Is anyone suffering from post-Chanukah depression? This condition is unique to Chanukah, for most other festivals have a happy ending. The story of Pesach ends with the giving of the Torah at Shavuot. The wandering in the desert, as celebrated at Sukkot, ends with the Jewish people reaching the Promised Land. On Purim, the Jewish people are physically saved and the centre of Jewish life moves to Israel, where the Second Temple was taking shape.
For all the joy, miracles and salvations we experience on Chanukah, it all comes crashing down when we internalise the reality of what happened afterwards. The political sovereignty the Maccabees fought for was slowly weakened until the Romans enforced their rule. The religious revival was not long-lived, and the Temple once again fell under the influences of Hellenists. The struggle to overcome the Greek exile seemed to be a mere step in the descent to the Roman exile; a footnote in history, that tried and failed to change its ultimate direction.
And it’s not only in the realm of history that we experience disappointment. Megillat Ta’anit, an ancient source that lists significant events in the Second Temple-era Jewish calendar, writes: “On the eighth of Tevet, during the rule of King Ptolemy [II], the Torah was written in Greek, and darkness fell on the world for three days.” This event, which took place a century before Chanukah, was seen in a bad light by Chazal because Ptolemy’s aim was to reduce the complexity of the Torah into one unified translation, with a literal meaning deprived of its depth and divine nature. Not a week has gone by in the Jewish calendar since Chanukah and we mark another struggle between Jews and Greeks, yet this time the Greeks were successful and we mourn (this event is one of the reasons we fast on 10th Tevet).
Perhaps our consolation lies in Parashat Vayigash, which this year is juxtaposed by both Chanukah and 8th Tevet. We tend to see the reunification of Yosef with his family as a ‘happy ending’ story, following the deep divisions that divided the brothers and resulted in the attempted murder of Yosef. Yet the story doesn’t seem to end particularly well. The Jewish people are forced to abandon the Land of Israel, become reliant on a foreign power for sustenance, be subjected to foreign culture and ultimately become slaves. However one fact did not change since the reunification of Yosef with his family: the unity of the people is never compromised. Despite the hardships of living in slavery, and even despite differences of opinion with Moshe and Aharon, the people comprised one unit, and in that merit did the redemption occur.
Our marking of the Fast of Tevet and our knowledge of Jewish history remind us that the struggle between the Jews and the Greeks did not end at Chanukah. Rather, the ‘happy ending’ of the story can only occur with long-lasting Jewish political sovereignty in the Land of Israel, acknowledgement of the complexity and depth of the Torah and ultimately the rebuilding of the Temple. This story is being played out in front of our very eyes, as we are privileged to witness the rebirth of the State of Israel and the renaissance of the Torah world therein. Just as the humility of Yosef and his brothers eventually led to the redemption, so too the Maccabees’ actions serve as an blueprint for future generations. Unlike most other generations of Jewish history, we have the privilege to not only be able to understand this, but to act on it and make it happen. In essence, living every day in the State of Israel and contributing positively to society can cure any form of post-Chanukah depression.