During this Hanukkah I wanted to share a story that I love to tell my family during this holiday. We personalize the characters of the children in the story to be our own children’s names. I would encourage you to adapt the tale to fit the children you are telling it to.
If you are familiar with this holiday, you will recognize the symbolism of the story. For those who are new to Hanukkah I will explain a little of the traditional story first. Tonight after the sun sets it will be the first night of Hanukkah, a holiday commemorating a miracle that happened when the temple was rededicated in Jerusalem over 2000 years ago. Many are not familiar with the story because it is found in the book of Maccabees. This book, or books (Maccabees I and II), tell the story of Israel when the Greek/Syrian conquerors (Seleucid Empire) attempted to eradicate monotheism and force conversion to the religion of the greek gods. The faithful revolted at this forced conversion, taught the Torah (Scriptures) in hiding, and eventually repelled the invaders. A small band of fighters defeated one of the mightiest armies on earth. The temple was cleansed and rededicated. During that rededication one of the important ordinances was to light the Menorah in the Holy place. The problem was that in the ruined temple and besieged city only one small vial of consecrated oil could be found that had not been destroyed or defiled by the Greeks. The menorah is supposed to burn continuously but there was not enough time to consecrate more oil and bring back the priests immediately. So the Maccabees simply lit the temple lights in faith that this was a righteous act, even though the lights would soon burn out and the temple would need to be rededicated again. But a miracle happened! the lights did not burn out! They just kept burning bright. It was eight days before the rest of the temple was cleansed and the temple priests (those who had survived the occupation) were ready to begin their work in the temple and consecrate more oil. So the eight days of hanukkah are to commemorate the miracle that the lights did not burn out but kept on burning for eight days so that the temple could be cleansed. A single cruse of consecrated oil burned for eight days. But more accurately it is a celebration of the light of G-d which goes out to all the world.
Also Latkes are a common food enjoyed at Hanukkah, some say because they are fried in oil, that this will remind us of the oil provided miraculously by G-d. This treat is also an important reminder of another miracle that happened even longer ago, and may have been a traditional food since before that time: the oil provided by G-d for the widow and her son. In 1 kings/Melachim 1 Chapter 17 we read:
|10. And he [Elijah] rose and went to Zarephath, and he came to the entrance of the city, and behold there was a widow gathering wood. He called her and said, “Please take to me a little water in a vessel and I shall drink.”||י. וַיָּקָם | וַיֵּלֶךְ צָרְפַתָּה וַיָּבֹא אֶל פֶּתַח הָעִיר וְהִנֵּה שָׁם אִשָּׁה אַלְמָנָה מְקשֶׁשֶׁת עֵצִים וַיִּקְרָא אֵלֶיהָ וַיֹּאמַר קְחִי נָא לִי מְעַט מַיִם בַּכְּלִי וְאֶשְׁתֶּה:|
|11. And she went to take, and he called her and said, “Take to me a morsel of bread in your hand.”||יא. וַתֵּלֶךְ לָקַחַת וַיִּקְרָא אֵלֶיהָ וַיֹּאמַר לִקְחִי נָא לִי פַּת לֶחֶם בְּיָדֵךְ:|
|12. And she said, “As the Lord your God lives, if I have a cake, [nothing] but a handful of flour and a little oil in a flask. Behold, I am gathering two pieces of wood and I will come and make this for myself and for my son, and we will eat it, and we will die.”||יב. וַתֹּאמֶר חַי יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ אִם יֶשׁ לִי מָעוֹג כִּי אִם מְלֹא כַף קֶמַח בַּכַּד וּמְעַט שֶׁמֶן בַּצַּפָּחַת וְהִנְנִי מְקשֶׁשֶׁת שְׁנַיִם עֵצִים וּבָאתִי וַעֲשִׂיתִיהוּ לִי וְלִבְנִי וַאֲכַלְנֻהוּ וָמָתְנוּ:|
|13. Elijah said to her, “Do not fear. Come and do as you said, but first make for me a small cake from there and bring it out to me, and for you and your son make last.||יג. וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלֶיהָ אֵלִיָּהוּ אַל תִּירְאִי בֹּאִי עֲשִֹי כִדְבָרֵךְ אַךְ עֲשִׂי לִי מִשָּׁם עֻגָה קְטַנָּה בָרִאשֹׁנָה וְהוֹצֵאת לִי וְלָךְ וְלִבְנֵךְ תַּעֲשִֹי בָּאַחֲרֹנָה:|
|14. For thus has spoken the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘The pitcher of flour shall not end nor will the flask of oil be diminished until the day the Lord gives rain upon the land.’ “||יד. כִּי כֹה אָמַר יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל כַּד הַקֶּמַח לֹא תִכְלָה וְצַפַּחַת הַשֶּׁמֶן לֹא תֶחְסָר עַד יוֹם תֵּת יְהֹוָה גֶּשֶׁם עַל פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה:|
|15. She went and did as Elijah had said, and she and he and her household ate [many] days.||טו. וַתֵּלֶךְ וַתַּעֲשֶֹה כִּדְבַר אֵלִיָּהוּ וַתֹּאכַל הִיא וָהוּא וּבֵיתָהּ יָמִים:|
When I eat latkes I think of this story, and how G-d once saved many souls because of the kindness of a woman to give her last morsel to a prophet whom the Lord used to bring glory to himself. (It even begins with a hungry girl gathering wood).
These stories relate to the prophecy of Malachi. There are many tales of Elijah appearing to help families or remind us of our ancestors or posterity. Our family tale is one of these, about how G-d has promised:
The holiday of Hanukkah is identified by the phrase “!נס גדול היה פה” which is translated as “A Great Miracle Happened Here!” (This phrase is usually only used in Israel, where the miracle of Hanukkah occurred. Outside Israel it is usually said “A Great Miracle Happened There!” “נס גדול היה שם” But for purposes of the story we are using the first phrase to be reminded of the immediacy of G-d’s miracles, that G-d does his miracles in all times and places for his people.) This is to remind us that G-d will provide miracles to allow us to keep his commandments (Mitzvot) This phrase and idea is central to the story. The markings on the Dreidel are an acronym of this phrase.
If you tell this story to your own family you should insert your children’s names into the story, but I’m going to use my own children’s names. You can also feel free to use my children’s names if you prefer because they have meanings that relate to the story and its over all message. My eldest child’s name, Elnorra (אלנוֹרָהא) is Hebrew and Means G-d’s Light. this can be related to the meaning of the story and to Hanukkah because it is the festival of the Menorah (note that both have the “norah” part, meaning light or glory.) And “El” referring to G-d. So her name means the “Light of God” or “The LORD is my Light.” My second daughter’s name is Cordelia. This is an english name, but means “The daughter of the Heart” From the Latin “Cordis” for heart. This is a reminder that Elijah Came to turn the hearts of the Fathers to their children, and the children to their fathers as prophesied by Malachi. This tale is one about bringing a family and community together by the miraculous power of G-d. It incorporates a miraculous visit from Elijah, and a message of God’s goodness. As such it is a parable about the restoration, the diaspora, the gathering, and has all the elements of a traditional Jewish folktale. In this way Cordelia’s name is symbolic of the whole plot of the story. (She was also born on April 3rd, which is the day on Passover in 1836 that Elijah appeared in the Kirtland Temple to restore the keys to turn the hearts of the Fathers to the Children, and the Children to the Fathers.) My third daughter’s name is Adelaide meaning “of noble birth” a reminder of the lineage, birthright, and connection of ancient and modern Israel. As a young child in the story it is a reminder of the coming generations to which we owe a duty to pass on this noble heritage. And last my fourth Daughter is Gwendolyn meaning “the daughter of the holy covenant” a reminder that being of God’s people is about more than the heritage of blood, but the connections of the covenant with G-d and with the whole of the covenant people. (incidentally the name Gwendolyn has a bunch of other interpretations because the name is so old the original root words that comprise it have taken on numerous meanings, so”Gwen” can mean Fair (White), holy, bright, divine, etc. And “Do” is “of” or “daughter of” because it is the feminine form. “Lyn” can mean covenant, circle, relationship, blessing brow, forehead (the place anointed in the covenant, or referring to hands placed on the head for a blessing) etc.) Her name refers to the end goal of the tale to bring all the people of the covenant into one circle of friendship and Love.
With these stories and symbols in mind, here is our Shaffer family Hanukkah tale!
(Like any fairy tale or traditional story each storyteller adds a few details and I don’t know were the original story came from. As for what is written here, I wrote some of it, and adapted it from other stories I have heard. I can only claim credit for this final iteration, but it is based on other traditional tales I have heard.)
A Great Miracle Happened Here!
Once there was a family who lived in the forest. They did not have much, but they were happy. Until one day when it was in the deepest coldest part of winter (Hanukkah) they could see they were running out of food, and they had no money to buy more. On the first night of Hanukkah the father said: “I must leave you here and go seek work, so that I can get money (gold or “gelt“) and buy food for you.” so he left to the city to see if he could get money for food but he did not return the next day. So on the second night of hanukkah the mother said “I must go also and work so that I can get money (gold or “gelt”) to buy food for you my children” and so she went away too and did not return the next day either.
The Children were left all alone. Elnorra, who was the oldest and a very smart girl, Cordelia who was very strong and knew how to take care of herself, Adelaide who was pretty and sweet, but still only four years old, and Gwendolyn, who was still really a baby, but could say a few words. So then, on the third night of Hanukkah, The children were cold in that dark winter, so the oldest, Elnorra, went out to gather some firewood so they could warm up their house. Then even if they were hungry they would not be cold. So Elnorra said: “Cordelia you are in charge while I am out. You take good care of your little sisters and make sure they don’t get into any mischief.” So she went out into the woods and gathered up a big pile of firewood. When she was finally finished she saw a stranger coming toward her. He was a very old, old, old, man. He was all bent over and looked cold. He was trying to gather firewood too. When Elnorra saw him she said “You can have some of my wood! Let me help you.” So she took all the firewood she had gathered and gave it to the old man and helped him bind it into a large bundle and put it on his mule for him. He smiled and said thank you many times, “Thank you so much! I am old and I’m sure I couldn’t have done it without your help. Let me help you too, and give you a gift.” With that he pulled out an old worn looking frying pan and gave it to Elnorra. He said, “When you get home put this pan over your fire and say these words: “Latkes! Latkes, good to eat! cook us up a Hanukkah treat!” and then you will be blessed. But you must always remember to pray to G-d when you eat and end by acknowledging G-d’s help by saying ‘A Great Miracle Happened Here.'”
(Elnorra didn’t know it but this old man was really the prophet Elijah, sent by G-d to see if she would be kind, and if she was good, to do a miracle that would save her family and bring them back together.)
So Elnorra came back with only enough wood to make one small fire, and a frying pan that was empty and didn’t look like much. But the children were all happy to see Elnorra was back. She made a fire and then everyone was warm again, but they were still hungry. Then Elnorra remembered the frying pan the old man had given her, and wishing she really had some food she put the pan on the fire and said: “Latkes! Latkes, good to eat! Cook us up a Hanukkah treat!”
Suddenly the pan was full of delicious Latkes! already cooked just right, as though they had been in the pan the whole time! The girls were so happy that they ate the Latkes right away, but what surprised them even more was that as soon as they took the latkes out of the pan there were more fresh latkes in the pan, so that each of them could eat as many as they wanted! Elnorra ate 9 latkes, Cordelia ate six latkes, and Aldelaide ate four latkes, but baby Gwendolyn was so hungry she ate twelve latkes! Once all the girls had eaten latkes until they were full Elnorra said “A great miracle happened here!” and as soon as she said it the pan was empty and cold again. It didn’t even have a drop of oil left inside.
The next day, after the fourth night of Hanukkah, Elnorra knew she would have to go out to get firewood again, or everyone would be cold. So Cordelia was in charge again while her sister was out. But Adelaide was complaining she was hungry, and baby Gwendolyn would just say in her baby voice, “Latkwes, Latkwes!” So Cordelia got out the pan and tried to remember the words used when the miracle happened before. Cordelia, and Adelaide said: “Latkes, Latkes, good to eat! Cook us up a Hanukkah treat!”
Suddenly the pan was full of delicious latkes again! Cordelia, Adelaide, and Gwendolyn, were so happy, and they ate a bunch of latkes. But when they were full they couldn’t remember the words Elnorra had used to make the latkes disappear. So Cordelia guessed maybe the words were “Here there was a miracle” but nothing happened! There were still more new latkes in the pan. So she put the extra latkes on a plate before they burned. But still there were more latkes in the pan, so Adelaide guessed the words were “Miracles are great!” But still there were more latkes so they put them in a bowl. Even Gweldolyn tried and said “Miwacles”. Still there were more and more latkes until they had filled up every pot and pan, every plate and bowl in the house with piles of latkes! They kept trying to make the Latkes stop! Saying things like “Here the miracles are great!,” “Great miracles can happen!” “We are grateful for miracles!” “Miracles happen here!,” “There was a Great Miracle!” and everything else they could think of, but nothing worked! Finally Cordelia just had to open the window and start throwing piles and piles of latkes out into the snow so that their house would not full up with latkes. And it was turning into a mountain of delicious latkes all around their house!
Out in the woods Elnorra was just about finished getting a full load of firewood, when she started to smell latkes. At first she just thought it was her imagination because she was getting really hungry, but by the time she was on her way back to the house she was sure she could smell latkes. In fact the smell of Latkes was filling the air for miles! She hurried back and came in time to see Cordelia throwing another full pan of latkes on the mountain of latkes by their house. The pile of latkes was almost a big as the house! So Elnorra ran to the house and shouted as loud as she could:
“A Great Miracle Happened Here!”
Finally, the pan was empty again, but there was still a huge pile of latkes, much more than four girls could eat, no matter how hungry they were!
But far away in the city the father could smell the latkes, and he thought “maybe if I go and find the person who has these latkes I can get some for my children.” So he started follow the smell of latkes home. The mother was in the village and she smelled the latkes too, and she thought “If only I had some delicious latkes for my children. I will go and see if I can get some latkes for them” and she started to follow the delicious smell home too.
But they were not the only ones to smell the latkes. It turned out that the whole town could smell the Latkes and they wondered what that delicious smell was, so many of them came looking for the latkes too.
So on the Fifth night of Hanukkah, There was a great feast as everyone in the forest came to eat the Latkes. On the sixth night of Hanukah the mother returned from the village with applesauce, and sour cream, and the children were so happy; and people from the village also came to eat the latkes. On the seventh night of Hanukkah the father returned with gelt, and dreidels, and some oranges, and his family was so happy; and even more people came from the city to feast on the latkes. By the Eighth night of hanukkah the smell of the latkes had reached all over the world and all the people who were hungry came from all over the world to share a Hanukah feast and praise the Lord.
The family had everything they needed, and they were together again. Then they knew that what they needed most was to be together, observe the mitzvot (keep the commandments), and trust in G-d to provide. This is the greatest treasure and is more valuable than all the gold (or gelt) in the world.
At the end of this last night of Hanukkah, all the people who ate the Latkes thanked the Lord for this blessing and shouted together:
A Great Miracle Happened Here!