click here to jump to start of article
Join Our Newsletter

Get latest articles and videos with Jewish inspiration and insights​




Matisyahu's 8 Chanukah Insights

Matisyahu's 8 Chanukah Insights

Light up and be a hero.

by and

1. The real weapon is not ammunition but ideas. Ideas win wars.

The Chanukah uprising was brought about because the Seleucid Hellenist empire (an offshoot of an empire left behind by Alexander of Macedonia) was imposing its civilization of Hellenism on a nation that believed in one God. Hellenists offered pleasures and a good life — a sensual, body-oriented civilization inhabited with many gods and deities. It sounds quite tempting. But with all its temptation, it negates the deepest recesses of the human search. Human beings search for ideas, for inspiration, for one great redeeming hope that will make us one. This is represented by the belief in one God, as opposed to the many infighting, quarreling deities of the Greek Olympus. True, many gods, with their politics and failings, reflect pretty well human society.

But humans have souls. We all search for one spirit that will unite us, as the ancient Jewish prophets of the Bible said more than 3,000 years ago — that all nations will together serve one God. This idea of unity, of oneness at our core, gives mankind hope and courage against all oppressive regimes and the radicalized, death-obsessed, fragmented dark forces that are out there. This idea, despite all the terror and intimidation, wins: the human belief in one God who created us all in His image. Even though pagan gods are much more visible, accessible and tangible, and one God has no image and cannot be described, this vision that has no shape, the one hope, will prevail. And no weapon or act of terror can overcome this hope.

2. Had the Maccabees lost, the world as we know it wouldn’t have existed. We would have probably continued to live in a world inhabited by many gods living on Olympus and fighting with each other, as opposed to a world in which people believe in one God.

We want to rekindle the light of inspiration, of hope, of wisdom.

This was an observation made by Bertrand Russell. He noted that had the Maccabees been defeated, and glamorous pagan Hellenism would have stomped out the faith in one invisible God, the idea of monotheism would have perished in history. Had this happened, to this very day we would have been fragmented, deeply believing that wars are the right way to go, because even gods fight among themselves up there on Olympus. A world that believes in one God is a world that believes that we share the same world, that we live in the same universe.

3. Hellenists were wise, but they rejected spirituality. They believed in body, not in soul. Body without a soul is dead. Wisdom without spirit is dead, too. We want our children not only to be smart. We want them to be alive.

Lighting the menorah, the candelabra with eight branches for eight candles, represents the eight days it burned in the restored Temple with just a scarce amount of oil. But the very symbol of burning light is the symbol not only of victory but also of the light restored at the Temple. Dark forces can come and destroy the Temple. They can desecrate it and make it lie in ruins. And when we conquer the Temple back, the most important thing we want to do is rekindle the light of inspiration, of hope, of wisdom.

Hellenists represented a civilization of the mind, of philosophy, of technology, of achievement. But they didn’t believe in spirituality, as we understand it. At the end of the day, mankind needs spirituality, a light that will burn in the Temple, light that we need to preserve and to keep burning every single day. We want our children not only to be successful. We want them to have the sense of the sacred — the sacredness of life, of love, of relationship, of humanity.

4. Light is not an obvious thing. In a dark, cold world, light is something worth fighting for, and sometimes even sacrificing one’s life for.

We see a lot of darkness around us. And mostly what we do is sigh and escape into our own little worlds where we keep ourselves busy. Do we have the courage to acknowledge that there is light in this world? That it has chance? Are we willing to put our lives on the line for the hope that this world can and will become a better place?

5. Even if you have just a little bit of light, light it up! Don’t wait to have enough of it. Because it will never happen.

Light up just one candle! Don’t wait. If you wait, it won’t come, ever. Do now the little you can.

When Maccabees won, they found the Temple ruined and defiled. Remnants of pagan sacrifices, idols were strewn all over. They cleaned it up and started looking around for an amphora full of extra virgin oil that was not desecrated. They found a little jug that would be enough only for one day. Their dilemma was this: wait for a week until a new supply of pure oil will come, or light it up, even though it will inevitably go out after a day and make many people disappointed. They decided to light it up. And the miracle of Chanukah is that the oil in the little jug burned for as long as eight days, not one. We learn from it — you have little light? This light won’t be enough to illuminate the world? Light up just one candle! Don’t wait. If you wait, it won’t come, ever. Do now the little you can.

Related Article: Chanukah's Secret to Greatness

6. Each day must bring more light in the world. If there will be the same light as yesterday, the world will get darker by the day.

Each day of Chanukah it is customary that we add one more candle, so that we go from one candle on the first day to eight candles on the eighth day. By this we signify that the miracle and the wonderment grew from day to day. But it also means something simpler — the amount of light that was good enough yesterday is not enough anymore for today. And what’s good enough today is not good enough for tomorrow. We need more. More light. More love. More truth. Every day we need more. Because we grow. If we are the same today as we were yesterday, it means that today didn’t exist for us.

7. Sharing light with others requires courage. Courage to believe in light, because unfortunately, many people give in to the darkness.

Chanukah lights are lit when it gets dark, and it is a custom to light them in a public domain, or at least in a way that people on the street can see them. Because it’s nice to sit in your living room discussing issues, arguing and creating a better world. But what about bringing the light out? Stepping out of the comfort of your own house and roaming the streets helping others? Making their night a bit brighter?

8. Give yourself a chance to be a hero!

Most of us give up because we tell ourselves, “Who am I to do this? Let me be the way I am. Let me drag my feet through life, oppressed by habit and quiet desperation.” You can rebel! You can be free to choose to live your life for the truth!

Matisyahu’s annual Festival of Lights concert series takes place Nov. 29-30, Dec. 4-Dec. 5 at the Brooklyn Bowl and the Music Hall of Williamsburg.

This article originally appeared in the Jewish Week

Published: November 27, 2010


Give Tzedakah! Help Aish.com create inspiring
articles, videos and blogs featuring timeless Jewish wisdom.

Visitor Comments: 9

(8) Neria Moye, December 9, 2012 8:25 PM

Thank you

Brother Matisyahu, Thank you so much for writing about this wonderful holiday in a down to earth, grounded way- you inspire me and many other people. One Hannukah Heart and Respect

(7) chaiah, December 12, 2010 2:06 AM

I've been observant for forty years but I still don't understand this: Are you saying that "the human belief in one God who created us all in His image" prevents wars? What about the Islamic terrorists that kill in the name of one God? And our Torah tells us that our God commanded our ancestors to kill out the nations that were inhabiting the land that we were to inherit. Someone please clarify.

Silky, December 26, 2011 12:00 AM

We strive to emulate

Chaiah, belief in one G-d may not prevent wars, but when people believe in gods that quarrel and go to war over women and slights, they feel justified in doing the same. We believe in a God of peace and we want to emulate Him. Are people perfect? No, of course not, but when you start with role models that a far from perfect, the people cannot hope for the ideal. Happy Chanukah.

(6) Anonymous, November 29, 2010 6:59 PM

I just want to point out that wars have been the way of this world and we are embroiled in them all over the world. The belief in one G-d has not prevented them because people that covet wars, money, oil, etc. want them to continue. Most of these people would say that they believe in G-d. I would have to say that their actions speak much louder than their words. Wars can be heard all over this world. More is that the real pity and sorrowful entity in this world.

(5) Larry, November 29, 2010 11:02 AM

NOT the same G-d as Judaism

Marc, contrary to common belief among many people throughout the world, even though Christians and Moslems are referred to as monotheists, they do NOT yet believe in the same G-d as Judaism. One can say that religion has been the reason has been the reason for fighting and killing among people for centuries, but not believe in the ONE true HaShem. It's belief in some other god(s). HaShem's name is not yet ONE among all of the peoples. One of the many sources is Aleinu. Read the words and it will be very clear. Mention the Noahide Laws to non-Jews who are interested in coming closer to the ONE true G-d of the universe. That is the G-d that Jews believe in.

See All Comments

Submit Your Comment:

  • Display my name?

  • Your email address is kept private. Our editor needs it in case we have a question about your comment.


  • * required field 2000
Submit Comment
stub
Sign up today!