Should Christians Observe Hanukkah?

Imagine, if you will, the interior of the Sanctuary. Your eyes are on the veil of the holy of holies and the altar in front of it. Rising from that altar is a cloud of incense that fills the air. In no time, the veil is concealed behind the fragrant cloud. As you look into the cloud, the only thing visible is the illumination of seven flames. The light of the menorah is diffused by the smoky haze, creating the illusion of a cloud of light billowing in front of the holy of holies. This cloud of smoke and light is situated in the meeting spot, in the very presence (i.e., face) of God. The menorah that burns in the midst of the incense cloud is, in fact, the light of His countenance, the light of the Presence.

The temple menorah is more than a practical source of light. It is a sacramental reflection of the Divine Light come to the world!

Just as Christmas is more than a celebration of presents, Hanukkah is more than a Jewish Christmas. If Advent is the preparation of our hearts to receive the Greatest Gift the World has ever known, Hanukkah is the proof God intended to give it to us from the beginning. Our preparation is special and long planned. Shouldn’t we make this time of year reflect the sacred long-suffering of our Heavenly Father?

When we observe the 8 days of this Festival of Lights we are remembering that miracles are apart of God’s nature. When we combine this with our preparation at Advent, we begin to see just how special the Gift of Messiah really was. He is the Light of the Presence made manifest from that day on Mt. Sinai, when the Word (The Torah) literally came down to Moses. He, whose Presence was made known to His temple priests in the Tabernacle each day at twilight, chose to manifest himself by piercing through the veil of the womb of a virgin that holy night just to become human, Emmanuel God with us.

If we truly want to enter into the Spirit of Christmas, we ought to reflect on ALL the ways Christ has entered into our world as a miracle of Light.

This Sunday when you Light the first candles of Advent, consider lighting the first candle of Hanukkah with it. Hanukkah begins December 2 at sundown and continues through sunset December 9.

For a Guide to Lighting the Hanukkah candles, a Scripture Guide to reflect on, and a brief history of the Menorah, keep reading.

What is a Menorah?

God designated the area in front of the veil of the holy of holies as His meeting spot. In this spot, stood the golden altar. Immediately to the south stood the menorah.

The golden altar of incense is linked with the menorah through the priestly service. The menorah is kindled only in conjunction with the offering of the incense. 

What is the symbolism here? How do these elements commemorate Mount Sinai? If we look back to Mount Sinai, we will recall that when Moses entered the cloud, he entered the presence of God. No man can see God and live. For this reason, God was hidden within the cloud. The cloud obscured the face (i.e., presence) of God, thereby protecting Moses.

God ordained that He should meet with Moses in the Tabernacle, just as He had on Sinai. Moses would enter the Sanctuary, and hear God’s voice speaking to him from between the Cherubim. Instead of entering the cloud to come into God’s presence, now the meeting spot is directly in front of the veil of the holy of holies. All the Sinai elements needed to be recreated. When the priest placed the incense onto the coals of the golden altar, a cloud of smoke would have risen and filled the sanctuary. The cloud of incense emanating from the altar in front of the holy of holies was a recreation of the concealing cloud of Sinai. Just as the cloud on Sinai served as a veil to conceal the presence of the LORD, so too, the cloud of incense serves as a veil between the priests in the Sanctuary and the Divine Presence inside the holy of holies.

Aaron is instructed to burn the incense so that “the cloud of incense may cover the mercy seat that is on the ark of the testimony, otherwise he will die” (Leviticus 16:13). The cloud conceals the presence of the LORD so that Aaron will not behold God and die. 

The menorah also figures into this symbolic recreation of Sinai. The menorah is the only source of illumination within the Sanctuary. It was to burn continually in the presence of the LORD. 

When Moses returned from Mount Sinai, the second time, his face shone with a brilliant luminance. He had beheld the presence of God, and his face reflected the bright radiance of God’s face (i.e., presence). The priestly benediction of Numbers 6:24-26 also speaks of the “light of God’s face.” 

In the Tabernacle the menorah serves to cast illumination continually in the presence (i.e., face) of God. Remember that the menorah is kindled only in conjunction with the offering of incense. New Testament scholars will see the continuation of this imagery in the context of newly baptized Christians who are asked to burn and never let their flame extinguish as they offer their prayers continually before God as incense, a sweet fragrance unto the Lord.

Was it any different for Moses on the mountain as he beheld God through the cloud? Was it any different for Peter, James, and John? 

Yeshua led them up on a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them and His face shone like the sun. Peter said to Yeshua, 

Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, I will make three tabernacles here, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah. While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold, a voice out of the cloud said, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!” (Matthew 17:1-5) 

Notice the Sinai-Tabernacle symbolism in this incident. The high mountain alludes to Sinai. The face of Yeshua shines bright as the sun. A “bright cloud” overshadows them. A voice speaks from the cloud. Peter’s offer is to build “tabernacles.” 

Another connection between the menorah and the “light of the countenance” can be found in Revelation 1. John sees Yeshua dressed in priestly garments, standing among seven lamp stands (a menorah). His face is brilliant, his eyes blazing like fire. And for what reason has Yeshua appeared to John? He has appeared to speak with him. John envisions Yeshua in the very meeting spot in the Temple where God’s voice spoke to Moses.

The midrash further comments on the menorah saying:

The windows of the Temple were built in quite an unusual manner. Rather than being narrow on the outside and wide on the inside (to allow light to enter) those windows were constructed narrow on the inside and wider towards the outside. This demonstrated that from the Temple, light goes forth to the world (Midrash Says Exodus). 

Hence, the menorah was called the “Light of the world.” Yeshua calls Himself the “Light of the world.” His disciples would likely have understood the allusion to the menorah of the Temple.

Why Hanukkah?

Some 2100 years ago the Land of Israel came under the rule of the Syrian-Greek emperor Antiochus, who issued a series of decrees designed to force his Hellenistic ideology and rituals upon the Jewish people. He outlawed the study of Torah and the observance of its commands, and defiled the Holy Temple in Jerusalemwith Greek idols.

A small, vastly outnumbered band of Jews waged battle against the mighty Greek armies, and drove them out of the land. When they reclaimed the Holy Temple, on the 25th of Kislev, they wished to light the Temple’s menorah (candelabrum), only to discover that the Greeks had contaminated virtually all the oil. All that remained was one cruse of pure oil, enough to last one night—and it would take eight days to procure new, pure oil.

Miraculously, the one-day supply of oil lasted eight days and nights, and the holiday of Chanukah (aka Hanukkah) was established.

To commemorate and publicize these miracles, we light the Chanukah menorah (also known as a chanukiah) on each of the eight nights of Chanukah.

Lighting the Menorah

1. Arrange the lights on the menorah. Ensure that there is enough oil, or that the candles are big enough, for the lights to burn until half an hour after nightfall (or, if lighting after nightfall, for one half hour). On the first night, set one candle to the far right of the menorah. On the following night, add a second light to the left of the first one, and then add one light each night of Chanukah – moving from right to left.

2. Gather everyone in the house around the menorah.

3. Light the shamash candle. Then hold it in your right hand (unless you are left-handed).

4. While standing, recite the appropriate blessings.

5. Light the candles. Each night, light the newest (left-most) candle first and continue lighting from left to right. (We add lights to the menorah from right to left, while we light from left to right.)

The Menorah Blessings

Before lighting the Chanukah candles, we thank G‑d for giving us this special mitzvah, and for the incredible Chanukah miracles:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אֲדֹנָי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו וְצִוָּנוּ לְהַדְלִיק נֵר חֲנֻכָּה
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אֲדֹנָי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם שֶׁעָשָׂה נִסִּים לַאֲבוֹתֵינוּ בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם בִּזְּמַן הַזֶּה

Ba-ruch A-tah Ado-nai E-lo-he-nu Me-lech ha-olam a-sher ki-de-sha-nu be-mitz-vo-tav ve-tzi-va-nu le-had-lik ner Cha-nu-kah.
Ba-ruch A-tah Ado-nai E-lo-he-nu Me-lech Ha-olam she-a-sa ni-sim la-avo-te-nu ba-ya-mim ha-hem bi-zman ha-zeh.

Blessed are You, Lord our G‑d, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us to kindle the Chanukah light.
Blessed are You, Lord our G‑d, King of the universe, who performed miracles for our forefathers in those days, at this time.

On the first night of Chanukah, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018 (or the first time on Chanukah you perform this mitzvah), add the following blessing:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אֲדֹנָי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם שֶׁהֶחֱיָנוּ וְקִיְּמָנוּ וְהִגִּיעָנוּ לִזְּמַן הַזֶּה

Ba-ruch A-tah Ado-nai E-lo-he-nu Me-lech Ha-olam she-heche-ya-nu ve-ki-yi-ma-nu ve-higi-a-nu liz-man ha-zeh.

Blessed are You, Lord our G‑d, King of the universe, who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this occasion.

Relish the Lights

After you finish kindling the menorah lights, place the shamash candle in its designated place on the menorah. At this point it is traditional to sing Chanukah hymns such as Haneirot Halalu and/or Maoz Tzur.

Linger around the menorah for about half an hour (aside for Friday afternoon, when Shabbat preparations are in full gear). Share some Chanukah stories with your family, enjoy a draidel game and indulge in some traditional hot latkes (fried potato pancakes) or sufganiot (fried donuts)! (See Chanukah Foods.)

For the first half hour after the candles are lit (or until half an hour after nightfall, if the menorah was lit before dark) the menorah should not be transferred from its place. If a flame dies out during this time, it is best to relight it. After this time, the menorah can be moved if necessary, and there’s no need to rekindle extinguished flames.

Many women refrain from performing household chores during the first half hour that the lights are burning, to honor the brave Jewish women who played a significant role in the Chanukah victory.

Audio of Haneirot Halalu:

Audio of Maoz Tzur:

Scripture Reflections

  • First Night—Genesis 1:5, 14-18
  • Second Night—Isaiah 5:20-24
  • Third Night—Psalm 115:5-6; Job 24:13,17; Job 18: 5-6; Jeremiah 25:10; Ezekiel 32:8; and Isaiah 42:18
  • Fourth Night—Isaiah 42:5-7, 45:7, 42:16
  • Fifth Night—Daniel 9:17; Psalm 43:3, 36:10; 18:29; Proverbs 20:27; Psalm 56:14; Job 33:29-30
  • Sixth Night—Psalm 27:1; 104:1-2; 119:105; 19:9; Proverbs 6:23
  • Seventh Night—Proverbs 4:18; Psalm 97:11-12; Isaiah 9:1; Exodus 10:23; Isaiah 60:1; 2:5
  • Eighth Night—Isaiah 30:26; Zechariah 14:6-7; Isaiah 60:19-20

Let us know your thoughts? Were we right on or do we need more coffee?