Was Hanukah’s Miracle Seven Days For Muslims And Eight Days For Jews? – OpEd


The great 16th century legal scholar Rabbi Yosef Karo posed a startling question concerning why Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days when the miracle was only for seven days (since there was enough oil for one day). A good question. 

One might say that there were two miracles connected to the Hanukah lights. One, the oil lasted for seven days longer than everyone expected. Second, they were willing to begin without being afraid of failure. 

Or one might say there were two miracles: one of war and sacrifice and one of hope and faith. Or one might say two miracles for Prophet Abraham’s two sons’ descendants; seven days for Muslims and eight days for Jews.

Pesikta Rabbati, a collection of midrashim compiled in the ninth to tenth centuries, relates a very old midrash that very few Jews know today. When the Hasmoneans entered the desecrated Temple, they discovered eight iron rods (Syrian military banner poles). Into these, they carved grooves, filled the grooves with unconsecrated oil, and then kindled wicks in the oil. (piska 2:1)

The eight iron bars referred to in the above midrash were the military standards [iron poles with a wooden or cloth painted banner at the top] which each legion proudly marched out into battle. By carving grooves in them, filling the grooves with unconsecrated olive oil; and nightly setting the eight oil soaked banners afire, the iron bar military standards were symbolically transformed into Menorahs; objects of sacred Jewish rituals.

According to this midrash tradition, the eight days of Hanukkah honor the beginning of the cleansing and re-consecration of the Temple; that was finished eight days later when the consecrated oil for continually burning lamp was re-lite. Another view is that the eight days were modeled on what the Levites did to purify the temple of the Lord, as King Hezekiah had ordered. 

The priests went into the sanctuary of the Lord to purify it…For eight more days they consecrated the [First] Temple of the Lord itself, finishing on the sixteenth day of the first month. (2 Chronicles 29:15-18)

The Second Book of Maccabees describes the purification of the Second Temple [in 165 BCE], adding significant information not found in First Maccabees: “Judah the Maccabee and his men, under the Lord’s leadership, recaptured the Temple and the city of Jerusalem. … After purifying the Temple, they built a new altar; made a new fire; … offered sacrifices and incense … and lit the lamps. … On the anniversary of the very same day on which the Temple had been defiled, the 25th of Kislev, they now purified the Temple. 

“They celebrated joyfully for eight days, just as on Hajj Sukkot, knowing that (only two months before) on Hajj Sukkot (google my article on the Biblical holiday of Hajj Sukkot) they had spent the festival (hiding) like wild animals in the mountains and caves. That is why they now came carrying palm fronds and fruit, and singing hymns of praise to God, who had given them the victory that brought about the purification of His Temple. By a vote of the community they decreed that the whole Jewish nation should celebrate these festival days every year. (Second Maccabees 10:1-8)

Then in 63 BCE, 105 years after the Hasmonean revolt began, the Hasmonean Jewish Kingdom come to an end, because of a political rivalry between two rival brothers Aristobulus II and Hyrcanus II, both of whom appealed to the Roman Republic to intervene and settle the power struggle on their behalf.

The Roman general Pompey was dispatched to the area, and decided to occupy Judea for the Romans. Twelve thousand Jews died in the Roman siege of Jerusalem. The Priests of the Holy Temple were struck down at the Temple Altar and Rome annexed Judea. Thus, five brothers helped free Judea from Syrian domination; and one hundred years later two brothers helped Rome annex Judea.

In the following centuries, the rabbis diligently worked to shift the lesson of Hanukah from celebrating a military victory. to celebrating the spiritual victory of hope over despair, by among other things, covering over the Pesikta Rabbati 2:1 midrash with the Talmud’s oil story; and using a phrase from the biblical Book of Zechariah that is always chanted during the Shabbat service that falls during Hanukkah: “Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit…”

Mystically what very few Jews, and no non-Jews know about Hanukah, is how it relates to Muslims and how often the alter’s stones have been defiled, and then re-consecrated, and re-dedicated [Hanukah] in Jerusalem and in Makkah. 

There is a little known ancient Jewish tradition that the uncut stones that Prophet Jacob chose for his pillows [Genesis 28:11], were the same twelve separate stones that together made the alter that was first raised by Adam, and then (after Noah’s flood) rebuilt by Prophet’s Abraham and Ishmael. (Hebrew Myths by Robert Graves and Raphael Patai page 206)

How did the 12 uncut stones come from Makkah to Mount Moraiah? When Prophet Ishmael’s grandchildren, years after Prophet Ishmael’s death, allowed the first stone image to be placed near Adam’s Kaba, six of the alters stones fled. When Prophet Ishmael’s own great grandchildren placed a stone image next to the Kaba, which had been re-built and re-dedicated [Hanukah] by Prophet Abraham and Prophet Ismael, and the number of idols continued to grow, the remaining six stones fled. 

When Jacob came to the place [Mount Moriah] where Prophet Abraham’s second son Prophet Isaac was tested; and Prophet Isaac did as his elder brother Prophet Ishmael had done, the 12 stones came to Mount Moriah to become his pillows. The 12 stones remained there when Prophet Solomon built the first Temple; passed the Babylonian exile when Prophet Zachariah rebuilt the second Temple. 

The 12 stones rejoiced when the Maccabee warriors rededicated the Temple after the Syrian Greek King Antiochus polluted the Temple altar by placing a statue of himself on the alter. But they fled when in the year 70 CE, the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and its Holy Temple.

The 12 stones did not know where to go. Then Gabriel told them to be patient for 500 years, until a descendant of Prophet Abraham’s son Prophet Ishmael would be born; who will finally and permanently remove the pollution caused by the 300 idols surrounding the Kaba:

“When We made the House [Kaba] a place of return for the people and [a place of] security, take from the standing place of Abraham a place of prayer.  We charged Abraham and Ishmael, [saying], “Purify My House for those who perform Tawaf, and those who stay for worship, and those who bow down and prostrate [in prayer].” (Qur’an 2:125) 

Even 2,500 years ago Prophet Zechariah envisioned a future time when God helps us to establish worldwide peace: and all the nations in the world  may travel to Makka and Jerusalem to worship the One God. 

Both the Holy Qur’an and the Holy Bible stress the religious importance of an annual pilgrimage to a sacred location (Hajj in Arabic, Hag in Hebrew). In Biblical times the Hebrew letter ‘g’ was  pronounced  either as ‘go’ or as ‘gym’.

It is important for Muslims to realize that this prophesied future city of Jerusalem, without a rebuilt Temple, will welcome both Jews and non-Jews, just a it did in the days of Prophet David who wrote in his Zabur: “I rejoiced with those who said to me, “Let us go up to the house of the LORD…There the (12) tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord, As it was decreed for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the Lord.” (Psalm 122:1,4)

And Prophet Zechariah even includes those who were previously Israel’s enemies: “Then the survivors from all the nations that have attacked Jerusalem, will go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord Almighty, and to celebrate Hajj Sukkot [a Jewish week long Biblical pilgrimage festival]” (Zechariah 14:16) 

Just as the Ka’ba has always welcomed all Muslims who answer the call: “Call upon the people for Hajj. They will come to you on their bare feet, or riding any weak camel, and they come to you from every far desert. (Qur’an 22:27).

And as Prophet Isaiah predicted “In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. In that day Israel will be the third, together with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing on the earth. The Lord Almighty will bless them, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.” (Isaiah 19: 23-25)

This year we must understand that the insight that Hanukah involved  two miracles: one of war and sacrifice and one of hope and faith. May it be repeated this year.

Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Allen Maller retired in 2006 after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, Calif. He is the author of an introduction to Jewish mysticism. God. Sex and Kabbalah and editor of the Tikun series of High Holy Day prayerbooks.

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