)
Indeed, the miraculous rebirth of the State of Israel has in fact outshined even the luminous miracles of Hanukkah. It trumps all previous redemptions in Jewish history because it involves not only political independence, like in the days of the Maccabbees, but the miracles of making the barren desert bloom again, and the Ingathering of the Jewish exiles from the four corners of the earth.
Miracles don’t always seem so miraculous as they unfold in real time on television screens and on the front pages of newspapers. It’s easy to explain the reestablishment of the Jewish state, the physical revitalization of the land, and the ingathering of the Jewish nation in merely political or historical terms, which is exactly how most people see these developments.
There are only two groups in the world today who attribute profound religious significance to the miraculous rebirth of the State of Israel: Religious Zionist Jews and Christian Zionists. After centuries of hatred, persecution and even murder, Jews and Christians are now standing shoulder to shoulder, entering a new era of divine reconciliation based on our common belief in the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy concerning Israel. Perhaps this is even the greatest Hanukkah miracle of all.
Rabbi Naphtali “Tuly” Weisz is the publisher of Breaking Israel News. He attended Yeshiva University (BA), Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (Rabbinic Ordination) and the Benjamin Cardozo School of Law (JD) and served as the Rabbi of the Beth Jacob Congregation in Columbus, Ohio. Upon making Aliyah, Rabbi Weisz founded Israel365 and serves as the publisher of Breaking Israel News providing latest headlines from a Biblical perspective. Rabbi Weisz can be reached by email.