grow through the holidays chanukah edition
By Jody Berkel
At its core, what is Chanukah about? It’s about the victory of jewish values and jewish survival.
Antiochus and the Syrian Greeks did not want to destroy us physically; they wanted to destroy us spiritually. What were their methods for ensuring this would happen? They forbade us from keeping certain fundamental mitzvot, such as learning Torah, circumcision, and Rosh Chodesh. They wanted us to assimilate into the larger Greek culture by keeping their laws, eating their food, and dressing as they dressed. Basically, they wanted Jews to accept Greek culture and beliefs instead of mitzvah observance and belief in G‑d.
Looking through the lens of history and the events that have transpired since the story of Chanukah over 2000 years ago, the question we each need to ask ourselves is… Were the Greeks successful? Did they win?
At the time of the Chanukah story during the second century BC, the Jewish people indeed won the battle. Against all odds, a small band of faithful but poorly armed Jews, led by Judah the Maccabee, defeated one of the mightiest armies on earth. The Jews drove the Greeks from the land, reclaimed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, and rededicated it to the service of G‑d.
The Maccabees understood that Judaism is life itself! To forfeit our faith is as unthinkable as forgoing the right to breathe. The Maccabees knew that while war is difficult, spiritual death is unthinkable!
When the Maccabees went into the temple, it was totally ransacked. There were Greek idols in the Holy of Holies. The Jews searched everywhere for a jug of pure oil in the hopes of finding enough to light the temple menorah. After an exhaustive search, the Maccabees found only a small jar of pure olive oil that had escaped contamination by the Greeks.
Miraculously, the one-day supply of oil lasted for eight days! To commemorate and publicize this miracle of light, the sages instituted the festival of Chanukah, during which we light the menorah for 8 nights. While the war was won on the battlefront, it was, for all intents and purposes, a spiritual war, one that is aptly marked by the act of bringing light into our homes.
While it is true that the Maccabees won the battle long ago, the question remains: Did they actually win the larger cultural war? Did their philosophy of physicality over spirituality seep into our bones? Remember the Greeks did not want to destroy us physically, as in the time of Purim and the Holocaust. The Greeks had no such plan; their primary interest lay in obstructing our ability to observe Judaism faithfully.
The battle over our spiritual values is not new for us; in fact, this is the painful story of Jewish history—a story that has repeated itself over thousands of years. The Jewish people have lived through every imaginable horror inflicted on man; we survived the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, blood libels, pogroms, persecutions, mass murder and the Holocaust.
If you consider this phenomena, you will quickly recognize that the survival of the Jewish people violates all laws of nature. Looking at the rise and fall of nations, at the disappearance of all other ancient cultures, the Jewish nation shouldn’t exist. We should have been wiped off the face of this planet long ago. Yet, we more than survive; we thrive!
How is this even possible? The answer is that the Jewish people have maintained our distinct practices and upheld our values. We study the same Torah that echoed in the Batei Medrashim of ancient Rome. We keep the same mitzvot as the Jews who lived thousands of years ago. Jewish men wear the same tefillin as the Jews who lived during the time of Dovid Ha’Melech – and we light Shabbat candles just as our foremothers have done over millennia.
To this day, Jews adhere to G-d’s commandments with the same love and commitment we professed at Mt. Sinai. And now we find ourselves back in our homeland, where we continue to dedicate ourselves to upholding our way of life.
This year, as we light our Chanukah candles…Remember WE ARE THE MIRACLE! Anything that we do to bring the light of our heritage into our lives proclaims to all—bayamim hahem, b’zman hazeh—in those days and today—Am Yisrael Chai! The Nation of Israel lives!
Wishing you a Happy Chanukah.