Why Do We Light the Chanukah Menorah?
Chanukah is known as the Festival of Lights and celebrates a great miracle God performed for our ancestors. After defeating Antiochus Epiphanies, the Jewish people led by the Maccabees cleansed the Temple in Jerusalem of pagan idols and re-lit the Menorah, the seven-branched candelabra. There was only enough oil to last for one day but God caused one cruise of oil to burn for eight days!
At Chanukah, we remember this great miracle of multiplication by lighting the Hanukkiah, a special nine-branched Menorah and play dreidel to bear witness to this miracle throughout the generations. Yeshua celebrated Chanukah as well with his disciples in John 10:22-42.
How to Light the Menorah
On the first night, one light is lit and on every evening following, additional light is added so that on the eighth night, eight lights are lit. Load the candles from the right; light them from the left (newest candle first).
Remember to use the shamash (servant) candle to light all the other candles. The shamash candle holder is the one elevated above the rest.
Recite the blessings. Remember the shehecheyanu blessing is said only on the first night.
Light your candles after dark but earlier enough in the evening that neighbors will be able to see them.
On the eve of Shabbat, the chanukkiya is lit before the Shabbat candles. At the end of Shabbat, the chanukkiya is lit after the havdala candle is extinguished.
The Chanukah Blessings
Barukh atta Adonai, Elohenu Melekh ha‘olam, asher kideshanu be-mitzvotav vetzivanu le-hadlik ner shel Chanukka.
Praised are you, Adonai, Our God, Sovereign of the universe, who makes us holy through commandments and commands us to light the Chanukka candles.
The second blessing expresses thanks for the “miracle” of deliverance:
Barukh atta Adonai, Elohenu Melekh ha‘olam, she‘asa nissim la’avotenu, bayyamim hahem bazzeman hazzeh.
Praised are you, Adonai, Our God, Sovereign of the universe, who did wondrous things for our ancestors in former times at this season.
This third blessing is chanted only on the first night:
Barukh atta Adonai, Elohenu Melekh ha‘olam shehecheyanu, vekiyyemanu vehigi‘anu lazzeman hazzeh.
Praised are You, Adonai, Our God, Sovereign of the universe, who keeps us alive, sustains us, and brought us to this occasion.
After reciting the blessings and lighting the candles, the following paragraphs should be recited.
These lights we kindle upon the miracles, the wonders, the salvations, and the battles, which you performed for our ancestors in those days at this season through your holy priests.
During all eight days of Chanukka these lights are sacred, and we are not permitted to make ordinary use of them, but to look at them in order to express thanks and praise to your great Name for your miracles, your wonders, and your salvations.
Why We Play Dreidel
The dreidel or sevivon is perhaps the most popular tradition associated with Chanukah. The reason why we play dreidel is to commemorate the two-fold miracle God wrought for our ancestors. The first miracle was that God empowered a ragtag bunch of Jewish people to defeat the greatest military force of their day.
Secondly, the Lord caused one day’s worth of oil to last for eight.
The letters on the Dreidel form an acronym that reminds of God’s miracles. The Hebrew letters nun, gimmel, hei, shin, which appear on the dreidel in the Diaspora, stand for nes gadol haya sham–“a great miracle happened there,” while in Israel the dreidel says nun, gimmel, hey, pey, which means “a great miracle happened here.”
How to Play Dreidel
Dreidels have four Hebrew letters on them. and they stand for the saying, Nes gadol haya sham, meaning, “A Great Miracle Happened There.”
1. Any number of people can take part in this great game.
2. Each player begins the game with an equal number of game pieces (about 10-15) such as gelt (chocolate coins), pennies, nuts, chocolate chips, raisins, matchsticks, etc.3. At the beginning of each round, every participant puts one game piece into the center “pot.” In addition, every time the pot is empty or has only one game piece left, every player should put one in the pot.
4. Every time it’s your turn, spin the dreidel once. Depending on the outcome, you give or get game pieces from the pot:
a) נ Nun means “nisht” or “nothing” [in Yiddish]. The player does nothing.
b) ג Gimmel means “gantz” or “everything” [in Yiddish]. The player gets everything in the pot.
c) ה HEI means “halb” or “half” [in Yiddish]. The player gets half of the pot. (If there is an odd number of pieces in the pot, the player takes half of the total plus one).
d) ש Shin (outside of Israel) means “shtel” or “put in” [in Yiddish]. Peh (in Israel) means “pay.” The player adds a game piece to the pot.
5. If you find that you have no game pieces left, you are either “out” or may ask a fellow player for a “loan.”
6. When one person has won everything, that round of the game is over!
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