When I think of the word ‘tradition,’ I immediately hear Tevye’s booming voice singing ‘Tradition’ in “Fiddler on the Roof.” Along with singing the word ‘tradition’ repeatedly, he explains the purpose of traditions: “Because of our traditions, we’ve kept our balance for many, many years. Here in Anatevka, we have traditions for everything: how to sleep, how to eat… how to work… how to wear clothes. For instance, we always keep our heads covered, and always wear a little prayer shawl that shows our constant devotion to God. You may ask, ‘How did this tradition get started?’ I’ll tell you! … I don’t know. But it’s a tradition… and because of our traditions… Every one of us knows who he is and what God expects him to do.” I remember hearing a similar statement years ago: “It’s not that the Jews keep traditions; it’s that the traditions keep the Jews.”
The Jews aren’t the only people to have traditions. Some people macro-tradition and follow the ways of their ancestors in carving a turkey, ethnic meals or educational institutions. Some micro-tradition with how they wash their clothes, wear their hair, and brush their teeth. Traditions not only help order a daily life, but they maintain a sense of family identity throughout the generations.
Tevye doesn’t know from ‘where’ he received the traditions of keeping his head covered and his talit katan. He doesn’t know from ‘where’ the traditions of how to sleep, eat, work and wear clothes came either. Tevye does know, however, that the traditions express who he is, who God is, and how he is expected to live God’s way. His traditions bring balance to his life and, from what I can tell, Tevye’s traditions do not break any commandments; they are expressions of those commandments in his life.
“He [Yeshua] answered, ‘Indeed, why do you break the command of God by your tradition?‘” (Matthew 15:3).
“Thus, with your tradition which you had handed down to you, you nullify the Word of God! And you do other things like this” (Mark 7:13).
Hanukkah and the Temple
In John chapter 10, it is winter and the Feast of Dedication or Hanukkah has arrived. Yeshua is walking around in Solomon’s Porch, the covered area on the far eastern side of the Temple. It connected with the Court of the Gentiles where God-fears could come to the Temple and worship the God of Isra’el. It was in this area of the Temple that Yeshua’s Jewish brothers and sisters surrounded him and demanded that he reveal his identity.
This was a dangerous confrontation because they had already seen that Yeshua had no problem rebuking anyone who lived contrary to the will of God. He had already chastised some of the Jewish leaders regarding the ceremonial hand washing. He called other Jewish leaders blind fools and white-washed tombs full of dead men’s bones. He completely discouraged the rich young man who wanted to follow him on his own terms. And, he told Peter, “Get behind me Satan.”
If Yeshua believed that Hanukkah was a man-made tradition, he would have spoken up. He would have walked over to the Altar and rebuked the priests. He would have entered the Holy Place and overturned the Temple Menorah. He would have cried out in a loud voice in the Temple area for everyone to hear, charging them with sin and idolatry in their man-made tradition of Hanukkah. He would have reprimanded them for celebrating the re-Dedication of the Altar when it wasn’t in Torah.
Instead of acting like a lunatic, Yeshua tells them that his sheep hear his voice. He reminds them of the miracles he has done in his Father’s name. Whether he lit a hanukkiah, played dreidel or ate latkes, no one knows, but he did not rebuke anyone for being in the Temple at Hanukkah.
Yeshua’s own Jewish ancestral heritage is tied up in the miraculous victory of Judah Maccabee and his small army over the Greeks. His own Jewish cultural history included the desecration and restoration of the Temple in which he was now standing. He knew that had Antiochus Epiphanes annihilated the Jewish people, he wouldn’t be standing in their presence speaking about his sheep and his Father. Had the Maccabees not had victory over the Greeks, his Father’s house would have remained a desecrated and unholy place. There would be no account of him teaching in the Temple at Passover nor would he have overturned the tables of the money changers. He would never have been able to quote the prophets that his Father’s house is a “house of prayer for all nations” (Isaiah 56:7, Matthew 21:13). He wouldn’t have been able to die for the salvation of the world.
The rededication of the Altar had great significance to Israel and the Jewish people. Without an Altar there could be no place for the burnt offering, grain offering, guilt offering, fellowship offering or sin offering –– all offerings that brought fellowship with God. All of these offerings pointed to the coming One, the Messiah ben Yosef, the suffering servant written about in Isaiah 53.
Yeshua is the Menorah, the Light of the world, walking around the Temple in a human flesh body. Whether the Talmudic story of one flask of oil lasting eight days is true or not, John wrote that Yeshua stood inside the Court of the Gentiles during the Feast of Dedication and revealed to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” his identity: “I and the Father are One” (John 10:30).
Yeshua is God’s voice to Israel and the world. He uses the events from the days of Antiochus and the Maccabean Revolt to give prophetic vision for the time of his return and the end of days (Matthew 24:15). He says there will be another ‘abomination of desolation’ in the Holy Place of his Father’s House. We need to understand the prophetic vision which comes from knowing the historical events surrounding the days of Judah Maccabee. Without prophetic understanding, the coming darkness will envelope us and we will fall into the great deception of the end times.
The traditions surrounding Hanukkah do not nullify the commands of God. Traditions define us as individuals and join us as family. As part of the commonwealth of Israel, lighting an eight-branched menorah unifies the family of Jew and God-fearing gentile as ‘one new man.’
World leaders wield great power to challenge and even subdue our faith in the God of Israel along with cherished traditions. As the dreidle spins with its Hebrew letters, it is important to remember how many centuries of Jewish men, women, and children lived, fought the forces of evil, and even died so “salvation could come from the Jews” (John 4:22). From their persecutions, traditions have arisen that have kept them alive and united as a nation for millennia.
Yeshua is Jewish. He celebrated Hanukkah with his Jewish brothers and sisters. With his words in Solomon’s Colonnade, the history and traditions around Hanukkah become part of our spiritual history and prophetic vision. Nes Gadol Haya Sham, ‘A Great Miracle Happened There!’ Yeshua, the Menorah, revealed himself to be One with his Father in the Temple in Jerusalem, the greatest miracle of all at the Feast of Dedication.
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