The Meaning of Chanukah for Noahides

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Most of us know that Chanukah commemorates the salvation of the nation of Israel from spiritual destruction at the hands of the Greeks.  But, very few realize that during Chanukah it was not only the nation of Israel that was saved, but also all of humanity!

To understand this, we need to look at the world of that time from a Noahide perspective.

The events surrounding Chanukah took place in roughly 165 BCE, as we learn:

In the days of Matityahu, the son of Yochanan the Hasmonean the High Priest, and his sons, when the wicked Greek kingdom rose up against Your people Israel to make them forget Your Torah and violate the decrees of Your will, You, in Your abounding mercies, stood by them in the time of their distress. […] You made a great and holy name for Yourself in Your world, and effected a great deliverance and redemption for Your people Israel to this very day.

—from the Grace After Meals prayer

At that time in history, the vast majority of humanity served large pantheons of gods, much like the Hindu religion does today.  For example, in the Roman Empire, they chiefly worshiped an adaptation of the Greek pantheon of gods, such as the god Zeus, for whom the Greeks would set up a statue and altar in the Temple in Jerusalem.  Throughout the world, as far back as anyone could remember, people had grown up knowing only the idolatry of their ancestors.

But, it wasn’t always this way.  According to the Oral Tradition, less than 2000 years before the time of the Maccabees, the majority of humanity served only HaShem and observed His Torah (as the Seven Laws which had been commanded to Noah).  However, through a series of mistakes in judgment and philosophical errors, humanity was led astray to idolatry, until only a small handful of individuals held onto our original faith.  If things had continued in this manner the knowledge of HaShem and His Torah would have been utterly lost to humanity forever, with no hope of its recovery.

So, in His love and mercy, the Holy One blessed be He, launched a plan to save us.

HaShem saw that one of His remaining servants who, though raised as an idolater, had actually found his way back to the path of HaShem, possessed the ability to properly transmit the Torah to his children and his children’s children such that they would be able to safeguard this knowledge for the rest of humanity.  As it says in the Torah:

Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the Earth shall be blessed through him.  For I have known him, that he will command his children and his household after him, that they may guard the path of HaShem, to do righteousness and justice.

—Bereshith (Genesis) 18:18-19

HaShem would then nurture and protect this people that would grow out of Abraham’s seed, and help forge them into a nation that would be able to stand firm throughout history, protecting the truth of HaShem and His Torah.  As it says in the Torah:

You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself.  Now therefore, if you will surely listen to my voice, and guard my Covenant, then you will be My own treasure from among all peoples; for all the Earth is Mine.  And, you will be for Me a Kingdom of Priests, and a Holy Nation.

—Shemoth (Exodus) 19:4-6

For, one day in the distant future, all humanity would be ready to return to HaShem.  And, when that happens, a repository of this lost knowledge would need to be ready for them.  As He revealed to His prophets:

But in the end of days it will come to pass, that the mountain of HaShem’s house will be established as the top of the mountains, and will be exalted above the hills; and all nations will flow to it.  And, many peoples will go and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of HaShem, to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us His ways, and we will walk in His paths.”  For, out of Zion shall go forth the Torah, and the word of HaShem from Jerusalem.

—Yesha`yahu (Isaiah) 2:2-3 / Mikhah (Micah) 4:1-2

In preparation for that day, the nation of Israel would guard and protect the Torah with their very lives, preserving it and passing it down from generation to generation in an unbroken chain even to our day – a lifeline back to HaShem for the nations of the world.  Israel would stand as a witness to the truth of the One God that humanity had forgotten, and as a “light to the nations”, calling out to us continuously:

Praise HaShem, all you nations; laud Him, all you peoples.  For His mercy is great toward us; and the truth of HaShem endures forever.  Praise HaShem!

—Tehillim (Psalms) 117

It is a sad irony that the Greek kingdom had embarked on a mission to destroy Israel, considering everything Israel was doing for the rest of the nations.  Moreover, they weren’t trying to destroy Israel physically – but spiritually!  They were very close to permanently severing humanity’s lifeline back to HaShem, by descrating the Temple in Jerusalem and forbidding Jewish practices in the hopes of making the people of Israel forget the very Torah they had been established to safeguard.  By all normal measures, the Greeks were succeeding!

But, HaShem intervened and thwarted their efforts.  He strengthened the small group of Maccabees, who were able to defeat King Antiochus and his forces, and cleanse and rededicate the Temple in Jerusalem.  In doing so, HaShem preserved humanity’s lifeline, keeping the light of Torah alive for all of us – even though the nations of the world at the time weren’t able to really appreciate the love and mercy HaShem had shown to them, and to us.

In the end, though, all the nations of the world will return to HaShem and His Torah, and will recognize the great sacrifice that Israel made, and the mercy and love that HaShem has shown to us all.  As it says in the Prophets:

So shall he [Israel] startle many nations, kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which had not been told them shall they see, and that which they had not heard shall they perceive.

—Yesha`yahu (Isaiah) 52:15

In light of all this, consider the words of Tehillah (Psalm) 67, which is traditionally sung during Chanukah, in many traditions:

For the Leader, with string-music. A Psalm, a Song.

God be gracious to us, and bless us; may He cause His face to shine toward us. Selah.
That Your way may be known upon earth, Your salvation among all nations.
Let the peoples give thanks to You, O God; let the peoples give thanks to You, all of them.
O, let the nations be glad and sing for joy.

For, You will judge the peoples with equity, and lead the nations upon earth. Selah.
Let the peoples give thanks to You, O God; let the peoples give thanks to You, all of them.
The earth has yielded her increase; may God, our own God, bless us.
May God bless us; and let all the ends of the earth fear Him.

—Tehillim (Psalms) 67

So, this Chanukah, make sure to thank HaShem for keeping the light of Torah alive for us over the past several thousand years, and may we soon see the day when His way is known upon the earth, and His salvation among the nations.

And, may He continue to be gracious to us, and bless us.

Happy Chanukah!

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About Author

Jacob Scharff has been a Torah-observant Noahide for more than 20 years, has taught numerous Torah classes, and recently received a Haskamah from one of his main teachers. He has been learning the Seven Laws directly from the Jewish sources, particularly the Mishneh Torah, under the guidance of his teachers for the last decade. He currently lives in Minneapolis, MN, USA, with his lovely wife, where he spends his time playing with computers, studying Torah and doing Mitswoth.

4 Comments

  1. Hansje Arslan Zaaijer on

    Yes, this article is very helpfull to our group. It is good to know that Chanukah is also meaningfull for Noahides

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