The coins skittered across the surface of the table; three falling to the dust of the ground, the others sliding to a stop across the smooth wooden top. The amount was staggering, but she somehow managed to drag her eyes back up to the man panting before her.

            He was sweating, with torn clothing and a dusty appearance. This wasn’t an usual sight among the men who had entered the city’s gates from the depths of the desert. Most were well protected against the sun, but this man’s face was scorched and burned by the whipping sands. His hands were calloused and dirty. His clothing was marred with dirt, dust and…blood?

            She was immediately frightened, and drew the wrap tighter around her face. She shuffled away from the table. He wanted oil. Oil, for the ner tamid. Certainly he was insane. The eternal light was locked away in the Temple, four days from here, and in the hands of the Greeks.

            Uncertainty simmering beneath her skin and nesting a pit of fear in her stomach, she shooed him off with a hand. “Take your money,” she hissed, “there is nothing for you here!”

`           He moaned in desperation, shaking his fists in the air frantically. “Girl, please! This is a holy matter – I need the oil, as much as you can spare. For the ner tamid. Please, I beg of you…”

            The desperation cracking his voice was heartbreaking. Tears fell from his eyes to stain his face, and trickled into his unkempt beard. Half of it was cut unevenly short– a sure disgrace, for a Jew. His entire appearance was uneasy and heretical, even his plea for oil. To mock the Temple of Yahweh was heresy – and to mock it even in the hands of the Greeks meant certain death, for anyone.

            But, as he wept bitterly before her now, she felt something stir in her soul. For even if there were a sliver of hope that his plea was true, would Yahweh ever forgive her if the ner tamid went out and she were responsible? How could her people, and the rabbi, forgive her? How could she live with herself, knowing she could have helped?

            Instead of reason, she asked, “Where do you come from, stranger?”

            He did not hesitate. “From the Holy Temple, four days from here. It has been liberated from the Greeks, at the hands of Judah Maccabee and his warriors! Yahweh be praised, it has been liberated.” He tossed his hands into the air and looked to the sky, shaking his head in relished relief. He leveled a look at her suddenly. “But the oil…it is run thin. There was only enough for one more day. I must get more oil before –“

            Her mind drifted. The Temple? Liberated? At the hands of Judah, the Jew? He had defeated the Greeks at the mercy of Yahweh’s favor! For weeks now they had grieved the Greek’s defamation and rededication of the Temple to pagan gods in this village, and her own father had even cursed the Greek’s in Yahweh’s name. It had meant the end of their traditions and way of life.

            But, liberation! Holy liberation – the Temple had been redeemed!

            She scanned the open crowds of the market, and found that no one had seemed to lend a ear to their conversation. She knew there were Greek soldiers who occupied the village, and for them to hear such a conversation would surely condemn her and her family to shame and disfavor. Swallowing back a breath, she looked back to the man and reached for his hand, giving another careful survey to area. It was forbidden for her to touch a man, but she could not help but convey her joy.

            “Just a moment. Do not leave,” she released his hand and ran across the street and down the alleyway, towards her family’s small home. She burst through the door unannounced, to find her mother mending in the corner. She stood abruptly as she rushed to the corner, where their family’s lamp rested. She grabbed the largest jar of oil from their supply and hurried back for the door, her mother calling after her. She didn’t respond, instead hurrying with the jar.

            The man waited, carefully; looking around nervously. She met him at her family’s market stand and pressed the jar of oil into his hands. He gaped at it, surprised, then looked back up to her swiftly as she drew the wrap back around her face and swept the coins off the table, handing them back.

            “Go, please – swiftly. In the name of Yahweh.” She shooed him away, “If there is any chance you can bring word back to us of the Temple, please do so.”

            He swung up on his horse and nodded, the jar balancing in his lap. He grinned at her dipped his head furiously. “Yes, yes, of course! Yahweh be praised!” He guided the animal away, and with a sharp kick to its sides, and took off for the city gates.

            Three days later, a messenger ran thought the streets, proclaiming the miraculous – the ner tamid, the eternal light, burned without oil for even eight days.

. . .

I can remember the first time I celebrated Hanukkah.

I was a small girl, probably no more than six, and I had been spending the holiday with my cousins and our family. My uncle was a Messianic Jew, so my cousins and their family celebrated Jewish festivals in place of traditional holidays, which I had always found strange. I remember that particular year we read the story of Hanukkah, each one of us children, and our parents passionately enlightened us.

Always a believer in Christ and the Bible, I had dedicated my life to pursuing Jesus and his declarations in Scripture. My immediate family had started following the Bible and Christ awhile before this holiday, and we had faithfully put up a tree and celebrated Christmas like most American families. But then, suddenly, my parents became very interested in the study of the Jewish Jesus, and the culture of his people and the customs that Christ himself would have followed during his time on the earth.

Regardless of what one believes personally, it is unattested that Jesus Christ walked the earth as a man. Whether to you he is the Messiah, or the one true Son of God, or just a wise prophet, he walked the earth as an historical figure (and, personally, is still such). He was born to Joseph and Mary, a Jewish man and woman, who embraced Jewish culture and practiced Jewish traditions. He lived in ancient Israel. Jesus was, indeed, a Hebrew man.

When my parents came to my brother and I, as young children, and told us (in a very child-friendly way) that Jesus was a man from Israel and would have celebrated different “holidays”, to say that my brother and I were excited would be an understatement. As children who had embraced the walk of Christianity and decided to dedicate our lives to Jesus Christ, we were passionate and curious about what Jesus himself would have done on the earth.

My parents explained to us the history of Hanukkah, and how the Greeks had taken over control of ancient Israel in 168 B.C.E. to rededicate it to the Greek god Zeus. This was also the same period when Antiochus abolished Judaism and forced the Jews to convert to a more Hellenistic, and thus acceptable, religion. It was either recant, or die.

However, a resistance movement— led by a priestly family known as the Hasmoneans, or Maccabees—developed against the cruelty of Antiochus. The head of the family was Mattahias, and his son, Judah, became the head of military affairs against Antiochus. What resulted was a valiant fight from the Maccabees and their resistance, and they eventually overthrew Antiochus and reclaimed their temple. 

 As a result of the Greek’s defamation, the holy ner tamid, or the eternal light, which was to burn continually, was overturned in the temple. The oil inside was only sufficient for a day. The messenger in charge of securing more oil took eight days on his journey, and when he returned, the oil in the lantern was still burning, miraculously. The rabbis then associated the eight days of Hanukkah with the miracle of the oil, as well as the reclamation and rededication of the Temple back to Yahweh.

That is how the legend was told to me, as a child. The story above is how I'd like to imagine how the events surrounding that eight-day miracle transpired. Of course, that's only fiction, but it is a beautiful picture, isn't it? Hope in a season of desolation - a miracle in some of the darkest times of ancient Israel. 

Learning of this miraculous piece of history fueled my passion farther for my pursuit of Jesus, and when my parents told my brother and I that they wanted to celebrate the festivals of Jesus and his people, we didn’t refuse. Thus was the conversion birthed – my family would no longer embrace traditional American holidays, but would instead turn to the celebrations and festival’s that Christ himself observed during his time on the earth. Not only would we celebrate Hanukkah, but in turn, we would observe the rest of the feats; such as Yom Kippur, Purim, Rosh Hashanah, and so forth. And, we continue to do so, to this day.

This being said, I am often questioned by friends and coworkers about this observation of Jewish holidays. The first question I am always asked is, of course, “Are you Jewish?”

The answer is no – I am not Jewish by blood, no. I am, however, saved by the grace of God and the sacrifice that his son, Jesus, made on the cross over two thousand years ago. I follow the Bible and the callings of Christ on a daily basis. I surround my life with Jesus Christ and his teachings. It is my desire to follow in the footsteps of Christ, and to be like him. And that means, very simply, that I embrace Jewish culture.

Scripture does say, in a myriad of places, that we are to be like Christ. “Whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked" (1 John 2:6). Though this is quite a literal interpretation, it makes sense logically too. We do the things others around us love to do. Don’t kid yourself – we all have been there. We try the new fashions, subscribe to the most popular channels, and give the new diets a go. We buy the phones everyone buys and watch the movies others watch. It’s just a natural part of life – we follow after the things we love, and we try to be like those we admire (Kardashian wannabees, you know who you are!).

That is my response when people approach me about Hanukkah in a season of Christmas. I want to be like Jesus, in every sense of the word. I study his word, and his teachings, and I participate in his celebrations and the ways of his people. Sometimes I attend a synagogue. Other times I listen to Jewish music. I learn Jewish culture and pray for its people. When I marry, I intend to have a Jewish wedding. I’m kosher, for the most part.

I, however, am not a Jew. I’m a Christian who is in love with Jesus and fascinated by the man who is widely acclaimed to be the greatest man to ever live. I’m enthralled by his word and dedicated to following his teachings. I’ve dedicated my life to pursuing his path and his light – in not only my faith and my religion, but also my heart and my life. And, that more often than not means being different than everyone else.

So, in a season of Christmas, know that there is also a season of Hanukkah. Know that it, to thousands of people, is more than a celebration with presents and an observation of history. For many of us, it is the pursuit of a man and his teachings. It is a way to grow closer to him and further understand the culture and ways of his people – our brothers and sisters in faith. It is the observance of an event that happened so many generations ago.

For many of us, it is the season of Hanukkah, and the celebration of an eight-day miracle that history so often forgets.

 

                         

 

Published by Miriam R. Orr