REFLECTIONS ON CHANUKAH
by Yoram Ettinger
1. CONTEMPORARY RELEVANCE: Simon the Maccabee - who succeeded Judah and Jonathan the Maccabees - responded to an ultimatum by the Assyrian/Greek Emperor Antiochus (Maccabees A, Chapter 15, verse 33: "We have not occupied a foreign land; We have not ruled a foreign land; We have liberated the land of our forefathers from foreign occupation." Thus responded Simon the Maccabee to Emperor Antiochus' ultimatum to end "occupation" of Jaffa, Jerusalem, Gezer, Ekron and GAZA.
2. SOME OF THE FOUNDING FATHERS OF THE USA, as well as Paul Revere and the organizers of the Boston Tea Party, viewed the Maccabees as their own role-model. However, some of the successors of the Founding Fathers consider the Land Of The Maccabees, where heroic battles were conducted (northwest of Jerusalem), as "occupied territory."
3. ORIGIN OF "Give me liberty or give me death" and "Live Free Or Die". The politically-INcorrect Maccabees launched a principle-driven war in defense of ideas and tradition, in defiance of domestic pressure and external threats. Their sacrifice and political INcorrectness - in contrast with the accommodation, appeasement and vacillation displayed by the Jewish establishment those days - has preserved today's Jewish religion, language, culture and sovereignty. They followed in the footsteps of Abraham, Pinchas the High Priest (grandson of Aharon), Joshua, Calev, King David and Elijah.
4. ORIGIN OF THE NAME, MACCABEE. Yehuda's middle name was Maccabee, derived possibly from the Hebrew word MAKEVET (The Power Hammer), which described Yehuda's tenacious fighting capabilities. It may have derived from the Hebrew verb CABEH (to extinguish fire), which described the fate of Yehuda's adversaries. Another possible interpretation of the name is that MACCABEE is the Hebrew acronym of "Who could resemble you among Gods, Jehovah" ("Mi Camokha Ba'elim Adonye" in Hebrew).
5. ORIGIN OF THE NAME, CHANUKAH (THE HOLIDAY OF EDUCATION). According to the first book of The Maccabees, Yehuda (who succeeded Mattityahu) ordered the Jewish People to observe an eight day holiday on the 25th day of the month of Kislev, in order to commemorate the INAUGURATION (CHANUKAH in Hebrew) of the holy altar and the Temple, following Syrian desecration. Some have suggested that the 8 day celebration was designed to make up for the holiday of Tabernacles, which could not be celebrated by the Maccabees due to the war. Also, a key feature of Chanukah is the EDUCATION of the family on the historical background of the holiday. The Hebrew word for education is CHINUKH, spelled with the first four of the five letters of Chanukah. The Hebrew word, Chanukah, consists of two words, CHANU (they rested/stationed) and KAH (25), which refers to the fact that the Maccabees re-consecrated the Temple on the 25th day of the month of Kislev (purging it from the idolatries installed by the Seleucids). Some have suggested that the celebration of Christmas on December 25th and the celebration of the New Year 8 days later (January 1) have their origin in the 25th day of Kislev (which always "accompanies" December) and the 8 days of Chanukah as well as the eight days of circumcision.
6. HOLIDAY OF LIGHT AND REMEMBRANCE. The first day of Chanukah - the Holiday of Light - is on the 25th day of Kislev. The 25th (Hebrew) word in Genesis is LIGHT (OR). The 25th stop of the People of Israel - on their way from Egypt to the Promised Land - was Hashmona (same root as Hasmoneans, or Hashomonayim in Hebrew). Chanukah commemorates the victory of Light over Darkness. While Light stands for REMEMBRANCE, Darkness (Chashecha in Hebrew) stands for FORGETFULNESS (Schichecha/forgetfulness in Hebrew, spelled with the same Hebrew letters as Chashecah/darkness).
7. HISTORICAL CONTEXT. Alexander The Great - who held Judaism in high esteem and whose Egyptian heir Ptolemy II translated the Torah to Greek - died in 323BC. Consequently, the Greek Empire disintegrated into five, and thirty years later into three, kingdoms: Macedonia, Syria and Egypt. The Land of Israel was always militarily contested by Syria and Egypt (and Gaza was always the main invasion route!). In 198BC, Israel was conquered by the ancient Syrians. In 175BC, a new king assumed power in Syria, Antiochus (IV) Epiphanies, who viewed the Jews as pro-Egyptians and held Judaism with contempt. In 169BC, on his way to Syria from a military victory over Egypt, he devastated Jerusalem, massacred a large number of Jews, forbade the practice of Judaism (including the Sabbath, circumcision, etc.) and desecrated Jerusalem and the Temple. The rebellion against the Syrian (Seleucid) kingdom featured the Hasmonean (MACCABEE) family: Mattityahu, a priest from the small town of Modi'in, and his five sons, Yochanan, Yehuda, Simon, Jonathan and Elazar. The heroic (and tactically creative) battles conducted by the Maccabees, were consistent with the reputation of Jews as superb warriors, who were hired often as mercenaries by Egypt, Rome and other global and regional powers.
8. HOLIDAY/MONTH OF OPTIMISM. Saddam Hussein was captured during the Hebrew month of Kislev, the month of miracles. The first two Hebrew letters of Chanukah are those spelling the name NOAH. The Hebrew month of the post-flood RAINBOW of hope was Kislev. Moses completed the construction of the Holy Arc on the 25th day of Kislev, as was the date of the laying the foundation of the second Temple by Nehemaya.
9. PRINCIPLES AT ANY COST. While Passover and Purim are also national liberation holidays, Chanukah is a special national liberation holiday. The heroes of Passover and Purim had no choice but to defy their enemies. The Maccabees had a choice: They were offered physical peace in return for spiritual assimilation and a sellout of the Cradle of Jewish History and Jewish principles. However, they were willing to pay ANY price for the protection of their values and heritage. Chanukah symbolizes the victory of CONVICTION and ROOTS over SHORT-TERM CONVENIENCE and OPPORTUNISM/CYNICISM (currently known as "pragmatism").
10. NO FREE LUNCH FOR SOVEREIGN PEOPLES. Chanukah serves as another reminder that free people must be ready to fight - and sacrifice - for the RIGHT to be sovereign, especially in violent and unpredictable neighborhoods.
11. THE FEW AGAINST THE MANY, Right vs.. Wrong, Truth vs.. Lies. The Maccabees were a tiny minority - condemned by the "pragmatic" and "enlightened" establishment - upon launching their rebellion against an oppressive super-power. They were referred by Jewish "intellectuals" as "the enemies of peace" and "extremists." They prevailed due to their principle-driven, determined and can-do state-of-mind, which was compatible with reality, rather than with wishful-thinking, with Right rather than Wrong. WALKING AGAINST THE GRAIN, the Maccabees fought against overwhelming demographic, economic and military odds, just like the 1948-1992 leaders of the Jewish State. MAY CONTEMPORARY LEADERS OF THE JEWISH STATE REGAIN THE SPIRIT OF THE MACCABEES.