Hanukkah and the Light of Creation

Hanukkah is the Festival of Lights. The Jewish historian Josephus records that the festival was called by that name from before the time of the apostles. [1]

He claims it was called that because the deliverance that was beyond all hope and reason appeared unto the Jewish people in the days of the Maccabees suddenly like a bright shining light. Additionally, Hanukkah got the name Festival of Lights because of the hanukkiahs that are lit every night, and get brighter and brighter as more lights are kindled as the holiday progresses. One on the first night, two on the second night, until finally eight lights are kindled on the last night. In fact, over the full eight days, thirty-six lights are lit on each hanukkiah. It truly is a festival of lights!

The number thirty-six has great mystical meaning in Judaism. There is a tradition that the world is sustained by thirty-six righteous individuals called the Lamed Vav Tzaddikim (ל”ו צדיקים), whose righteousness is concealed from the world. According to this teaching there are never less than thirty-six of these individuals on earth and if even one of them would perish, the world would come to an end. Because of the mystical associations with the number thirty-six, some sages have then speculated as to the connection to the thirty-six lights that are kindled throughout Hanukkah.

While reading through the collected works of Messianic luminary Theophilus Lucky, I came across his citation of Rabbi Elazar Rokeach on the lights of Hanukkah:

The Rokeach said: “We light 36 lamps to celebrate the first light that shone upon the first man for 36 hours, then afterward the Holy One, blessed be he, concealed it for the righteous. This is the Messiah who is hidden in the Torah, and to everyone who studies Torah with a pure heart, the hidden light—the light of Messiah—is revealed to him.” [2]

The Rokeach connects the thirty-six lights to the tradition that Adam was in the Garden of Eden for only thirty-six hours. In other words, he was created on Friday and sinned just before Shabbat, and then his punishment was differred until after Shabbat, when he was banished from the Garden and the light was taken away. The light of which the Rokeach speaks is the light that was created on the first day of creation:

God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. (Genesis 1:3)

This light preceeded the creation of the sun, moon, and stars on the fourth day of creation and is commonly referred to as the “Light of the Messiah.” This light was taken away after man sinned and is destined to return once again in the Messianic Era:

The sun shall be no more your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give you light; but the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. (Isaiah 60:19)

In turn, according to the Rokeach when we light the hanukkiah each day of Hanukkah we are lighting the light of the Messiah and it foreshadows the return of this great light in the kingdom of heaven. It also adds a bit of a universal flavor to the holiday by connecting it with the creation of man and the light of creation.

As we kindle the lights of Hanukkah this year with increasing brightness each day, let us remember that the “kingdom of heaven is at hand” and that with each passing day of our lives the light of Messiah grows ever brighter until that great day when it will be revealed to all the world and the redemption will arrive.

  1. Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 12.325
  2. See Sefer HaRokeach and Sefer Benei Yissachar.

Source: First Fruits of Zion