Our family lit our first Hanukkah candle years ago, and quite honestly, that first experience was pretty bad. Not bad in a wrong sense, but bad as in taking a bite of stale holiday fruit cake, the kind that comes in a gift-can sent to you by relatives that do not like you. The whole experience left a bad taste in our mouths. You may be thinking to yourself right now, “How can anyone mess up Hanukkah?” Let me explain.
It was when our now grown children were young. We, as Gentile believers in Yeshua, had been awakened to the Jewish Roots of our faith and sought as a family to incorporate the biblical feasts and holidays into our lives. That year we had established a weekly Sabbath meal, which had become the centerpiece of our family time and devotion. We managed our way through the spring and fall feasts without anyone getting too sick on “bitter herbs.” We slowly hacked our way through the Hebrew prayers and relentlessly experimented with challah recipes until the local stores ran out of honey. All in all, I felt like we were doing pretty well until that December and our first Hanukkah.
When I told the kids that we were going to do Hanukkah, I expected a different response. I thought emphasizing a fun time of celebration where we will eat lots of fried foods, like potato latkes, donuts, and play the dreidel game would be enough to peak their interest. Nope. I said, “We are going to read a story about a family who fought to free the Jewish people from tyranny and about a miracle that took place in the re-dedication of the Temple.” Surely, that would grab them. Nope. “One last thing. You will receive a present for each of the eight nights of Hanukkah.” Their reaction to that statement would have rivaled any burst of cheers heard when a game is won at the buzzer or a “homer” to center field wins the World Series. Looking back, I realize now I was not managing their expectations very well.
The first night of Hanukkah came with much anticipation. My wife, Jerri, had worked hard preparing the meal and treats. The smell of fried foods filled the air. The table was set. The hanukkiah menorah, with its nine branches instead of the usual seven, was set up and two candles were in it. We told the kids that one of the candles, called the “servant light,” would be the first candle lit which was a picture of Yeshua, the Light that came into the world. So we started the night by lighting the candles. It went downhill from there. The following is a brief summary of how the rest of the evening went.
I read the story. They thought it was boring and wondered when we were going to open the presents. They played the dreidel game for about two minutes and found it confusing, although they DID love the chocolate coins that we used as game pieces. They hated the potato latkes and said through tears they were gross and only took a bite by threat of life and limb. They did not like the filling in the donuts and thought the presents we bought at the dollar store were lame. Thinking quickly to save the day and knowing that Christmas was just around the corner, I taught the kids The 12 Days of Christmas song, and they loved it.
So we experienced a Hanukkah fail. It failed because we did not get that Hanukkah at its core is not about food, fun and gifts, but about whole-hearted devotion and dedication to the Lord.
To understand Hanukkah, you have to walk down the spiritual hall of fame. You will notice something in common with the likes of Abraham, Moses, Rahab, Ruth, David, Mary, the disciples, etc. God does great things with the plain, the ordinary, the disadvantaged, and the weak. He specializes in doing His best work through any individual, young or old, any family, blended or broken, who dedicate their lives to seek, love, and serve Him.
Hanukkah is a lesson illustrating when simple obedience meets omnipotence, when pure intentions release divine interventions. A great miracle happened in the Temple. Compared to the other miracles in the Bible, like those that happened through the life of Yeshua’s earthly ministry or in the early church, it may not seem so great. After all, God had multiplied oil before with Elisha and the widow. And how would you rate the parting of the Red Sea in comparison to a light that burned for eight days?
Miracles are not given to dazzle us or to be measured to see which is greater. Miracles are given to teach us to see reality from God’s perspective. If we let them, miracles can train us to think differently about the impossible. “For with God all things are possible.”
Now, as a family, we still begin Hanukkah with a big party where we eat lots of fried food like potato latkes and jelly-filled donuts and play the dreidel game. We read the story of “The Great Miracle That Happened There,” and, yes, we still sing The 12 Days of Christmas. But the highlight of the night is when we pause to rededicate our lives and say:
Make my life Your temple
L-rd at this season start
To pull down every idol I have raised up in my heart
Take my defiled altar
Come and cleanse and come repair
So every time I falter I can run to meet you there
And with every candle on the menorah
That illuminates the night
Comes a prayer You’d kindle
In me Y’shua
A desire for Your fire, for Your light
Make of my mortal body
A house worthy of Your name
Rid me of what’s ungodly and every hidden thing of shame
Take my supply of oil
Not enough to burn long I fear
But, oh how I pray I may one day say
“A great miracle happened here!”
On this Hanukkah
On this Feast of Dedication
I dedicate myself to You
3 Words & Music by Marty Goetz
© 2006 Singin’ in the Reign Music/ASCAPv
Gary Benjamin is the Associate Pastor of Prayer and Prophetic Ministry at Gateway Church. He is married to Jerri and has five children, all of whom are in full-time ministry, and twelve grandchildren.
For an authentic recipe from Yiddish Mama’s Kitchen, click here: Yiddish Mama’s Kitchen