Tales of the Chanukah Lights
The Chanukah lamp was kindled, shedding its faint light in
the brilliantly lit sitting-room. It was a happy occasion for
father to spend half an hour in the company of his children,
playing the Chanukah dreidle. There was an air of festivity
in the house, but so engrossed were the players in the game
that the poor Chanukah light was all but forgotten.
The excitement grew as the dreidle spun round and fell,
now with the shin up, calling for a 'put,' now with the gimmel up, bringing a 'take
all' to the happy winner.
Little Chaim grew tired of the game and went up to look at the fascinating
Chanukah light. He drew up a chair and sat down, gazing at the little flame with his
eager blue eyes.
The tiny flame flickered and made a curtsy. "Good Chanukah!" the Chanukah
Little Chaim was so startled that he could only nod in acknowledgment. "I didn't
know Chanukah Lights could talk," he said.
"Oh yes, Chanukah Lights can talk, and can tell wonderful stories," the little flame
replied. "Few children, I am sorry to say, know it. But I am glad you came to look
me up. I was beginning to feel neglected. After all, I come but once a year, together
with my seven little sisters, and surely we deserve some attention and hospitality."
"But we mustn't make any practical use of your light," Chaim said in self defense.
"You are just to be looked at and pondered on!"
"I am glad you know that. But that is exactly the reason why you should sit next to
me and keep me company, and listen to my story. I have such a wonderful story to
tell you. Do you want to hear it?"
"I certainly do," little Chaim said expectantly.
The Story of the First Chanukah Light
Many years ago, began the First Chanukah Light, the Jews lived in the Land of
Israel. They had no king at that time, for their king was G-d, the King of kings.
Unfortunately many Jews stopped serving G-d, and so they soon found themselves
in the servitude of a human king. But he was not human at all, for he was a tyrant,
and very, very cruel. His name was Antiochus, and he reigned in the neighboring
land of Syria. So powerful was he, that no one could stop him from doing the most
wicked things. Antiochus decided to make all Jews worship idols. He sent officers
and soldiers throughout the Land of Israel to en-force the laws and customs of his
land. The Jews were forbidden to worship G-d in their own way, or keep any other
of their most sacred customs and laws. The Holy Temple in Jerusalem was defiled
and stripped of its beautiful sacred golden vessels. Any one who dared to disobey
the king was immediately put to death.
Days of terror and persecution followed. Then the Jews realized that their own
wrongdoing had brought the trouble upon them. They began to mend their ways,
and were resolved to die rather than give up their religion. Even little boys like you
cheerfully faced cruel death and scorned a life of luxury as a heathen. Then G-d
said, "My children have now suffered enough. I will rescue them!"
It was an old man, frail in body but a giant in spirit, who first raised the banner of
revolt against the all-powerful king Antiochus. His name was Mattityahu the
In the little peaceful village of Modin, Mattityahu lived with his five sons. When the
king's officer with a company of men came to his village to force the Jews to
worship idols, old Mattityahu grabbed the officer's sword and slew him. He called
upon his sons and brethren to follow his example, and they pounced upon the
vandals and slew most of them. The rest fled in terror to tell the king.
Old Mattityahu with his faithful followers withdrew to the hills. From there
Mattityahu sent a message to all his brethren: "Let all faithful to G-d follow me!"
and the band of followers who were ready to offer their lives for their faith grew
One day Mattityahu gathered his friends around him, and said to them: "I feel that
my last day is drawing near. Let my son Yehuda lead you to victory against the
enemies of G-d. Though you may be greatly outnumbered, despair not, and put
your faith in G-d. Remember our father Abraham who preferred to be thrown into
the burning furnace rather than be unfaithful to G-d! Remember also Pinchas who
risked his life for the sanctification of G-d's name! Remember Eliyahu the Prophet
who stood up alone against the false prophets! He who answered them in their hour
of peril shall answer you now. Fear not, but put your faith in G-d. G-d bless you
and watch over you."
Soon after, Mattityahu passed away, sadly mourned by all Jews. The Jews now
looked to Yehuda Maccabee to lead and guide them, and Yehuda was determined
to live up to the reputation of his priestly family.
The Chanukah Light paused. The oil had run low, but the little flame struggled,
almost desperately. "My time is up" she said. "Please be sure to be with us
tomorrow. Happy Chanukah!"
The Story of the Second Chanukah Light
The following day was Friday, and little Chaim washed early and changed for
Shabbat, so he could be with the Chanukah Lights the moment they were kindled.
He watched his father light the Chanukah Lights and then he watched his mother
light the Shabbat candles. Now Chaim drew up a chair and sat down to accompany
the Chanukah Lights.
Sure enough, he could hear the familiar voice of the First Light: "Good Shabbos
and Happy Chanukah! I am glad to see you again. This is my younger sister. Say
'Hello' to the little boy."
"Hello," the Second Light said, making a graceful curtsy. "I know a wonderful
story. Would you like to hear it?"
"I most certainly do," replied little Chaim. "Please, do tell it to me."
"Well," the Second Chanukah Light began, "Yehuda Maccabee led that little band
of faithful Jews from victory to victory. Do you know what "guerilla warfare" is?
It's the kind of war that a small number of people wages against big odds. Yehuda
and his men did just that. Hiding in caves or lying in ambush, they would suddenly
attack the enemy from the rear, or in the middle of the night. Although greatly
outnumbered, they succeeded in routing the enemy every time.
Antiochus was bursting with rage. He sent one big army after another to capture
Yehuda and destroy his followers, but each time his generals failed. Finally
Antiochus sent his best general, Lysias, with a huge army of infantry and cavalry
and armored chariots.
Yehuda addressed his handful of brave warriors: "Today we are put to our greatest
test," he said. "But have no fear, for it isn't our weapons that defeated the enemy
in the past, but our faith in G-d. They come in chariots and rely upon their might,
but we come in the name of G-d and He will fight on our side."
Calling unto G-d and sounding their trumpets, Yehuda and his valiant followers
flung themselves upon the enemy. Seeing Yehuda at the head of his men, looking
like an angel of G-d, the Syrian warriors became terrified. Their whole army was
thrown into terrible confusion, and they began to fight one another. Those who
escaped the sword took to their heels, hotly pursued by Yehuda and his men.
It was a wonderful miracle indeed, and the victory was complete and
overwhelming. Yehuda's first thought was to free Jerusalem and dedicate the Holy
Temple, so that the Jews could once again worship G-d in peace and security.
When the goal was finally achieved and Yehuda, at the head of his men, entered
the Holy Temple, it was a sorry sight that met their eyes. Everything had been
defiled and desecrated by the vandals. For a moment the spirit of triumph deserted
them, and they stood there motionless, tears streaming down their cheeks.
"No time for grief!" Yehuda called. "Let's clean up and dedicate our Holy Temple!
Everybody get busy!"
"Now we shall light the Menorah with its seven lights!" Yehuda announced when
the Temple had been thoroughly cleansed. But alas! There was no pure, sacred
olive oil to light it with, for everything had been defiled by the enemy. Searching
again and again, they finally discovered one little cruse of oil that still bore the seal
of the High Priest. Chanting Psalms to G-d for their deliverance, they kindled the
Menorah and dedicated the Holy Temple in the year 3622 after Creation.
It was on the 25th of Kislev, the very day the Temple had been desecrated by the
enemy, that the Dedication of the Temple was celebrated. But that was not all.
Wonder of wonders! The little oil that was expected to last but one day lasted eight
days, until new olive oil could be prepared for the Menorah. Here was a clear
demonstration that G-d's miracles were beyond human understanding.
"This is where my part of the story ends," said the candle. "Tomorrow my younger
sister will tell you another story of heroism. Now, you run along to Shul and be
sure to be with us again tomorrow."
The Story of the Third Chanukah Light
Immediately after greeting little Chaim on the following evening, the Third Light
I'm going to tell you about Yehuda's younger brother Elazar.
The wicked Antiochus died, and his son Eopater became king of Syria. Eopater
was no better than his father. He hired the biggest army for those days. It was
composed of one hundred thousand infantry men, twenty thousand horsemen, and
thirty-two trained war elephants. They all had armor and helmets and were
veterans of previous wars. When the sun rose and shone upon the glittering array
of armor, the reflected light dazzled the eye for miles around.
Determined to fight on to the last man, Yehuda and his valiant warriors attacked
the enemy, but not before they had prayed to G-d to help them in their holy cause.
It was a desperate battle, but Yehuda and his men fought on bravely. They
destroyed one battalion after another, but there seemed no end to the swarming
mass of the enemy. Suddenly Elazar noticed a war-elephant that was more
elaborately decorated than the others, and heavily guarded. "There the king must
be riding," thought Elazar. "If I kill him the victory will be ours." With no thought
for his own life, Elazar rushed in the direction of the elephant. He fought his way
through the guard, killing right and left, until he reached the decorated elephant.
Elazar slew the elephant and its distinguished rider. But here the heroic Elazar also
lost his life, caught beneath the crushing weight of the elephant as the huge beast
collapsed from its wounds.
But it was not the king whom Elazar had killed but one of his top generals;
nevertheless, Elazar's act of bravery inspired his brethren and they fought on
grimly. The odds were too heavily against them, however, and they found
themselves in grave danger.
Suddenly a messenger brought news to the king of an uprising back in his own
land. His son was attempting to overthrow him. Antiochus Eopater decided to call
off this battle and make peace with Yehuda. Thus the Land of Israel was once
again saved at the very moment when all seemed lost.
"That's all for the present," concluded the Third Chanukah Light, "Happy
The Story of the Fourth Chanukah Light
Four little flames flickered in the Chanukah Lamp. All of them curtsied and greeted
little Chaim. Without losing any time, the Fourth Chanukah Light began her story:
Many battles were fought and won by Yehuda and his followers, but in one of the
battles brave Yehuda fell. All Israel mourned the death of their hero. They then
turned to his brother Yonatan for leadership.
Fortunately for the Jews, there was again trouble in Syria. Demetrius who was king
of Syria at that time, was challenged by his rival, Alexander. Now Demetrius did
not love Yonatan, and feared him. But even more did he fear his rival Alexander.
So Demetrius decided to win Yonatan over to his side. He sent messengers asking
Yonatan to forget the old grievances and become his friend.
Alexander met this move by sending Yonatan a golden crown and kingly robes with
a message of friendship, saying that he would be glad to see him the High Priest
and king of the Jews.
Yonatan sided with Alexander, for he knew that Demetrius was treacherous and
was not to be trusted. When Alexander and Demetrius met on the battlefield,
Demetrius fell in battle and Alexander triumphed. Alexander celebrated his victory
in the town of Acco and invited King Ptolemy of Egypt and Yonatan to take part in
the festivities. Yonatan was accorded royal honors.
Some years passed, and again a new king reigned in Syria. There was so much
rivalry and treachery among the Syrians that they changed kings often. But in the
meantime Yonatan reigned in the Land of Israel in a true spirit of justice and love.
He was also the High Priest, being the grandson of Yochanan the High Priest. All
Jews loved and honored him.
Now one of the trusted men of the king of Syria was a man called Triphon.
Triphon wanted to murder the king and then proclaim himself king. Knowing that
Yonatan would avenge such treachery, he made up his mind to get rid of him. So
Triphon made a party one day, and invited Yonatan. Yonatan did not suspect the
trap Triphon had for him. When Yonatan was left unguarded, Triphon took him
The Chanukah Light sighed as a shiny tear, like a pearl, rolled down Chaim's
"I am sorry my story has such a sad ending," said the Fourth Chanukah Light, "but
my time is up. Tomorrow you will hear a more cheerful story. So long!"
The Story of the Fifth Chanukah Light
Five little flames fluttered in the Chanukah Lamp. They all curtsied and greeted
little Chaim with a hearty 'Happy Chanukah!" The Fifth Light, shining more
brightly than the others, began her story:
Now there was only one left of the five brave sons of Mattityahu. Yehuda, Elazar,
Yochanan and Yonatan had all given their lives for their people. It was Shimon's
turn to take over the leadership. All the people of Israel implored him to become
their leader and High Priest, promising to follow him even as they followed his
The Land of Israel was still surrounded by many enemies, and Shimon had to fight
many battles before he succeeded in freeing the country of all enemies within and
On the third anniversary of Shimon's leadership, all the elders and nobles of Israel
gathered in Jerusalem to do honor to their beloved High Priest. They offered
thanksgiving to G-d for delivering them from all their enemies. Amid great cheering
and jubilation they proclaimed Shimon Prince of Israel and High Priest. All the
people pledged their allegiance to him and his family. On bronze tablets the brave
deeds of Mattityahu and his sons were then recorded, and the tablets were placed
upon the columns supporting the balconies of the Holy Temple. Similar tablets
were presented to Shimon as a token of everlasting love and gratitude.
Once again the Jews lived happily in their own land, free to worship G-d in peace
and security. And every year, on the 25th day of Kislev, they celebrated the
festival of Chanukah by kindling the Chanukah Lights, and telling their children of
G-d's wonderful miracles.
The Story of the Sixth Chanukah Light
The Sixth Chanukah Light flickered and curtsied and told her story:
My story will take you many years from those days of Chanukah under the
Hasmoneans, for I am going to bring you back to our times, sad and tragic though
they are. Once again, a cruel tyrant, even more cruel than Antiochus, declared an
open war against our people and threatened to extinguish the light of our Torah.
My story takes you back to the early days of the Second World War, when Hitler's
armies were drunk with conquest. My story takes you to a miserable place, a place
unfit for human beings, a place which will always be spoken of with horror and
aversion; a concentration camp.
This was a concentration camp in France, where many Jews had been herded and
where they awaited an unknown fate.
It was into this concentration camp, the little Chanukah Light continued, that I was
called to bring hope and courage to the suffering and despairing Jews.
There was a venerable man among them. He was a Rabbi. He was always on his
feet going about from man to man, giving hope and solace to his brethren. But to
bring hope to those despairing internees was quite a difficult matter.
Then Chanukah came.
For about a month before Chanukah, the Rabbi had been saving up some oil from
his daily meals. He collected this precious oil drop by drop, and by Chanukah, he
had enough of it to be able to fulfill the cherished mitzvah of kindling the Chanukah
Lights. He managed to obtain a raw carrot from the kitchen and cut out in it a little
cup for the oil. From a corner of his coat he cut off a little piece for a wick. He
now had a 'Chanukah Lamp.'
It was dark in the barracks where these poor Jews were confined, for their
tormentors would not give them any light at night. In this silent darkness the
venerable Rabbi's words seemed to come from nowhere, like a voice from heaven.
"My dear brethren," the Rabbi began, "tonight is Chanukah, the Festival of Lights,
the festival that brings a message of hope to all Jews oppressed by tyrants like
Antiochus. I am now going to light the Chanukah Lamp for all of us. Please listen
carefully to the blessings."
Then, lighting the improvised Menorah, the Rabbi recited the three blessings over
the first Chanukah Light. There were no tears in his eyes, and his voice rang with
solemn hope and courage coming from the very bottom of his heart:
"My brethren," the Rabbi continued, while the little flame threw a dim light in the
barracks. He could barely discern the sad faces of the internees but he knew there
were tears in many eyes, and a stifled sob here and there confirmed this.
'Tonight," the Rabbi said, "is not a time for despair. Look at this little flame and try
to understand what it signifies. When Aaron was about to kindle the Menorah in
the Mishkan (Sanctuary), G-d made a promise to him: that although the Menorah
of the Temple might be put out for a time, when Israel turned away from Him,
there would be a light that would always be kindled. This light would be kindled in
the dark night and would bring light and hope to His children in their darkest hours.
These lights were to be the Chanukah Lights.
"Let us, therefore, not despair, but pray to G-d to deliver us from the hands of our
tormentors, so that we may live to rekindle the lights again next year in our Holy
Here the little flame paused, but young Chaim wanted to know what happened to
those internees, and the little Chanukah Light continued:
Those were the more fortunate victims of Hitler. They had the good fortune to be
regarded by him as "enemy aliens" and were held for exchange for German
prisoners. After the Rabbi kindled the Sixth Chanukah Light, they received the
happy news that they would be exchanged for German prisoners and sent to
America. To this day they celebrate Chanukah with special joy because it is also
the anniversary of their liberation. I must go and visit them at once. So long, my
good little boy. I'll see you tomorrow!
The Story of the Seventh Chanukah Light
Seven little flames fluttered in the Chanukah Lamp and all curtsied and greeted little
Chaim with a hearty "Happy Chanukah!" The Seventh Light, shining more brightly
than the others, began her story:
Do you know, my boy, that in the Holy Temple, the Golden Menorah had only
seven lights, as many as you see tonight? That is why we do not have candlesticks
of seven lamps, because we must not imitate the sacred vessels of the Holy
Now I see you are curious to know something more about the Menorah that stood
in the Holy Temple. So I will tell you about that tonight:
You surely remember what you learned in Yeshivah about the Menorah, that it was
beaten out of pure gold with a central shaft and six branches, three on each side,
making up seven lamps in all. On top of each of the branches there was a cup.
Each branch was further decorated with beautiful almond blossoms and knops, all
made of that one piece of gold. It was a wonderful work of art. Even the great
Moses found it difficult to grasp the instructions which G-d gave him verbally, and
so G-d constructed the Menorah!
Only the purest of olive oils was used for the Menorah. Do you know how it was
prepared? Well, to begin with, no ordinary olives were used for the oil of the
Menorah. Preference was first of all given to the oil of the olives growing around
the city of Tekoa. No, not Tokyo, my boy, good heavens, no! Tekoa is a town in
the Holy Land of Israel, where the Prophet Amos used to live. This town was
located in the province belonging to the Tribe of Asher, whom Yaakov blessed with
the words: "Asher's bread shall be fat and he shall yield royal dainties" (Gen.
49:20). The olives had to be grown on virgin soil which had not been artificially
manured or irrigated. The olives had to be ripe and fresh from the tree, and only
the first drops gently squeezed out from such choice olives could be used for the
Every morning a special Priest, upon whom the duty and privilege of trimming and
lighting the candlestick for that day had been bestowed by lot, would reverently
approach the Menorah. He would invariably find the western lamp burning, while
the other six lamps of the Menorah had burnt out. This was a wonderful miracle
that occurred every day, for while all seven lamps of the Menorah received an
equal quantity of oil, sufficient only to last overnight, all the lamps did burn out
overnight, while the western lamp still burned into the afternoon, when the
Menorah was rekindled from that western lamp. This miracle showed that G-d's
presence (the Shechina) was in the midst of Israel!
It was this sacred Menorah that the wicked Antiochus defiled. He was able to do so
only after the Jews had forsaken the Torah and turned to Greek culture and idols
instead. When the Jews turned away from G-d, G-d turned away from them, and
the light of the Menorah was extinguished. However, when the Jews rallied and
returned to G-d wholeheartedly under the guidance of the priestly family of
Mattityahu and his brave sons, G-d showed them again that His Presence was
among them. For, as you know, they found only one little cruse of oil which had
enough oil for only one day, and by the miracle of G-d the little quantity of oil in
the Menorah lasted for eight days until new, pure olive oil could be prepared.
This Menorah was one of the proudest and most treasured articles among the
spoils, Titus the Roman general, took with him after he destroyed the Temple
many years later. So proud was he of his conquest of the Land of Israel, the
destruction of our Holy Temple and especially the capture of our sacred Menorah,
that when a triumphal arch was built for him - the "Arch of Titus" - a Menorah was
very conspicuously depicted. The cruel Titus thought that he had forever
conquered our people and extinguished its life. But he, like many others of his kind,
was wrong. Israel lived on and outlived his vast empire, for every Jew kindled
within him the light of the Torah. Every Jew became a walking Menorah in an age
By the time the Seventh Chanukah Light concluded her story, the others had
already bade farewell to little Chaim. The Seventh Light too waved a final au
revoir, but Chaim still remained sitting by the Chanukah Lamp, his blue eyes fixed
on it. He was thinking... .
The Story of the Eighth Chanukah Light
"We are all here now," cried out the Eighth Chanukah Light as soon as little Chaim
found himself alone with the Chanukah Lamp, his brothers and sisters having gone
off to play dreidle again. "This is our last night with you, dear little boy. Soon we'll
have to bid you farewell until next year."
The Eighth Chanukah Light continued:
Do you know that it was not by accident that Chanukah occurred on the 25th of
Kislev? I need hardly tell you that nothing happens by accident" The 25th day of
Kislev first became important more than a thousand years before the "Miracle of
Chanukah." It was on that day that the building of the Mishkan in the desert was
completed-barely nine months after the children of Israel had been liberated from
Egypt. At that time, however, G-d postponed the dedication of the Mishkan until
the first of Nissan. "G-d does not withhold the reward of any creature," our Sages
say. So G-d promised the 25th of Kislev that it would have its reward. When King
Solomon concluded building the Holy Temple in the year 2935, the dedication took
place on Succot, and the 25th of Kislev again had to bide time. The Second
Temple was built and dedicated, but again the 25th of Kislev was left out. Finally,
the reward came when Yehuda Maccabee dedicated the Temple after it had been
defiled by the wicked Antiochus, and the 25th of Kislev became an anniversary
never to be forgotten.
"Trust G-d to grant adequate reward as surely as He punishes for wrongdoing."
After a little pause, the Chanukah Light continued:
"Over the years we have often had a very difficult task. Our people have suffered
untold misery and pain, have offered uncounted sacrifices for the sanctification of
G-d's name. Even in the darkest of all nights for our people, we, the little
Chanukah Lights, have brought a ray of hope, heralding the dawn of a new day, a
day brighter than ever. Remember Rabbi Akiva and his friends visiting the ruins of
the Holy Temple? Everybody wept but Akiva. "If the words of retribution with
which our prophets admonished us came true, how much more so will their words
of solace, their promise of survival and ultimate triumph!" Akiva said to his friends,
and they wiped their tears and said, "Akiva, you have comforted us."
Yes, my boy, you may be sure that G-d does not withhold the reward of any
creature, and our people will be rewarded, amply. The words, of our Prophet
Isaiah will surely be fulfilled - we shall be "the light of the nations" and by our light
the nations of the world will live in peace and happiness. For these are his words:
"When darkness will cover the earth, and gross darkness the peoples-then G-d will
shine upon you, and His glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall walk by
your light, and kings by the brightness of your rising" (Isaiah 60:2,3).
"Well, little boy," all the Lights said in a chorus, "we hope you enjoyed our stories
and talks. For more than 2000 years, we, tiny little Chanukah Lights, have come
and gone, year after year, bringing with us tales of bravery and self-sacrifice in the
cause of the Torah. You wouldn't think we are so old, would you? But we never
grow old. We are timeless, and our message is timeless. Many a light have we
kindled in Jewish hearts, and Jewish homes."
"Thank you, dear Chanukah Lights," little Chaim said gratefully. "I shall always
remember your wonderful stories. I wish I were like those brave Hasmoneans!"
"You might try to be..." the Chanukah Lights answered. "And now we are sorry to
part with you-until next year. Happy Chanukah, dear Chaim!"
"Happy Chanukah!" Chaim replied. "I shall be eagerly looking forward to seeing
you next year!"
"In rebuilt, sacred Jerusalem!" the Chanukah Lights added.
"In rebuilt, sacred Jerusalem!" Chaim repeated.