The story of Chanukah:
The story of Chanukah began several years before the actual miracle of the oil.
For many, many years leading up to that fateful time, Alexander the Great, one of the world’s most famous conquerors, was a friend to his Jewish citizens, allowing them to live their lives and worship freely.
However, upon his death, the Empire was divided up among several of his generals. Eventually, Eretz Israel/Judea, found itself under the rule of Antiochus III (Antiochus Epiphanes). Unlike Alexander, he wasn’t a benevolent leader, and insisted that the Jews abandon their faith and adopt the Greek culture along with all its idols/gods and customs. He did this with great cruelty, resulting in the nickname “Antiochus the Madman”.
An altar to the god Zeus was built in the Great Temple and, as was the normal practice of the Hellenic religion, pigs (forbidden under Jewish law) were sacrificed on this altar. Antiochus also passed laws forbidding circumcision, the celebration of Shabbat, and other important tenets of Judaism. People who opposed him were tortured and murdered and had their property confiscated.
Just as it seemed all hope was lost, a hero arose. Mattisyahu (Matthew) roused the Jewish people to rebellion – a small number at first, growing in size over his lifetime. Upon his death, he asked that his sons continue the rebellion against Antiochus and his government. Of his sons, the one who came to be recognized as the greatest leader was Judah Maccabee (Judah, the hammer).
Finally, in 165 BC, victory was theirs. On the 25th of Kislev, Judah and his followers marched into Jerusalem and entered the temple to liberate it and rededicate it. Judah ordered the Temple to be cleansed, a new altar to be built in place of the polluted one and new holy vessels to be made. They searched for at least one flask of pure olive oil to light their makeshift menorah. But every flask of olive oil they found had been defiled in one way or another. Miraculously, they were able to find one small jug of oil just enough oil for one day. They realized it would be eight days before they could manufacture more oil for the next lighting. But they made do with the little they had.
In spite of the small quantity of oil and the improvised quality of their menorah, the flame burned without stop for eight days. This was chosen to remember the series of miracles leading up to this moment. And so we celebrate Chanukah today, symbolically rekindling this miracle each night as we light the candles of the menorah.