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Every Jew knows the story of Hanukka, but does not necessarily understand the meaning of the holiday. After the Maccabees prevailed against the Greco-Syrian pagans, they found in the Holy Temple one undefiled cruse of oil with the seal of the high priest. The flask contained enough oil for one day's lighting of the Temple's menora. Miraculously, it lasted for eight days.
The Maccabees designated these eight days for giving thanks to God (Talmud Shabbat 21b). The Hanukka lights have come to symbolize the Jewish belief in the gradual progress of spiritual and moral fulfillment. Starting with one light the first evening and increasing the number of lights by one each night, the Jewish people mark the slow but steady victory over violent storms which have raged against them throughout the centuries.
The Hellenism that the Maccabees fought had a devastating effect on the moral life of ancient Judea. All religious precepts were prohibited. Copies of the Torah were destroyed, the Temple was converted to the worship of Zeus, harlots were brought within its sacred walls and heathen altars set up in surrounding areas. With such a list of outrageous violations against the ethical center of Judaism's faith-heritage, it is little wonder the Maccabees went on a rampage to restore Judaism's dignity and integrity.
HANUKKA IS a minor holiday in the Jewish calendar. Yet there is one significant lesson to be culled from the Hasmonean revolt: We Jews must always strive to overcome any attempt to delegitimize the Jewish people and the Jewish state.
The Maccabees are a shining example of people dedicated to fighting all who would threaten the very fabric of Jewish life. Therefore, not only must we fend off those from without who would threaten our existence as a people with a right to its own state, we must also contend with those within our family who would undermine the moral values that have guided us throughout the centuries and led to the establishment of a third Jewish commonwealth - the modern State of Israel.
I am not referring here to the common notion that baseless hatred wrought the destruction of the Second Temple. While there is certainly a plentiful amount of vindictive infighting in the country to undermine the state's stability, there is a phenomenon afoot that is far more challenging than political jockeying.
EVEN AS in ancient times we drove out harlots and heathens from our Temple, today we have let in our own brand of whores and idolaters. We may not pray to Greek gods, but we do run after false ones: greed, protectionism, sex, money; in short - corruption.
Watching the news, reading the newspaper, listening to the radio makes one heartsick. Virtually every headline is about a new criminal investigation of some political leader or business tycoon. It seems no public figure is exempt from the possibility of a judicial indictment: a minister of defense and minister of justice convicted of sexual abuse, another justice minister accused of breach of trust, a finance minister investigated for embezzlement, a prime minister questioned for possible fraudulence and a president suspected of rape.
Poor Judah Maccabee - is this the measure of leadership that his sacrifices eventually bore?
But criminal leaders are not the only challenge that Israel faces. There is some criminal behavior that is not subject to judicial overview - the criminal act of neglect and apathy, the metaphoric equals of corruption. A strike of high schools began almost two months ago. In Hebrew, Hanukka has as one of its root meanings "to educate." As we rejoice in lighting the hanukkia, singing songs of determination and victory, we must rededicate (the core meaning of the word hanukka) our efforts to invest in Jewish education, not letting it lapse into its present criminal state of disrepair.
Our ancestors fought to establish a nation that would be based on a prophetic vision of equality and justice, which means we cannot use a preoccupation with necessary security concerns to ignore the needs of the disenfranchised and weaker elements of society. We must also rededicate ourselves to the economic, social, medical and educational welfare of all citizens. Only such a commitment will ultimately determine that the lights of Hanukka will shine ever brightly.
The popular folk-singing trio, Peter, Paul and Mary, in their song, "Light One Candle for the Maccabee Children," expressed well the lessons to be learned from Hanukka - to fight dishonesty and indifference; to promote righteousness and goodness.
Light one candle for the Maccabee children: Give thanks their light didn't die.
Light one candle for the Maccabee children: For the pain they endured when their right to exist was denied...
Light one candle for the strength that we need to never become our own foe...
What is the memory that's valued so highly that we keep it alive in that flame?
What's the commitment to those who have died when we cry out: 'They've not died in vain?'
We have come this far always believing that justice will somehow prevail.
This is the burden and this is the promise, and this is why we must not fail.
Don't let the light go out, it's lasted for so many years.
Don't let the light go out; let it shine through our love and our tears.
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