Chanuka as it appears in the Navi, Talmud, Midrash and liturgy.
In Dr. Gavriel Cohen’s 1999 essay on behalf of Bar Ilan’s Parashat HaShavua series, “Chanuka Through the Ages”, he details the connections that are to be found in the bible and Rabbinical literature tying this festival to the completion of the Mishkan:
Yalkut Shimoni, I Melachim, #184
R. Chanina said: On the 25th of Kislev, work on the Mishkan was completed, and it was folded away until the 1st of Nisan, as it is written: (Shemot 40:2) “On the first day of the first month you shall set up the Tabernacle of the Tent of Meeting”. Yisrael grumbled to Moshe saying: Why was it not set up immediately? Was there anything wrong with it? But the Holy One, Blessed Be He, Thought to Combine the celebration of the Mishkan with the month in which Yitzchak was born, for it is written: (Beraishit 18:6) “Knead and make [matzah] cakes!”, and they (the angels) said to him (Avraham): “I will return to you at the same date,” and thus Kislev, when the work was completed, lost out (to Nisan). The Holy One, Blessed Be He, Said: I must repay it. What did He do? (He Made) Chanuka of the Chashmonaim; and Mar-Cheshvan, as well, the Holy One, Blessed Be He, will eventually Repay (for this month has no holidays).
as well as the dedication of the Second Temple:
Take note, from this day forward — from the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, from the day when the foundation was laid for the Lord’s Temple — take note, … And the word of the Lord came to Chaggai a second time on the twenty-fourth day of the month: Speak to Zerubavel the governor of Yehuda: … I will Overturn the thrones of kingdoms and Destroy the might of the kingdoms of the nations… On that day — Declares the Lord of Hosts — I will Ttake you, O My Servant Zerubavel son of Shaltiel — Declares the Lord — and Make you as a signet; for I have Chosen you — Declares the Lord of Hosts.
Cohen also notes the two basic explanations for the reason for observing the Chanuka festival altogether:
The liturgical passage inserted in the Amida and Birchat HaMazon during the Chanuka festival:
In the days of the Chashmonai, Matityahu son of Yochanan, the High Priest, and his sons, when the iniquitous power of Greece rose up against Your People Yisrael to make them forgetful of Your Tora, and to force them to transgress the statutes of Your Will, then did You in Your Abundant Mercy Rise up for them in the time of their trouble; You Pleaded their cause, You Judged their suit, You Avenged their wrong; You Delivered the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the impure into the hands of the pure, the wicked into the hands of the righteous, and the arrogant into the hands of them that occupied themselves with Your Tora: for Yourself You Made a Great and Holy Name in Your World, and for Your People Yisrael You did Work a Great Deliverance and Redemption as at this day. And thereupon Your Children came into the inner sanctuary of Your House, cleansed Your Temple, purified the Holy Place, kindled lights in Your Sacred Courts, and Appointed these eight days of Chanuka in order to give thanks and praises unto Your Great Name.
and why the holiday is ritually commemorated by lighting the Chanukia:
What is Chanuka? The Rabbis taught: On the 25th of Kislev, for the eight days of Chanuka, one may not eulogize the dead or fast. When the Greeks entered the Sanctuary they contaminated all the oil there. When the Chashmonaim were victorious over them, they searched and found but one jug of oil with the seal of the High Priest intact, and it contained only enough oil to light the lamp for one day. A miracle happened, and the oil lasted for eight days. The next year these days were decreed a time of celebration, praise and thanksgiving.
Chanuka in the writings of Theodore Herzl.
But what was of greatest interest to me was Cohen’s presentation of the associations that the originator of Zionism, Theodore Herzl (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theodor_Herzl ), made between Chanuka in general and the Chanukia in particular, in light of the life many of the Western European Jews in his days:
“Die Menorah” in Die Welt, 31;12 1897 (For the incredible background of this story, see Paula Stern’s article in The Times of Israel http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/theodore-herzls-the-menorah/ )
Deep in his soul, he began to feel the need of being a Jew. His circumstances were not unsatisfactory; he enjoyed ample income and a profession that permitted him to do whatever his heart desired. For he was an artist (see the biography in Wikipedia, cited above). His Jewish origin and the faith of his fathers had long since ceased to trouble him, when suddenly, the old hatred came to the surface again in a new mob-cry. With many others, he believed that this flood would shortly subside. But there was no change for the better. In fact, things went from bad to worse
(it seems that the Dreyfus trial [ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dreyfus_affair ] constituted the last straw for Herzl);
and every blow, even though not aimed directly at him, struck him with fresh pain, until little by little, his soul became one bleeding wound. These sorrows, buried deep in his heart and silenced there, evoked thoughts of their origin and of his Judaism, and now he did something he could not perhaps have done in the old days because he was then so alien to it. He began to love his Judaism with an intense fervor
(a sentiment motivated by “Sinat Haman” rather than “Ahavat Mordechai, but “MiToch SheLo LiShma, Ba’in LiShma.)
Although in his own eyes he could not, at first, justify this new yearning, it became so powerful at length that it crystallized from vague emotions into a definite idea which he needed to express. It was the conviction that there was only one solution for this Judennot (Jewish distress)– the return to Judaism. When this came to the knowledge of his closest friends, similarly situated though they were, they shook their heads gravely and even feared for his reason. For how could that be a remedy which merely sharpened and intensified the evil? It seemed to him, on the other hand, that their moral distress was so acute because the Jew of today had lost the poise which was his father’s very being. They ridiculed him for this when his back was turned – many even laughed openly in his face. Yet, he did not allow himself to be misled by the banalities of these people whose acuteness of judgment had never before inspired his respect, and he bore their witticisms and their sneers with equal indifference. And, since, in all other respects, he acted like a man of his senses, they suffered him gradually to indulge his infatuation, which a number of them soon began to call by a harsher term than idee fixe (obsession). He continued, however, with characteristic persistence, to develop one idea after another from his fundamental conviction. At this time, he was profoundly moved by several instances of apostasy, though his pride would not permit him to betray it.
As a man and as an artist of the modern school, he had, of course, acquired many non-Jewish habits and his study of the cultures of successive civilizations had left an indelible impression upon him. How was this to be reconciled with his return to Judaism? Often doubts assailed him as to the soundness of his guiding thought, his idée maîtresse (main or guiding thought), as a French thinker calls it. Perhaps this generation, having grown up under the influence of alien cultures, was no longer capable of that return which had perceived to be their redemption. But the new generation would be capable of it, if it were only given the right direction early enough. He resolved, therefore, that his own children, at least, should be shown the proper path. They should be trained as Jews in their own home.
(Historically, this did not occur for Herzl’s three children—see e.g., http://www.jewishmag.com/109mag/herzl/herzl.htm )
Hitherto, he had permitted to pass by unobserved the holiday which the wonderful apparition of the Maccabees had illumined for thousands of years with the glow of miniature lights. Now, however, he made this holiday an opportunity to prepare something beautiful which should be forever commemorated in the minds of his children. In their young souls should be implanted early a steadfast devotion to their ancient people. He bought a Menora, and when he held this nine-branched candlestick in his hands for the first time, a strange mood came over him. In his father’s house also, the lights had once burned; in his youth, now far away, and the recollection gave him a sad and tender feeling for home. The tradition was neither cold nor dead – thus it has passed through the ages, one light kindling another. Moreover, the ancient form of the Menora had excited his interest. When was the primitive structure of this candlestick fashioned? Clearly the design was suggested by the tree – in the center the sturdy trunk, in right and left four branches, one below the other, in one plane, all of equal height. A later symbolism brought with it the ninth branch, which projects in front and functions as a servant.
What mystery had the generations which followed one another read into this form of art, at once so simple and natural? And our artist wondered to himself if it were not possible to animate again the withered form of the Menora, to water its roots, as one would a tree. The mere sound of the name, which he now pronounced every evening to his children, gave him great pleasure. There was a lovable ring to the word when it came from the lips of little children. On the first night the candle was lit and the origin of the holiday explained. Then wonderful incident of the lights that strangely remained burning so long, the story of the return from the Babylonian exile, the second Temple, the Maccabees – our friend told his children all that he knew. It was not very much, to be sure, but it served. When the second candle was lit, they repeated what he had told them, and though it had all been learned from him, it seemed to him quite new and beautiful. In the days that followed, he waited keenly for the evenings, which became even brighter. Candle after candle stood in the Menora, and the father mused on the little candles with his children, until at length his reflections became too deep to be uttered before them. When he had resolved to return to his people and to make open acknowledgment of his return, he had only thought he would be doing the honorable and rational thing. But he had never dreamed that he would find in it a gratification of his yearning for the beautiful. Yet nothing less was his good fortune. The Menora with its many lights became a thing of beauty to inspire lofty thoughts. So, with his practical hand, he drew a plan for a Menora to present to his children the following year. He made free use of the motif of the right branching arms projecting right and left in one plane from the central stem. He did not hold himself bound by the rigid traditional form, but created directly from nature, unconcerned by other symbolisms also seeking expression. He was on the search for living beauty. Yet, though he gave the withered branch new life, he conformed to the law, to the gentle dignity of its being. It was a tree with slender branches; its ends were molded into flower calyxes which would hold the lights.
The week passed with this absorbing labor. Then came the eighth day, when the whole row burns, even the faithful ninth, the servant, which on other nights is used only for the lighting of the others. A great splendor streamed from the Menora. The children’s eyes glistened. But for our friend, all this was the symbol of the kindling of a nation. When there is but one light, all is still dark, and the solitary light looks melancholy. Soon, it finds one companion, then another, and another. The darkness must retreat. The light comes first to the young and the poor – then others join them who love Justice, Truth, Liberty, Progress, Humanity, and Beauty. When all the candles burn, then we must all stand and rejoice over the achievements. And no office can be more blessed than that of a Servant of the Light.
R. Binny Lau, at the conclusion of his third essay on Parashat VaYeishev (see https://yaakovbieler.wordpress.com/2017/12/03/yehuda-and-yosefs-alienation-from-the-jewish-people-prove-temporary/ ) (there are years when Chanuka and Parashat VaYeishev coincide), in stark contrast to Herzl’s presentation of the Menora as something that should only address the Jewish future, writes as follows:
Jews have survived all of the periods of their history, holding on to what bespeaks their identity, and declaring before their Patron: “Haker Na” (Make known, now/please”; a reference to Tamar’s provocative statement before Yehuda, in Beraishit 38:25). The days of Chanuka bring us to remembrance of the distant times of the Hellenists who desired to disconnect us from the “signet, cords, and staff” that are unique to us. This is a holiday that has been commemorated throughout the Diaspora, by all generations. The Chanuka lights survived the destruction of the Temple, the Hadronic persecutions, the Crusades, the Spanish expulsion, and succeeded in piercing even the darkness of the Holocaust. With such a guarantee, it is possible for us to pray that the light of our sun continue to shine, causing all of the shadows to be dissipated.
R. Lau contends that only when one has a strong appreciation of the past, can religion and its symbols be meaningful for the future.