We’re going to let you in on a little secret: Hanukkah isn’t really meant to be a big deal. Well, at least in terms of its importance as a Jewish Holiday. In fact, the story of Hanukkah is not technically included in the Tanakh (The Hebrew Bible, which includes the Torah, prophetic writings, and a couple of other books).
At least 600 years after the Maccabean Revolt, from the 7th – 10th centuries CE, Rabbis were working on deciding what made the cut as part of the Tanakh. By this point, the story of the Maccabees was well known, as it had been documented hundreds of years before in books Maccabees 1 and Maccabees 2. So why wasn’t it included in the Tanakh? What’s the controversy? Well, with this context, perhaps Hanukkah deserves a bit more credit than the “minor holiday” label it receives in the Jewish calendar.
As it turns out, there are a few reasons why the Rabbis might not have included the story of Hanukkah in the Tanakh. Following the Maccabean Revolt, there were other attempts to overthrow rulers (the Bar Kochba Revolt) that didn’t go very well for the Jewish People, and as a protective measure, Rabbis did not want to inspire future generations of Jews to rebel, only to fail. Here again, we see Jewish leaders of the time doing what they believed was the best path for the future of the Jewish people.
Over time, the narrative of Hanukkah was given importance by focusing on the story of the miracles provided by G-d: Oil that burned for 8 days.
Hanukkah may be an opportunity to recognize the miracle of the oil; perhaps it also provides us a chance to celebrate the humans (like Judah and his father, Matisyahu) who lived, fought, and perished for their families, culture, and Jewish heritage. Alongside the celebrations of light this Hanukkah season, in a year punctuated by an alarming rise in antisemitism, let us also focus on the leadership, determination, and pride of those who came before us. We, too, can be proud, as members of such a resilient, adaptive, and strong Jewish Community.