As my favorite Jewish Holiday – Chanukah, the holiday of lights – is about to begin, I was struck by the fact that the Maccabees of this world are still fighting against oppression; and the forces of good are still fighting against the forces of evil; and freedom lovers everywhere are still fighting against freedom haters. The comparison to Chanukah ends here, however, as the tables have turned in many ways and in some aspects, and it is difficult sometimes to know who is on this side, and who is on the other side.
The forces of darkness, forever true, are opposed to any compromise. And since their hearts and souls are filled with the urge for violence, they hate peace. They cherish war and the use of power. Bomb, they say, no matter what; let’s get mobilized against any attempt to reach an understanding, and to find a resolution that avert war. Upon hearing of a possible agreement to reduce the possibility of further development of nuclear weapons, they see red, and – since they already possess such weapons – they even see their best, old friends, suddenly as their new enemies. If we will kill some innocent people while bombing, never mind, more will soon be born they say. They are the master of revenge, the forces of darkness, but never of forgiveness.
The forces of light see things differently, of course. They believe that any conflict, be it between individual persons or separate countries, has the potential of being resolved peacefully. And that in order to be resolved, all sides involved must reach an understanding. And that any such understanding on the road to solving an issue – even as complicated and as threatening as nuclear weapons – must start with a compromise. These forces believe that no stone should remain unturned in order to find a nonmilitary end to such conflict. They also believe that denigrating one side, humiliating it, will never bring the desire results.
The forces of darkness further believe that their religion is the only true religion. That their god is the only true god. They believe, therefore, that if you don’t believe in their god, you are destined for death. You are an infidel; you are heretic; you are not one of us and should not live. They do believe in martyrdom, the forces of darkness, and certainly of dying for their cause. Liberty is theirs alone; freedom is theirs alone. Oppression and coercion of other people are acceptable means for their desired ends. You do as I say, or you are dead. I’m the ruler here; I’m the justice here; I’ve got the guns and the cannons. I will build what I want, wherever I want. The water is mine, and the olive trees are mine too. God is on my side, and has given me this land.
The people who seek to spread light around the world see it quite differently. “That which is hateful to yourself, do not do to your fellow,” as Hillel said, is a cornerstone of their belief. If you, as a people, want and need a country of your own, you most definitely deserve it. But so also are the other people who share this land with you. They furthermore believe in sharing (and not only on Facebook and Twitter); sharing the land; sharing the water; sharing the air and keeping it clean. They see nature, even more than god, as the source of all life. And they certainly don’t mind it if other people don’t believe the way they do. There is room for everybody in this world, they say.
The forces of darkness are keen on oppression. In their view, only when one side is being oppressed, and being threatened, they can achieve their goals. Their thirst for command and control, for having the upper hand, is second to none. Freedom of speech is important, they would tell you, as long as you don’t disagree with me. Only we, the Darth Vaders of this world, can say whatever we like with impunity. As long as you are with us, you can also say whatever you like. But if you think otherwise, you are no longer allowed to express your views freely. You are a traitor. You undermine your country and your people. You are not one of us anymore.
Against Shammai, Hillel always worked for understanding, moderation, and inclusiveness. That’s why they had called Hillel the elder, and the wise man. He understood that violence will never bring peace. He always preached for compromise. For sharing the city and the land with others. Solving problems with weapons was never his way. He used words, not weapons, and teaching, not torturing. While the forces of darkness taught intolerance, he was teaching tolerance; when they were calling for war; he was preaching peace; when they put the value on death and destruction; he spoke of peace and rebuilding. The House of Shammai held, as the story goes, that on the first night eight lights should be lit, and then they should decrease on each successive night, ending with one on the last night; while the House of Hillel held that one should start with one light and increase the number on each night, ending with eight. No wonder we celebrate Chanukah the Hillel’s way, to increase the light.
And so, as I reach my eighth candle – and this post’s eighth paragraph – I will tell you that it is up to you to identify who is on this side and who is on the other side. More importantly, it is up to you to decide which side you are on: light or dark; life or death; love or hate; honesty or dishonesty; war or peace. Choose wisely, my friend. I am here to help you, and to let you know that the war of the Maccabees against the rule of the Greeks wasn’t just a war of religious freedom, which it most certainly was; it was a war of liberation; a war against oppressions in all forms and by all means. And that the miracle of Chanukah was not only a miracle of god and religion, if it was that at all. Rather, it was a miracle of light against darkness.