7 Mental Health Lessons for Hanukkah 2023

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What is Hanukkah?

Hanukkah or Chanukah is the Jewish festival of lights. The word is derived from the Hebrew verb “חנך‎”, which means “to dedicate”. The festival is observed for 8 nights and days which normally occurs during late November or early December. As per the Jewish ritual, a candelabrum with nine branches – also called as ‘Menorah’ is lit with one branch on one night. While we are in the middle of Hanukkah 2023, here is all you need to know about the festival.

“ A little bit of light dispels a lot of darkness.”- Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi

It is typically celebrated by singing Hanukkah songs, playing game of dreidel, eating foods such as latkes and sufganiyot. Hanukkah has gained a significant cultural base in North America and other places predominantly among Jews.

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Context behind Hanukkah

In the first century B.C.E., a set of Greek rulers banned Judaism. A small army of Maccabean Jews  revolted against Antiochus IV Epiphanes who had occupied and destroyed their holy temple. After Jews successfully won the battle, the holy temple was purified and the wicks of the menorah miraculously burned for eight days, even though there was only enough sacred oil for one day’s lighting. Hanukkah festival  commemorates Maccabean Jews regaining control of Jerusalem and re dedication of the Temple.1

Hanukkah Menorah
Hanukkah Menorah – EvgeniT / Pixabay


Lessons from Hanukkah for Mental Health

Clearly, the menorah symbolizes the celebration of light against darkness. About 1 in 5 Americans live with a mental illness.3 Just like the festival, we can also bring light against all our darkness in life. Here are some of the significant lessons from the festival:

1. Strength to Bounce Back:

The word Hanukkah means – dedication. The Maccabean Jews fought and reclaimed the holy temple after it was lost and defiled.2 Many of us are struggling with a number of mental health issues such as depression, addiction, eating disorders, PTSD , suicidal thoughts etc. that need strength in building back our lives again. This history of Hanukkah teaches us the strength in bouncing back and in fighting for our life, passions, hopes and doing everything that we can to go back to our normal lives.

2. Courage:

When the Maccabees defeated the Syrian army on behalf of the Jewish people, they were very few in number, limited in training and scarcely prepared.1 But they had courage to fight and the passion to regain what was taken from them. Living with mental issues is often very challenging for the person and his/her loved ones. Hanukkah teaches us the importance of courage. Courage is needed to fight through your disorder. Often people suffering from mental health lose battles in their mind. Hanukkah teaches us to keep the fire alive and to have the strength to get back what was lost.

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3. Miracles

As the Maccabees reclaimed the Temple, and the Jews polished the menorah that had been gathering dust for hundreds of years, they found enough oil to light the menorah for one night. However,  the oil magically lasts for eight nights.1 Hanukkah teaches us to believe above and beyond the power of logic. When you accept and take a step to heal from your mental illness, the universe will support you in miraculous ways. You just have to go on, do your actions and believe that it will work somehow.

4. Hope

The Hanukkah Menorah is a symbol of light and hope. Hope keeps us going in the most adverse circumstances in life. Whatever mental health issues that you are going through, we know its hard to go on with it, but still do. This Hanukkah, keep the light of hope alive in your heart and mind. Hope has the power of healing more than anything else.

5. Power of Prayers

Lighting candles of Menorah during Hanukkah tells us to reflect on our lives and how to live them.4 If you are going through a mental health disorder, or any challenges in your life, relationship, work life etc., pray for coping with the tough times. According to Judaism and its books, prayer builds the relationship with God and human beings. Interestingly, ‘Ma Tovu’, a prayer in Judaism in sometimes loosely translated as ‘ I am my prayer’. Similarly, Torah teaches to work for 6 days and devote one day for prayers.

6. Building Relationships

Hanukkah 2023
Winnie Bruce / Baseimage


In Judaism, the biblical book of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) says Tovim hashnayim min ha’echad that means ‘two are better than one’.4 Hanukkah is all about sharing and celebrating among friends and family. Having a support system is integral to recovering from a mental health issues. Have your friends or family close to you, celebrate your good times with them and share your sorrows during tough times.

7. Self-Care

Pirkei Avot 1:14 says ‘If I am not for myself, who is for me?’. Hanukkah and Judaism teach the power of self. Taking care of your health, be it physical or mental is essential. You are all for yourself, no one else can take care of you the same way as you can. Going through a mental health disorder is challenging, but making sure that you do not fall for it requires time for self-car. This includes setting boundaries and making sure to prioritize your mental health above all.

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The festival of Hanukkah is all about love, life, courage, resilience and believing in miracles. This Hanukkah, let us find the strength in coping through the tough times and be mindful of our mental health. If you are struggling , remember that you are not alone. The holiday season does not have to be stressful and tiring. Instead, it should be a time to take a break, a time to reflect on oneself and start your journey towards peace. In case of persistent symptoms of mental health disorders , do seek a professional. Remember, Hanukkah is also about taking care of yourself.

Related Reads: 

10 Powerful Rules from The Forty Rules of Love to Calm your Soul

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