Jonathan Bernis - Celebration of Chanukah
Jonathan Bernis: Shalom, and welcome to Jewish Voice, and thank you for joining us today. And today on the program, my co-host, Ezra Benjamin, joins me, as we explore Hanukkah. This is a celebration. It's a Jewish celebration, but, Ezra, it's more than that. This is a universal, biblical celebration, and we want you to understand why this is so important, and why you, as a believer in Jesus, may want to actually celebrate Hanukkah in your home. Ezra, it's bringing back all the childhood memories.
Ezra Benjamin: Right, the smells of the potato pancakes, and we're gonna talk more about that in a few minutes, are wafting towards us, Jonathan, and I'm remembering childhood. You know, one of the, I can laugh about it now, but as a kid, I remember other kids in the school would make fun of me, and, you know, we, as a family, celebrated Hanukkah. Everybody else is celebrating Christmas. And the kids would say, "Hanukkah, that's just kind of a junky Jewish substitute for Christmas". You don't have all the fun, but really, when we look at history, Hanukkah precedes Christmas by hundreds of years.
Jonathan Bernis: Absolutely. But I'll say this also. You may call it a substitute for Christmas, but, we got eight days of gifts. So I used to think, well, the joke's on the Christians, because as a Jew, they get the one day as Christians, but as Jews, we get eight days of gifts. Now, maybe they had bigger gifts on the one day, but eight days, it's an eight-day celebration of miracles. And some of you need a miracle. And I believe God is gonna give you that miracle today. So, Ezra, why is Hanukkah so important? Why is this a universal festival? And the answer is, lemme just say this to start off. Without Hanukkah, without the miracle of Hanukkah, there would never have been a Christmas.
Ezra Benjamin: Unpack that for us, Jonathan. What do you mean?
Jonathan Bernis: Well, you won't find the celebration of Hanukkah in the Old Testament. It's not in the Torah. Of Leviticus, along with the passover, and the feast of trumpets, and the feast of dedication. It's not in the cycle of Leviticus 23. It is mentioned in apocryphal books, the four book of Maccabees, if you happen to have a Catholic canon, but it's not mentioned in the Old Testament.
Ezra Benjamin: Interesting.
Jonathan Bernis: Interestingly, it's mentioned in the New Testament, in John 10:22. We're told the feast of Hanukkah had come, and Jesus was in the temple. So, we do know this. Jesus observed Hanukkah. But without Hanukkah, there would've never been a Christmas, because the story the inter-testamental period, the period between the completion of the Old Testament, and the time before the New Testament was written, Israel, and this is a typical story, Ezra, Israel was under occupation. They were occupied by the Syrians, and there was a tyrannical king named Antiochus Epiphanes iv, and he subjugated the people, he built an altar of Zeus in the temple, he defiled the holy of holies, so there wasn't sacrifices, and he actually made the people of Israel bow down to Zeus, actually worship other Gods, and of course, the greatest commandment in Judaism for the Jewish people is have no other Gods before you.
Ezra Benjamin: That's right.
Jonathan Bernis: Right?
Ezra Benjamin: And we see that pattern in history, Jonathan. I can think of a couple examples, but this is just where somebody comes in, and in essence, proclaims themself worthy of worship, but they're doing it in the Jewish temple. And they offer a profane sacrifice, an unbiblical sacrifice, prohibited by the Torah, and now, the temple's rendered unacceptable for worship of God.
Jonathan Bernis: And occupation and subjugation is part of the history of the Jewish people, in the land. And then, being banished from the land, and then being restored to the land, and then banished from the land, and being restored to the land. And you have all of these occupations. You have the mameLukes, you have the Romans, right? You have the crusaders, again, you have, it's just back-and-forth, and they're being cast out, they're banished by the Assyrians. They're banished by the Babylonians, and rebuild the temple. But now, we're at about 160 years before Jesus is born. Syria is now occupying the land, killing the Israelites, forcing them to bow down to other Gods, and there was a rag-tag army called the Maccabees that emerged, actually very close to what's today Ben-Gurion Airport, if you've ever flown into Israel, and they raised up a guerrilla, like, a guerrilla warfare-style military. Vastly outnumbered, and there's no mention of God in this story, but God's throughout the story. Same thing as the book of Esther. God is at work behind rag-tag army, Ezra, defeats this world power, and rededicates the temple, and we celebrate that re-dedication. So, without the miracle of the Maccabees defeating and driving them out, and then rededicating the temple, one, Jesus would've never been born. And two, there would never have been a temple for Jesus to worship in, and to turn over all the tables, and to set things right. It just wouldn't have existed. So, without Hanukkah, no Christmas. But because God made a decree that, "As long as the sun shines by day, and the moon and stars by night, I will preserve the people of Israel before me". And so, the Maccabees were victorious, and less than two centuries later, Jesus came to that very land.
Ezra Benjamin: So important. It seems, against all odds, and even with the rebirth of the modern state of Israel, Jonathan, against all odds, with millions of Arabs and armies from multiple nations surrounding Israel on every side, a rag-tag group of people is able to march back into Jerusalem.
Jonathan Bernis: It was a God moment, and we celebrate that. Now, we wanna talk later about eight days, and the hanukiah, and we'll go into that, because that's another miracle of Hanukkah.
Ezra Benjamin: The season of Hanukkah's we're gonna talk more about those in a few minutes, but one of the things I remember growing up, we have some on the table here, is the dreidel. And, you know, there's an Adam Sandler song that includes this, and it's kind of a joke almost, but what our audience may not know is that the dreidel tells the story of Hanukkah. Like you said, just like before the Maccabees revolted, the Jewish people were persecuted, and unfortunately, that's thematic throughout the history of the Jewish people. Centuries ago, when Jewish people were being persecuted outside the land of Israel, we don't know who, but the community elders came up with a creative way to tell the story of Hanukkah.
Jonathan Bernis: Very creative.
Ezra Benjamin: It is, and it was very secret, because the people who wanted to persecute the community and prevent the passing of Judaism from generation to generation didn't know what was going on. And it's the story of the dreidel, seeming like maybe four random Hebrew letters, but what it actually spells is, in Hebrew "Nes gadol hayah sham", which means in English, "A great miracle happened there". And so, our ancestors would spin the dreidel, and they would teach their children, nes gadol hayah sham, and they would play a game with candy or coins, it looked like a game, but it was really telling the story of Hanukkah.
Jonathan Bernis: Have you ever seen a dreidel in Israel? It has a different letter, instead of saying, "A great miracle happened there," "A great miracle happened here".
Ezra Benjamin: Right, nes gadol hayah peh.
Jonathan Bernis: But we grew up with this, and it was a lot of fun, because one means you lose a coin, and these aren't coins, these are chocolate. So, one would be you gain all the chocolate, one, you would get half. The other, you'd lose one, and the other was just neutral, so you kinda lost your turn. But, oh, I just remember these chocolates from when I was a kid. It was so much fun.
Ezra Benjamin: It was.
Jonathan Bernis: And it reinforced the miracle of the story, the miracle of Hanukkah.
Ezra Benjamin: That's right, and, you know, that's one of the fundamental truths of Judaism, we say l'dor v'dor from generation to generation, and it's important to teach our children, and even our grandchildren, I don't have grandchildren, I don't have kids yet, but one day, to teach our children and our children's for the Jewish people, and it's important for you at home to remember in this season of miracles, God can and still wants to do miracles, and is doing miracles in our lives.
Jonathan Bernis: Yeah. Improvise this. Judaism, and this is also a part of the Christian faith, it should be, it's lost, that we have a huge I was looking for the right word, just a fundamental responsibility to teach our children, and our children's children, so, you carry the responsibility of teaching your children, which may be grown and having their own children, but for your grandchildren also, and you're teaching them and you're imparting to them, and one of the great ways of doing that are games. And you can go get a dreidel at one of the Jewish stores, or order it online with some coins, of the birth of the Messiah. At Christmas, you spin it, and you play this game with candy, and you're reinforcing this was a miracle that matters, and it's part of your life. Quickly. Donuts is one of the traditional foods we eat. Latkes, potato latkes, I grew up, talk about the latkes.
Ezra Benjamin: Yeah. One of my favorites, Jonathan. You know you're in a Jewish home in December if all you can smell all the time is oil and onions, because that's some of the main ingredients in these potato pancakes, but just the smell takes me back to childhood, and it reminds me of that season of togetherness, and of telling the story of the Jewish people.
Jonathan Bernis: And it reminds us of another miracle, the miracle of the oil, which is one we're gonna talk about when we come back. We need to take a short break, as we tell you about an incredible opportunity to support Jewish Voice outreaches, to help Jewish people and their neighbors in need. Your giving today will be providing medical supplies, and clean water, to lost tribes of Jewish people, and their neighbors, struggling in difficult conditions in Africa. You can be part of it. Please consider what you can do today to provide this care, and most importantly, the good news of Jesus the Messiah. You can change lives, so don't go away. Ezra and I will be right back.
Jonathan Bernis: Welcome back, we're talking about Hanukkah today, a season of miracles, and this is your season of miracles. I love Hanukkah, Ezra, it's about miracles, and this is the time for miracles, in the midst of covid and all of the challenges of this year.
Ezra Benjamin: I need a miracle, do you need a miracle? We haven't even unpacked the majority of the miracles about Hanukkah yet. We talked about this rag-tag band of people who said, "We are not going to be destroyed, we're gonna worship but more happened. So the Maccabees March back in, they regain control of the temple from the occupiers, the oppressors, but there's a problem, right?
Jonathan Bernis: There is, there is. I wanna just hold for a second and say one of the miracles that we've experienced at Jewish Voice is you. Many of you have been long-term partners of this ministry, and that's a miracle to reach Jewish people and their neighbors and need, and help people that otherwise would've died. Now, there's thousands of Jewish believers in Jesus, in places like Ethiopia so I just wanna say thank you. This holiday season. And enabling us to reach our whether we call 'em Jesus the truth, and the light. This is about light and the life.
Ezra Benjamin: So, yeah, this represents, this is a hanukiah, it's a menorah, but unlike the one in the temple that was seven-branched, this is eight-branched because it commemorates eight days of miracles. Eight days of miracles, and it's about the rededication of the temple. So, the Maccabees were victorious, they defeated the Syrians. They reclaimed the temple. They rededicated the temple. And that was a big job, because they had sacrificed a pig. Antiochus Epiphanes had sacrificed a pig, and put the blood, which of course is unclean, all over the holy of holies. So they had to clean, or remove and replace, all the rocks. And then, they had to light the hanukiah. They had to light the seven-branched menorah, and there was a special oil that was used for this, and it took eight days to render the new oil. But they only found enough, I think in one of the crevices of the rock, according to the rabbis, in one of the crevices of the temple, enough oil for one day. That was it, one day's worth of oil.
Ezra Benjamin: And so, in the natural, without a miracle, it was impossible to rededicate the temple for worship.
Jonathan Bernis: Yeah, they couldn't start the menorah, and keep it going because they didn't have the oil that they needed, the rendered oil, to use 'cause it took eight days.
Ezra Benjamin: So what happened?
Jonathan Bernis: The oil miraculously lasted for eight days.
Ezra Benjamin: Wow.
Jonathan Bernis: Eight days. Now, this, we see this miracle repeating itself in scripture, where there's expansion. There was only two fish and five loaves. But when they were brought to Yeshua, when they were brought to Jesus, it fed 5.000.
Ezra Benjamin: That's right.
Jonathan Bernis: So this idea of the miracle of provision, of expansion, and you see it everywhere, what is the tithe? It's about giving God a tenth back, and he stretches the 90% beyond the 100%. I love the miracle of expansion, and I believe that some of you need to experience the miracle of expansion. So, we have the eight-branched hanukiah, menorah, and every day, we're lighting another candle through the eight days, and we're getting gifts.
Ezra Benjamin: That's it.
Jonathan Bernis: So do it. I mean, your kids will love this. Celebrate Christmas, but also celebrate Hanukkah, and we wanna make one of these available to you. Ezra, if you'll light the sHamash, and I'll explain another thing that's so amazing. You're gonna love this.
Ezra Benjamin: I will. Now, Jonathan, for our audience at home who's paying close attention, and watching us, they're hearing you say eight candles, but they're counting nine, on this hanukiah. Explain that to us.
Jonathan Bernis: Yes, there are nine, so there's eight that we light. One for each day. But we begin with a ninth, and that's the sHamash candle.
Ezra Benjamin: The one in the center.
Jonathan Bernis: The one in the center, it's off to one side, but it's always higher. It's a higher candle, so whether it's on the left side, the right side, the center, most are on the center, it is the ninth candle, but it's a special candle, it's not a candle that represents a day, it's a candle that represents the servant. SHamash is a servant, there's a servant candle, the other candles.
Ezra Benjamin: It gives light to all the other candles.
Jonathan Bernis: I hope you're beginning to catch onto something here. This is done in Jewish tradition, but they don't sHamash candle, and that light is lighting the others. So, Ezra, let's light the other candles with the sHamash, and I want you to think about some words that Jesus said. He said, "I am the light". He lights us. The servant, Jesus was the greatest servant that ever lived, the servant of God, who brings us light, and turns us into light. He's the light of the world, and he says, "Now, you are a light set on a hill". Where's this illustrated better than anything I know, than any symbol I know, the hanukiah. This is amazing.
Ezra Benjamin: The light of the world makes us the lights of the world.
Jonathan Bernis: And this is why you need to do it in your own home. You should be doing this, because Jesus is the sHamash, the light, that's lighting every other candle. It's symbolic. Do this with your kids. When my kids light the candles I'm reminding them, my wife is reminding them, Yeshua is the sHamash, and he is lighting you. You are the light, and they light the other candles. We light the sHamash, the father lights the sHamash, the mother lights the sHamash, but the kids are lighting the candles from the sHamash.
Ezra Benjamin: That's right. What a beautiful picture, Jonathan. What a full, meaningful celebration this is, and not only for Jewish people, you at home can do this. You should do it. Northern hemisphere, darkest days of the year, at the time Yeshua, Jesus, it was literally the darkest and he's proclaiming, "I'm the light of the world, whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life".
Jonathan Bernis: Ezra, I can't stress enough to all of you, this is one of the greatest demonstrations of the words of Jesus that we have. The hanukiah, where he is the servant candle. He's a little bit above, but he's serving the other candles, and we don't light the candles with the lighter or match, we light the candles with the servant candle. Do this with your grandchildren. Do this in your own home. Give thanks to Yeshua, the light of life. Remind yourself that you're the light of the world, and you need to be set on a hill and bringing light to all those around you. We have the air conditioning going, so I'm worried that it's gonna go out, but there's a lot of light coming off these nine candles.
Ezra Benjamin: There is, and in typical, we can say, Hebrew or Israeli tradition, Jonathan, we started at the right, as you're watching us here, and we went first night, second night, all the way to the far left, which is the eighth night.
Jonathan Bernis: Each night, so it's one night, then we're lighting two candles, then three. And reminder that the sHamash, which is lit first, is lighting all of us, and look at it together. This is an amazing picture of the body of Messiah, Yeshua's in the center, a little bit taller, but he's lit us all. This is probably a more meaningful expression than the Jewish person who doesn't know their Messiah, who only connects it with the miracle of the oil. We get to connect it with to the miracle of Messiah.
Ezra Benjamin: Fullness, as those blinders are removed, and we encounter Yeshua, Jesus, the true Messiah. Now, Jonathan, the hanukiah here on the table reminds us of the miracle of the eight days of oil. There's several other things made primarily of oil on the table. Tell us about these.
Jonathan Bernis: Well, that's the whole idea, that the foods that we're eating are oil-based foods. We eat latkes, because they're fried in oil. The donuts remind us of the oil, the latkes, the potato pancakes, remind us of the oil. God wants to do the same thing in your life. He wants to provide a miracle of expansion. You may have financial needs. He wants to expand. You may have emotional needs. He wants to expand. You may have physical needs, he wants to expand your health, and to the areas of your body that need healing. God wants to do a miracle in your life this season.
Jonathan Bernis: Ezra, let's take a moment and pray for miracles, especially for those of you that are praying for a loved one to be saved. Maybe, you have been contemplating whether it's your time now to give your life to the Lord. This is the time of your salvation. What better time than the holidays? What better time than Hanukkah, which is taking place this week. Would you believe with us together? You're praying for that grandchild. You're praying for that spouse to come back. You're praying for that friend to be saved. You're praying for God to provide or expand your finances. This is the season. Eight days, it was only enough for one. Ezra.
Ezra Benjamin: Lord, we thank you for a reminder in Hanukkah. That what looks only like oppression and destruction and despair can be transformed, where your people can say, "Indeed, in our lives, a great miracle happened here". So we pray for all those joining with us in prayer today, and the family members and the loved ones they represent, that you would transform stories of destruction, oppression, despair, this holiday season, into testimonies, that we would be able to rise up in faith and trust you to turn that story around, so we can say to your glory, "A great miracle happened here," in my life, in my family, in my situation, this year. And it's in Jesus' we pray.
Jonathan Bernis: In Jesus' name, miracles, miracles, miracles. Salvation. For you, your loved ones, and your friends, in Jesus' name, during this week of Hanukkah. Information about our ministry, you can log on to our website, jewishvoice.tv. You'll find helpful resources on the website, and you'll also see the impact that your support is having on Jewish communities and their neighbors around the world, in places like Africa, and Israel. In addition, you can also send us your prayer requests, right on the website. And as I close, I wanna remind you, along with Ezra, pray for the peace of Jerusalem, the Bible says they shall prosper who love thee. God bless you, and have a season of miracles this Hanukkah and Christmas, shalom.