Hannuka Festival of Lights

The eight-day holiday of Hanukkah begins on the 25 th  day of the Hebrew month of Kislev, which falls during December. The holiday commemorates the victory of the Maccabees over the Seleucid Greeks who, in keeping with Alexander the Great's philosophy of Hellenization, believed that the various conquered peoples should assimilate into the general, overarching Greek culture. But a stubborn group of Jews refused to accept the outlawing of Jewish religious practices and the profanation of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem with statues of Greek gods. Mattathias the Hasmonean and his five sons raised a partisan army that in less than two years recaptured Jerusalem.

 

With the dramatic victory in December of the year 165 BCE, the Jews were able to purify and rededicate the Holy Temple in Jerusalem (the Hebrew word hanukkah means "dedication" in the sense of laying a cornerstone or making a new beginning). One of the most important acts in rededicating the Temple was to rekindle the seven-branched menorah (candelabrum) that the High Priest was commanded to keep lit night and day. The Maccabees fashioned a make-shift menorah, but, according to the Talmudic Sages, the consecrated olive oil they found in the Temple precincts was sufficient to keep the menorah lit for only one day. It would take days to properly press the special olive oil required for the Temple menorah. But, continue the Sages, by a miracle that single cruse of oil sufficed to keep the menorah lit for eight days and nights until fresh, pure, consecrated olive oil could be brought to Jerusalem.  

 

Salvia Hierosolymitana Bioss,
"Jerusalem moria"
  Salvia dominica

Shortly after the destruction of the Second Temple 235 years later in 70 CE, the tradition arose to light an eight-branched candelabrum (and a ninth, somewhat separate, "service" oil-holder or candle with which to light the others) to commemorate the seven-branched menorah that had stood in the Temple and the miracle of the olive oil that had sufficed to keep it burning for eight days. These beautiful flickering lights gave the holiday its alternate name, the Festival of Lights.

Of the ancient Jewish holidays, only Hanukkah and Purim are based solely on historical events, with no direct connection either to the seasonal agricultural reality or to the nature of the Land of Israel. Nevertheless, there is a plant in Israel that has a very direct connection to the Temple menorah and to the hannukiah candelabrum.

The description of the menorah in the Bible is given completely in botanical terminology (Exodus 25:31-38, 37:17-24). Dr. Ephraim and Hannah Hareuveni, the parents of Neot Kedumim founder Nogah Hareuveni, spent years looking for a plant they knew must exist in Israel that would explain this unique description. Their search revealed the common fragrant Salvia – sage – family, called moriah in Hebrew, many of whose species bear a striking resemblance to the menorah, as can be clearly seen in the photograph.

 

For more information on Hannukah, the menorah and the moriah plant, please see the book " Nature in Our Biblical Heritage"  by the founder of Neot Kedumim, Nogah Hareuveni.

 

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