“The Eternal One said to Satan ” Zechariah 3:2

In the northern hemisphere Chanucah usually falls when the nights are longest and darkest, but not this year, a month earlier than usual and, at its core, Chanucah is not a winter solstice festival anyway but a postponed Succot.

The Maccabees could only celebrate Succot after the altar was rededicated and therefore Succot could only be celebrated that year for eight days in Kislev and Tevet. By doing so, they echoed Solomon’s dedication of the First Temple, which took place on Succot.

The haftarah this week is therefore related to Chanucah, the time of the re-dedication of the altar (chanucat hamizbe’ach), and it deals with cultic symbols. The altar, where we once offered what we have to God, stands for our devotion to God. The Temple menorah with its seven branches is the symbol of God’s life-illuminating presence. Altar and menorah symbolise giving and receiving.

The haftarah depicts two aspects of the relationship between us and God by the use of two phrases, each containing seven words in Hebrew: “I will wipe out the sin of this land in one day” and “Not by might, not by power, but by My spirit.” Thus the relationship with God is marked by forgiving and trusting — both not being mere thoughts, but ways of acting, both being markers of renewal.

The haftarah is aware that religion often has to defend its place. The prophet dreams about a priest standing between God’s angel and Satan. The word satan means “hinderer”. Devotion to God is often being hindered, put into question, attacked and ridiculed. The message of Chanucah can be “hindered” by reducing it just to a children’s festival or a festival of lights, ignoring the fact that it is actually about the rekindling of God’s presence among us.

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