The book of 2 Maccabees is one of the most important sources to understand the meaning of the Chanukah festival (“Dedication” in Hebrew) and its rituals. In chapter 10 we are told that once the Second Temple in Jerusalem had been purified of the pagan elements that had been placed in it by order of King Antiochus Epiphanes, it was reopened on the 25th of Kislev, following the same practices that Solomon had used when dedicating the First Temple.
According to the account in 1 Kings 8, the first Temple was consecrated by a special festival that lasted for the eight days of Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret plus the seven days before then. On this occasion the festival lasted for eight days, starting on the 25th of Kislev, with the people holding in their hands the four plant species that the Torah prescribes for the celebration of Sukkot. The celebration of Chanukah was then established for eight days, reciting in them the complete Hallel as on Sukkot and lighting candles at dusk, adding one in each day.
Sukkot reminds us of the faith of the Benei Israel [children of Israel] as they entered the desert, an inhospitable and uninhabitable land, after having been liberated by God from Egyptian slavery. Chanukah reminds us of the courage of those who fought bravely against those who wanted to erase belief in the God who despises and abhors enslaving tyrants.
For more than twenty-one centuries we Jews have lit these candles, including in cellars during the inquisitorial persecutions, in concentration camps or on the battlefields in Israel. Their brilliance calls us to renew the commitment to fight for a better world and maintain hope that such a reality is not a utopia but an attainable possibility if we leave aside selfishness, self-centeredness, and allow justice and peace to flourish.