What is the message of our annual commemoration of the Chanukah miracles?
The following article is adapted from “Dancing in Time” by Rabbi Y. Y. Rubinstein (Published by Targum Press, Southfield, MI)
BUILDING WITH MESIRAS NEFESH
An interesting article appeared years ago in a secular Israeli newspaper. The article presented an imaginary conversation between a nonreligious father and his son about Chanukah. The father had just told his little boy the Chanukah story and the child began asking some questions.
Were the Hasmoneans religious?
The secular father was disturbed by the thought and immediately replied, No, of course not. They were just like us.
The little boy said, But you said they rededicated the Temple! The father conceded that indeed they had done that.
So they must have been religious. Otherwise they wouldn`t have bothered!
The father became a bit uncomfortable. Well, perhaps they were a bit religious.
Did they keep kosher? asked the son. The father agreed that they probably kept kosher.
What about Shabbat?
The father was quite sure about that. No, I don`t think that they kept Shabbat came the reply.
They must have if they were so religious that they wanted to dedicate the Temple and use only pure olive oil.
The father frowned and conceded that they must have kept Shabbos, too.
Then the little boy said to his father, Abba, we don`t keep Shabbat or kashrut. We are not religious. If we had lived then, whose side would we have fought on, the Hasmoneans or the Greeks?
In light of the preceding exchange, let us attempt to understand, what was the uniqueness of the era in which the Chanukah miracle took place?
Of all the nations who would dominate the Jewish people, one was unique - Greece. The other nations conquered and exiled the Jewish people. Greece dominated the Jews in Eretz Yisrael.
This conquest was one of the spirit. Greece equaled beauty, and Hellenism was the “Spirit of the Time”. Tens of thousands of Jews abandoned Judaism in favor of this enticing and fashionable lifestyle. It was later that the Greeks and their Jewish adherents took their antipathy of all things Jewish to its final conclusion by attempting to eradicate Judaism altogether.
The Greeks outlawed the teaching of Torah, circumcision, and Shabbos. They also banned the announcement of the day of Rosh Chodesh. The logic behind the first three is obvious. The Greeks wanted Jews to abandon Judaism and be just like them. Bris milah made Jews look different. Teaching Torah made Jews think differently. And as a non-Jewish man of letters once commented, More than the Jews have kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept the Jews! Its removal would be essential for the Greeks to achieve their goal.
The banning of the announcement of Rosh Chodesh, though, was a subtler device. Without knowing when the new moon was, the Jews could not celebrate their festivals. What did Hashem do? He made the Greeks the agents of bringing us a new Jewish holiday - Chanukah! All that was required was that we play our part.
The Bach, the famous commentator of the Talmud and Shulchan Aruch, explains what that part was. The rise of those who want to eradicate everything Jewish in the Land of Israel is possible only when KIal Yisrael become lax and uninspired in their performance of that which makes us Jews: mitzvos. It required an act of self-sacrifice and commitment to reverse the process. That, in turn, allowed the Greeks to be defeated. The miracle of Chanukah was Hashem saluting and identifying the source of the Jewish people`s victory.
The mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice, throughout the generations is the fuel by which the flames will rise up and illuminate the Temple once more. The Third and final eternal Temple will be illuminated by a Menorah that will be lit by a Kohen Gadol, worthy of the stature of the family of Yochanan the Maccabee and even greater. It will signal the victory of those who remained loyal to the Torah, and the final defeat of those philosophies that tried to separate Jews from Judaism. It can only be a moment away, and it will be built on the self-sacrifice of KIal Yisrael, the Jewish People. May we see the fulfillment of the promise of the final redemption speedily in our times. Amen.
We are pleased to announce that Tehilim Hotline in conjunction with Yeshiva Derech Chaim will run a special edition of the Artscroll Kleinman Edition of the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, Volume 4 containing the Laws of Shabbos. For those who have received the previous 4 volumes of this 5 volume set and want the missing Volume 4 to complete your set, you may request your copy and place dedications in this volume by calling Yeshiva Derech Chaim at (718) 438-5476 or by email at email@example.com.
Tonight (Friday evening, December 23rd 2011) we light four Chanukah candles.