November 23, 2021 by Rabbi Raymond Apple
Read on for article

Chanukah thoughts from Rabbi Raymond Apple.

Rabbi Raymond Apple


What weird and wonderful theories people have. A Jew from Glasgow told me in all seriousness that Judah the Maccabee was a Scotsman, like Macbeth and MacDonald. A Cheder teacher even summoned up the ingenuity to link the Maccabees with the Biblical cave of Machpelah…

The word Maccabee is not found in the Bible or Talmud; It derives from Greek and comes in the Apocrypha, where I Macc. 2:14 and II Macc. 2:19 refer to “Judah known as Maccabeus”.

The sages are often reluctant to admit that a word has a foreign origin; they suggest that Maccabee is the initial letters of a Biblical verse (Ex. 18:11) or comes from a Hebrew root that means “to extinguish”.

There is a theory that it is from “Makevet”, a hammer, because “hammer” is a metaphor for a strong leader.

Aaron Kaminka thinks that the name is a corruption of Machbanai, who was one of David’s warriors and embodied lion-like strength, speed and valour (I Chron. 12:13).

It is not certain that Judah called himself Maccabee; he is more likely to have been simply Yehudah ben Mattityahu. The rabbis preferred to call Judah’s group “Hasmoneans”, from the town of Chashmon (Josh. 15:27).


Adam had his own Chanukah at the beginning of human history.

According to the Talmud he noticed that the days were getting shorter and darker and he thought it was his fault because he had eaten forbidden fruit, so he fasted and prayed for eight days in repentance for his sin. When he saw that the days were getting longer and brighter he rejoiced and celebrated by means of an eight-day festival.

In later generations, heathens followed but grossly distorted Adam’s festival and turned it into a mid-winter time of idolatry and paganism.

In later generations, the sages realised and were shocked at what the heathens were doing and ensured that the winter celebration was dedicated to God and to genuine spirituality.


When as small children we asked what the name “Chanukah” meant, we were told it meant “Dedication”, for after recapturing the Temple from the heathen enemy the Maccabees put it in order and rededicated it to its sacred purposes.

The sages surely thought hard and long before fixing on the name “Chanukah”. They must have discarded a number of alternatives, finally choosing the name used from the dawn of Jewish history to denote a feast of dedication.

The Midrash says there are seven Chanukahs:
1. The Chanukah of the creation of the world, when God completed His work and launched man on the arena of history.

2. The Chanukah of the Tabernacle in the time of Moses, when the princes of the tribes brought offerings to the Sanctuary.

3. The Chanukah of the First Temple, erected and dedicated by Solomon.

4. The Chanukah of the Second Temple, erected by exiles who had returned from Babylon.

5. The Chanukah of the wall of Jerusalem, completed in the days of Nehemiah.

6. The Chanukah celebrated by the Maccabees.

7. And the Chanukah of the time to come, when the world will be illumined more brightly than on all the Chanukahs of ages past.

Each of the first six Chanukahs has a symbolic meaning, particularly relevant for an age when principles are discarded and values devalued.

The Chanukah of creation tells man that, God-like, he should devote his energies to constructive ends.

The Chanukah of the Tabernacle suggests that, like the princes of the tribes, man should bring his best to every worthwhile cause.

The Chanukah of the First Temple declares, “Set aside time and place for worship, joining heaven to earth as your prayer ascends upwards.”

The Chanukah of the Second Temple, built by returned exiles, tells man to work for the day when all men will be free and none shall be subject to harassment or hatred.

The Chanukah of the wall of Jerusalem, which gave security to the City of God, shows man how to find anchorage in time of fear and uncertainty: “Find protection,” it says, “in the encompassing Providence of God!”

The Chanukah of the Maccabees, possible because the few stood up against the many, assures man that he need not be afraid to stand up and go it alone against the negative tendencies of the age.

The culminating Chanukah, when the messianic end of days will dawn, is one which we can begin to build now, without delay. The first step in building it is to learn to live at peace with yourself. The second is to learn to live at peace with your fellow.

The Messianic Chanukah will arrive when we succeed in making the earth a temple of peace.

This is what we pray for in Ma’oz Tzur – the day “when You will cause all slaughter to cease,” and man “shall complete with song and psalm the dedication of the altar”.

Speak Your Mind

Comments received without a full name will not be considered
Email addresses are NEVER published! All comments are moderated. J-Wire will publish considered comments by people who provide a real name and email address. Comments that are abusive, rude, defamatory or which contain offensive language will not be published

Got something to say about this?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.