Reflections On Chanukah

By Yoram Ettinger

1. THE FOUNDING FATHERS OF THE USA, as well as Paul Revere and the organizers of the Boston Tea Party, viewed the Maccabees as their role-model.

2. 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. In 198BC, Israel was conquered by the ancient Syrians. In 175BC, a new king assumed power in Syria, Antiochus (IV) Epiphanes, 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 (Macabbee) family: Mattityahu, a priest from the small town of Modi’in, and his five sons, Yochanan, Yehuda, Shimon, Yonatan and Elazar. The heroic (and tactically creative) battles conducted by the Maccabees, was consistent with the reputation of Jews as superb warriors, who were hired often by Egypt, Rome and other global and regional powers.

3. ORIGIN OF THE NAME, MACCABEE. Yehuda’s middle name was Maccabee, derived possibly from the Hebrew word MAKEVET (The Hammer), which described Yehuda’s 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 achronym of “Who could resemble you among Gods, Jehova” (“Mi Camokha Baelim Adonye”).

4. ORIGIN OF THE NAME, CHANUKAH (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. 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 Macabbees reconsecrated 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.

5. HOLIDAY OF LIGHT AND REMEMBRANCE. The first day of Chanukah 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 in Hebrew, spelled with the same Hebrew letters as Chashecah).

6. HOLIDAY OF OPTIMISM. 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.

7. PRINCIPLES AT ANY COST (THE ORIGINAL "LIVE FREE OR DIE"). 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 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 (otherwise known as "pragmatism").

8. 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.

9. THE FEW AGAINST THE MANY. The Maccabees were a tiny minority – condemned by the "progressively enlightened" establishment – upon launching their rebellion against a super-power.

They were referred by the "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. WALKING AGAINST THE GRAIN, the Maccabees fought against overwhelming demographic, economic and military odds, just like today’s Jewish State. While some observers contend that "giant" Israel is facing the Palestinians, reality suggests that TINY ISRAEL is facing the giant Arab world – a modern day replica of David vs. Goliath.