“They tried to kill us; we survived; let’s eat.” [Traditional Jewish expression]
The Jewish holidays have a way in incorporating the five senses into each celebration. Each year the sights, sounds, tastes and smells fill the senses and anchor the soul. Food is notably vital. The celebration of life would be incomplete without it.
During most Jewish holidays, I would give my right arm for whatever my Israeli neighbor is cooking. Seriously, I’m sure I would ask for a spoon when tasting her brisket. Who needs a fork with all that delicious gravy?
It’s true – our Orthodox friends in Brooklyn create a carnival of aromas on our street during the holidays. But all joking aside, many Jewish holidays celebrate the fact that God has preserved Israel and her people for thousands of years in the face of immense persecution and bitter suffering.
During Purim we celebrate how God used a young woman name Esther to deliver the Jewish people from destruction. Today, hamantaschen (triangle cookies, symbolic of the evil Haman’s hat) are relished.
Passover paints a picture of Moses leading the children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt through the Red Sea. A feast is prepared with bitter herbs and matzah to remember this history. Each food element speaks to a different aspect of the Passover story.
Hanukkah illuminates Mattathias the priest and his son Judah Maccabee leading the Hasmonean revolt against severe persecution. In 175 Antiochus IV Epiphanes (215-164 B.C.) rose to power over the Eastern Mediterranean and began his tyranny of the Jewish people.[i]
Antiochus’s murderous desire was to blot out the Jewish people and all forms of Judaism. He outlawed worship, festivals, culture, study and outward expression of religion. In 167 BC a pig was sacrificed on the Temple’s altar. The Jewish people were impelled to act. United by Mattathias, Israel’s independence was regained. The Jewish people were free to worship in the Temple again.
Tradition tells us that when the Temple was cleansed, the Maccabees only had enough purified olive oil to fuel the “eternal light” [menorah representing the presence of God] in the Temple for one day. Yet miraculously, it lasted for eight days.
Each year, on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev[ii], the Feast of Dedication is celebrated and remembered for eight days with the lighting of the menorah and feasting.
The miracle of the “eight-day oil” is reflected in Hanukkah’s fried food menu. A first crunchy savory bite into a potato latke (potato pancake) reminds us that the Feast of Dedication is back. Traditional sufganiyot (Hanukkah donuts) are filled with either the tart taste of jelly or creamy custard. Both are Jewish favorites and I dare you to eat just one.
Unfortunately, the celebration of survival is not all sweet. The memory of suffering in and of itself is unsavory. With each bite of whatever traditional food, there is the realization that survival has come at a great price. “The bitter” resides on the plate along with the savory and the sweet.
From our perspective as believers, we identify God’s hand in the midst of affliction, His deliverance, and also in the feasting. His faithfulness to the Jewish people during an extremely bleak time in history reveals His character of constant love and provision. Also, the Almighty uses finite people to accomplish His miraculous plan.
Little did the people of the Hasmonean period know their struggle was preparing the way for the Light of the World to be born. Israel’s Messiah Jesus was the fulfillment of God’s great plan for their complete deliverance. Messiah Jesus’ extravagant love was on display in his life, death, and resurrection.
God had saved the best for last. His personal best.
Don’t you think this dish needs a spoon?
Written by Kori, LIFE Staff Member
[i] Antiochus’ nickname Epimanes (“the mad one“) was evidenced when “. . . In the space of three days, eighty thousand were lost, forty thousand meeting a violent death, and the same number being sold into slavery” (2 Maccabees 5:14).
[ii] Days begin after sunset, so in 2017 the first candle is lit after dark on Monday, December 11. The Jewish calendar is lunar, with solar adjustments, so celebration of Jewish holidays can change several weeks on the Western calendar.