Thinking about Chanukkah

Close your eyes and think back to late October. It was just after the end of the High Holidays and Sukkot, and after what seemed like interminable weeks of “one day on, two days off,” we all dreamed of a normal work week, and getting into some kind of saner and more predictable routine.

Open your eyes, and here we are in the middle of December. We’ve realized our dream of “normal work weeks,” and truth to tell, the holiday season of early fall is looking pretty good. Other than the election of Barack Obama, which seemed to engender positive feelings across political lines (policy differences notwithstanding), there hasn’t been all that much to feel really wonderful about these past few weeks. So many people have lost their jobs, and even those people fortunate enough to have secure jobs and enough money have bought in to the psychology of recession, making it even worse. It feels like the country is just plain depressed.

It’s a good time for Chanukkah, isn’t it? With so much darkness both metaphorical and physical all around, lighting lights against the darkness seems like just what the doctor ordered…

The period of the Maccabean revolt is one of those times in Jewish history that has most probably been “midrashified” beyond its historicity. That is to say, the stories and traditions that have grown up around the basic story of the Maccabbees’ fight against the Greeks are most probably as much legend as historical fact. We know that, in their own time, the Maccabbees were more the heroes of the common folk than they were of the rabbis, who were ambivalent at best about their goals and tactics.

The fact that we are still celebrate Chanukkah today reflects the “power of the people,” if you will, to decide what merits celebration and remembrance and what does not. Reclaiming a sense of control over one’s life and destiny is a good feeling indeed, and the Jews of the Maccabbees’ time were not about to let go of that feeling just because the rabbinic establishment had its issues with the idea of warrior-priests.

It’s more than a little in vogue these days to deconstruct sacred cows of both religious and secular culture in the name of “truth.” I, for one, feel no need to deconstruct the Chanukkah story. At a time like this, being reminded that the few can triumph over the many, that good can win out over evil, and faith can triumph over doubt…. These are good things to contemplate, a kind of spiritual Prozac. We could all use a healthy dose. Chanukkah can’t come fast enough…

About the Author
Rabbi Gerald C. Skolnik is the Rabbi Emeritus of the Forest Hills Jewish Center in Queens.