The Fern Sidman Commentaries:
December 15th, 2006: "THE MEANING OF CHANUKAH"
In these days before Chanukah, we sit and reflect on the tumultuous events that have unfolded with blinding speed over the past year. We have witnessed the rise of Hamas to power, the dismantling of the settlement of Amona along with the brutalization of its residents at the hands of the Israeli police, as well as the forced removal of Jews from their homes in Hevron and other settlements in the Shromron. We have witnessed the barbaric and inhumane treatment of Gush Katif refugees as well as the restriction of movement of settlement activists. We have witnessed the kidnapping of three Israeli soldiers by Hamas and Hezbollah and we have witnessed a war with Hezbollah in Lebanon that saw the devastating defeat of the once mighty and invincible Israeli army.
We have witnessed Hamas terrorists use Gaza as a launching pad for continual and incessant rocket attacks on Jewish towns and settlements while millions of dollars and massive amounts of armaments are being smuggled into Israel for future terrorist attacks against Jews. We have witnessed a Prime Minister of Israel who has remained steadfast in his campaign to relinquish Israeli territory to the Arab enemy in his ill conceived realignment and convergence plan, while maintaining the dubious distinction of running one of the most corrupt governments in Israeli history.
We have witnessed the astronomical rise in global anti-Semitism along with the global insurgency of radical Islam. We have witnessed the heinous and sadistic murder of French Jew, Ilan Halimi by those connected with Islamic terrorism, while also witnessing a multitude of anti-Jewish and anti-Israel demonstrations on every corner of the globe. We have watched world leaders such as Mahmoud Ahmadnijehad and Hugo Chavez spew forth their incendiary rhetoric against Israel with impunity. We have witnessed the memory of six million Jews who perished during the Holocaust mocked and derided at conferences in Teheran that are dedicated to revising history to further their own nefarious agendas.
The picture is clear for all those who wish to see. The Jewish nation, the land of Israel and its people are under siege. We are at war for our survival as a people and as a nation. While our enemies of today seek to vanquish and eradicate the physical presence of the Jew, this war goes much deeper than that. It is a war for the very soul of our people. It is a war that is not all that unfamiliar to the Jewish people. It is a war against the forces of righteousness and holiness and it is a war that seeks to destroy the connection of the Jewish people to their G-d.
Two hundred years before the destruction of the Second Temple, the Assyrian-Greeks rose up to destroy the Jewish people in the very same way that our enemies of today do. Their war of terror began with simple harassment and then escalated into a full scale military battle. The Greek Hellenists were supported in their battle by Jews who embraced Hellenism as the new found path to freedom, as do our Jewish leaders of today. While the Greeks outlawed the observance of our Sabbath, of Bris Milah and other commandments, it was their war on our G-d and his holy Torah that was the key plank in their platform for destruction. Then, as now, the world remained silent as our impending destruction was at hand.
It was only the voice of the very few, of the minority of righteous Jews, who rose up, despite insurmountable odds and proclaimed the Oneness of our Creator. It was this small group of rebel Jews who became anathema in the eyes of the Jewish Hellenists. They were the upstarts who dared to speak the truth and who had the courage of their convictions. While the Jewish Hellenist leaders also crafted a plan for national suicide as do our leaders of Israel today, it was the faith and courage of the Chashmonaim dynasty that paved the path to Jewish victory and self preservation.
In our prayers and supplications, at this time of Chanukah, we ask for the indomitable faith, tenacity and fortitude to do the will of Hashem. In these times of spiritual darkness, of national disunity and collective pain and travail, we can bemoan the fact that the leaders of the Israeli government, the Olmerts and Livnis of the world lack the basic faith it takes to be a leader of the Jewish nation. As they lead us down a path of further territorial concessions to the Arab enemy, and as they further attempt to foster and encourage the forces of assimilation, our response can and must be one of resolve to do the will of the Almighty without fear of world opinion.
We must take comfort, hope, strength and inspiration from true Jewish leaders. During this holiday of Chanukah, we must take a good look at just who the Maccabees were, what they stood for and how the lessons of days gone by still readily apply to us today. We must seek out and explore the true meaning of Chanukah and emulate these values in our hearts, now and forever.
The Sages (Shabbat 21b) asked: What is Chanukah? The Rabbis taught: From the twenty-fifth day of Kislev, eight days of Chanukah are observed, during which eulogies are not made and fasting is not permitted. For when the Greeks entered the Sanctuary, they defiled all of the oils [used for kindling the Menorah]. And when the Hasmonean House prevailed and defeated them, they searched and found only one jar of oil which was sealed with the seal of the Kohen Gadol - and this jar had oil sufficient only to burn for one day. But a miracle occurred and the oil burned for eight days.
The next year, the Sages designated these eight days as a festival, with songs of praise and thanksgiving. During the period of the second Holy Temple, the Greek kings issued harsh decrees against Israel, outlawing their religious practices and forbidding them to engage in the study of Torah and the practice of mitzvot. They stole their money and their daughters, entered the Sanctuary and ravaged it, defiling all that was ritually pure. They caused Israel great anguish and oppressed them until the G-d of our fathers had mercy upon them and delivered them and saved them from the hands of their enemies. The Hasmonean House "the Kohanim Gedolim" prevailed and killed them and saved Israel from their hands. And they designated a king from among the kohanim, and the kingdom of Israel was restored for more than two hundred years, until the destruction of the second Holy Temple.
It was on the twenty-fifth day of the month of Kislev that Israel prevailed and defeated their enemies. They entered the Sanctuary and found only one jar [of oil] which was pure. It contained only enough for one day, but they lit the lights of the Menorah from it for eight days, until they pressed olives and extracted pure oil (Rambam, Hilchot Chanukah 3).
The wars that the Maccabees waged against the Assyrian-Greek Hellenists are the same wars that we find ourselves embroiled in today. In the Israel of today, our hellenized, gentilized leaders relinquish G-d given Jewish land into the hands of the burgeoning and malignant Arab enemy. This enemy who has vowed our physical and spiritual annihilation. Our leaders do not speak of the uniqueness and special status of the House of Israel. They have contempt for the G-d of Israel and for His Holy Torah while they cower in fear when they face the nations of the world. They have erected gods of silver and gold, better known as US economic aid. Our leaders enact laws that discourage the promulgation of true Jewish values that are predicated on a Divine Source.
We are a people that stands alone. In the face of such rabid hatred of G-d and all that He stands for, our only hope is to remain Maccabees. To display the courage to fight, to gird our loins and to prepare to defend our faith. To know in our hearts, that the G-d of Israel goes into battle with us and never leaves our side. Our mission is for each of us to become an Emunah Shleima (a person of complete faith in G-d). There is no question that we are living in the times of Chevlei Moshiach, the birth pangs of our righteous Messiah. We must understand that the chain of world events that are directed at the Jewish people and Israel are wake up calls from the Almighty G-d of Israel. The same G-d who tested Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is now testing us, the Jewish nation on a global and collective scale. It is up to us to recognize and remain cognizant of these warning signs and tests and to summon up our internal strength that will assist us in passing these tests.
In these times of spiritual blindness we are an orphaned generation without any real Jewish leaders to emulate. We can however look in to our rich and glorious history as a people to find true Jewish leaders and heroes. Men and women who we can look to, to provide us with an instruction manual on how to pass these tests. Our history is replete with such exemplary persona.
We need only look at Mattityahu, the Kohen Gadol of the town of Modin. When a Syrian officer built an altar in the marketplace of the village and demanded that Mattityahu offer sacrifices to the Greek gods. Mattityahu replied, "I, my sons and my brothers are determined to remain loyal to the covenant which our G-d made with our ancestors!"
Let us look to Yochanan, the Kohen Gadol, the father of the Hasmonean family, who foresaw the danger to Judaism from the penetration of Syrian-Greek influence into the Holy Land. He knew the Jewish people could never give up their faith in G-d and accept the idol-worship of the Syrians. Yochanan was therefore opposed to any attempt on the part of the Jewish Hellenists to introduce Greek and Syrian customs into the land. He was scorned by the Hellenists for his outspoken beliefs.
Let us extol the virtues of Yehudit, the daughter of Yochanan of the Hasmonean Dynasty. We know that the town of Bethulia, in the land of Judea, came under siege by Holofernes, a mighty Syrian-Greek general, at the head of a huge army. Holofernes was notorious for his cruelty in suppressing rebellions. When he captured a rebel stronghold, he showed no mercy to the men, women, and children sheltered there. Now he was determined to crush the rebellion of the town of Bethulia, whose inhabitants refused to recognize the oppressive rule of the Syrians. The men of the beleaguered town fought bravely and desperately to repulse the repeated assaults by the superior enemy forces. Seeing that he couldnít take the fortified town by force, Holofernes decided to starve the inhabitants into submission. He cut off the food and water supply, and before long the town was indeed brought to the verge of surrender.
Hungry and thirsty and in utter despair, the townspeople gathered in the marketplace and demanded that, rather than die of hunger and thirst, they should surrender to the enemy. Uzzia, the commander of the defense forces, and the Elders of the town, tried to calm the populace without success. Finally they pleaded, "Give us five more days. If no salvation comes by the end of five days, we will surrender. Just five more days..." Reluctantly the people agreed, and slowly they dispersed. Only one person, a woman, remained in her place, as if riveted to it, and she addressed Uzzia and the Elders, who had also turned to go. Her voice was clear and firm.
"Why do you test G-d, giving Him only five days in which to send us His help? If you truly have faith in G-d, you must never give up your trust in Him. Besides, donít you know that surrender to Holofernes is worse than death?!" Yehudit fed the evil Helefornes cheese and wine. He became inebriated and passed out. Yehudit propped a pillow under his head and rolled him over on his face and uttered a silent prayer: "Answer me, O Lord, as You answered Yael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, when you delivered the wicked general Sissera into her hands. Strengthen me this once that I may bring Your deliverance to my people whom this cruel man vowed to destroy, and let the nations know that You have not forsaken us..." She then took his sword and cut his head off.
In our present day spiritual wilderness, we need only examine the deeds of our righteous predecessors. Now, more than ever, the inspiration of Chanukah must pervade our collective heart and soul. We must recognize that this is the time to return to the Almighty G-d of Israel in sincere and true repentance. Our only hope, our only source of true salvation comes not from the nations of the world but from the Master of the Universe. May we learn and impart this message of Chanukah and may we merit to see miracles in our times, as in days of old.