As a lover of history, I’m very interested in how ancient stories can become applicable to current issues. With the holiday season upon us, I’ve been thinking a lot about Chanukah.
Some of my peers might say that Chanukah is “Jewish Christmas.” Others would say it is about oil that lasted for eight days. I would disagree. Does Christmas have an enormous influence on Chanukah, here in America? Undoubtedly. Is it a big deal that a small amount of oil miraculously lasted for eight days? Absolutely. Are these things the epitome of all that Chanukah represents? I don’t think so.
Thousands of years ago, the Greco-Syrian king, Antiochus, gained control of the Ancient Land of Israel and began to Hellenize it’s indigenous inhabitants, the Jews. Under their previous Persian rulers, the Jews had a degree of autonomy and were allowed to freely practice their religion. Under Antiochus, Jews were forced to adopt the Greek religion and the Greek way of life. Studying Torah was forbidden and those who chose to defy the law studied secretly in caves. The Second Temple in Jerusalem was polluted with Greek idols and looted.
Eventually, Jews became fed up with the discrimination and oppression. The Maccabee family stood up and took fate into their hands. With the priest, Mattathias and then his son, Judah as their leader, the Maccabees gathered their fellow countrymen and led the first successful Jewish revolt in history, creating the Hasmonean Dynasty. What followed was an immediate clean-up of the Holy Temple. In the following days, the Menorah, a 7-branched candelabra, was lit with oil that miraculously lasted for eight days, leading to the development of a Chanukiah, a 9-branched candelabra to be used to annually commemorate the Temple’s rededication.
The importance of Chanukah is not the ability for oil to last for longer than expected because, to be honest, that’s pretty trivial. Long before the Maccabees lived, G-d had split the Red Sea and sent Manna from heaven to the Jews in the desert: His power was proven.
To me, Chanukah is beautiful because of the determination of the Jewish people to take back their homeland and to defend their right to pray in their own Temple.
Reading today’s headlines, it’s clear that the battles the Maccabees fought are not yet won. Today, Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem is disputed. Today, the very notion of Jews ascending their own Temple Mount inspires the rage of thousands. Today, Jews are attacked and murdered because of their religious beliefs. Today, assimilation threatens Jewish communities around the world.
If the Maccabees taught the world anything, it’s that Judaism rests on the shoulders of people who can and must stand up for themselves.
Jews, protect your identity and the identity of your people. Fight the fight, and light will ensue.