You may have run in the Hebrew word Hanukkah (חֲנוּכָּה) spelled in a variety of ways (Chanukkah or Hannuka). Because Hebrew and English phonetics do not align, the word can be represented with various combinations of English letters. This “festival of lights” (חַג הַאוּרִים; hag haurim) was instituted to commemorate the Maccabean cleansing and rededication of the Jerusalem Temple in the second century BCE (2 Macc 10:1-8). You probably heard that it means “dedication.” But there is another, lesser-known meaning of the word Hanukkah (חֲנוּכָּה) that can only be seen in Hebrew!
On the one hand, Hanukkah certainly means “dedication.” When Solomon builds the first Temple in Jerusalem, Scriptures states, “Solomon offered for the sacrifice of peace offerings, which he offered to the LORD, 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep. So the king and all the sons of Israel dedicated (וַיַּחְנְכוּ; vayach’nehu) the house of the Lord ” (1 Kings 8:63 NASB). Deuteronomy asks, “Who is the man that has built a new house and has not dedicated (וְלֹא חֲנָכוֹֹ; velo chanaho) it? Let him depart and return to his house, otherwise he might die in the battle and another man would dedicate (יַחְנְכֶנּוּ; yach’nehenu) it” (Deut 20:5). In Numbers 7:10, the “dedication offering” is called a hanukkah (חֲנֻכַּת). It’s not hard to see the “dedication” meaning, but that’s not all: the verb behind the noun Hanukkah (חָנַךְ; chanach) also has to do with “training” and “teaching.”
Genesis 14:14 tells us that Abraham took 318 “trained men” (חֲנִיכָיו; chanichav) from his household to free Lot from his captors. A famous proverb admonishes, “train up a child (חֲנֹךְ לַנַּעַר; chanoch lanaar) the way he should go” (Prov 22:6). In Jewish tradition, children’s education is often called chinuch (חינוך). So how are these two meanings of Hanukkah related? A complete understanding of the word shows us that “teaching” and “training” cannot be accomplished without “dedication”! It takes time, intentionality, and devotion to practice any skill. These ideas are interrelated. Maybe it’s time for all of us this season to dedicate ourselves to the training God has for us, because even simple words like Hanukkah can teach is something more when we consider them in Hebrew!