There are two parts to the Chanukah story, and two occurrences that are celebrated:
There is our history. In the second century BCE, under the oppressive reign of the Selucid Greek Antiochus IV, Jews were not allowed to practice their religion and the Temple was desecrated. The Hellenists were defeated by the Hasmonean Mattathias, a priest, and his son Judah Maccabee, and their band. The few overcame the many, and their victory was a victory for religious freedom and for religious observance over assimilation.
There is the story in the Talmud. When the Temple was cleaned and rededicated, there was enough oil to light the menorah for only one day, and yet it burned for eight days. This is counted as a miracle.
We light our candles for eight nights in commemoration of this.
But…after we light the candles we sing “al hanisim” — we light for the miracles. And we mention wonders, and redemption and wars, done for our ancestors in that time. So we have the miracle of the victory, not just the miracle of the oil. The victory of the few over the many, and of righteousness over repression.
In these terrible and crazy times, it’s easy to approach despair, even though it is forbidden to us. It cannot be a secret that every so often I feel it clutching at my heart. But every year, Chanukah comes to remind us not to despair, because of the miracles.
And it’s not just the miracle of the Maccabean victory. Modern Israel is a victory. Our War of Independence was a miracle. The Six Day War was a miracle. We must draw strength from this.
We need miracles to defeat our enemies, who surround us, gathering their missiles and working to delegitimize us.
But we also need miracles to be strong against those of our own who would surrender to the enemies. Just days ago a “priority map” was announced by the prime minister, pinpointing communities that are to receive special attention. And — horrors! — some of those identified communities are in Judea and Samaria. The day after the announcement, MK Ophir Paz-Pines (Labor) declared that approval of this map would isolate Israel as the “ultimate anti-peace state.” Providing support for communities in the heartland of our heritage represents “anti-peace” because it means we are not surrendering to the Arab demands, and surrendering to those demands (which is how he defines “peace”), not supporting our heritage, is what concerns him. This made me crazy, until I realized anew: Chanukah comes to remind us that there were assimilated Jews in the time of Antiochus, who were willing to go along with what he imposed. But it was the priest Mattathias and his family who received the miracle, and were successful.
So let us light our candles, and tell of the miracles. Let us rejoice and sing. Our job is to stay strong and focused, and to hold fast to the faith.
Here, a link to traditional Chanukah tunes:
Soon enough I will return to share more news and analysis.