I’m going to tell you a story of Chanukah, and throughout the next few weeks we’re going to hear three different endings.
A long time ago, the Syrian Greeks ruled (were in charge of) the land of Israel. For the most part, the rulers let the Jews do what they wanted, as long as they followed Syrian Greek laws.
Some Jews decided they wanted to do the same things that the Syrian Greek people did. They wanted to exercise in Greek gyms, read Greek books, and make sacrifices to Greek gods. Other Jews were unhappy that the first group of Jewish people decided to do Greek things. They didn’t want Jewish people to eat unkosher food or play games with Greek people. Each group of Jews thought their way was best. The two groups of Jews began to fight each other. The Syrian Greek rulers left the Jews alone, since they were still following Syrian Greek laws.
Then a new Syrian Greek king, Antiochus, became the ruler. Antiochus wanted to be in charge of everything. He didn’t even want the Jews to be in charge of the Temple in Jerusalem. So Antiochus made new laws that said that Jewish people couldn’t do Jewish things anymore. Now Jews were no longer allowed to celebrate Shabbat or eat matzah on Pesach or sing Jewish songs.
The group of Jews that didn’t want to do Greek things started to fight back against the Syrian Greek army. Judah the Maccabee – Judah the Hammer – from the Hasmonean family was the leader of the fighters. The Syrian Greeks went into the Temple in Jerusalem, where the Jews prayed, and broke things. They smashed the beautiful oil lamps and the golden menorah. Still, the Jews kept fighting. They really wanted to win. The Jews had a small group of fighters, and the Syrian Greeks had a big, powerful, army. They even had elephants to help them fight. Finally, the Jews won the fight. Now Jews could be in charge of the whole country, and not have to be ruled by the Syrian Greeks. Jews could do Jewish things again and could go back to the Temple in Jerusalem.
Here is where the different endings start:
Book of Maccabees I: Chapter 4
“On the anniversary of the day (on which the Jewish people who wanted to do Greek things had made the Temple unpure by making sacrifices to Antiocus), on that very day it was reconsecrated with songs, harps, flutes, and cymbals. They also made new sacred vessels, and they brought the lamp stand … into the Temple. They burned incense on the altar and lit the lights on the lamp stand, and the Temple was filled with light…. For eight days they celebrated the dedication of the altar. … Then Judah, his brothers and the entire community of Israel decreed that the days of rededication of the altar should be celebrated with a festival of joy and gladness at this same time every year beginning on the 25th of the month of Kislev and lasting for eight days.” (First Maccabees 4:54-60)
Book of Maccabees II: Chapter 10
“Judah the Maccabee and his men, under the Lord’s leadership, recaptured the Temple and the city of Jerusalem. … After purifying the Temple, they made another altar. Then by striking flint they made a new fire and … offered sacrifices and incense … lit the lamps. … On the anniversary of the very same day on which the Temple had been made unpure, the 25th of Kislev, they now purified the Temple. They celebrated joyfully for eight days, just as on Sukkot, knowing that (a few months before) on Sukkot they had (been unable to celebrate at the Temple) and had spent the festival (hiding) like wild animals in the mountains and caves. That is why they came carrying stalks, wreathed with branches—palm fronds—and ripe fruit (the lulav and etrog), and sang hymns of praise (Hallel), to God. 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)”
The Rabbinic Source of the Story of the Cruise of Oil Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbat 21b (completed about 500 C.E.)
“Why Hanukkah? Our rabbis taught: (in Megillat Ta’anit) On the 25th day of Kislev begin the eight days of Hanukkah on which eulogies (mourning) and fasting are forbidden for when the Greeks entered the Temple, they defiled all the oil; and when the Hasmoneans prevailed and defeated them, they searched and found only one jar of oil with the official seal of the High Priest, but which was only enough for one day’s lighting; yet a miracle occurred, and they lit the lamp with it for eight days. The following year these days were decreed a festival with the recital of Hallel Psalms and thanksgiving.”