Chanukah is not a significant holiday from a halachic (legal) perspective. However, it is perhaps the most important holiday when it comes to Jewish identity and purpose.
It is a timeless and timely message and it comes down to this: deep within each and every one of us there is a Maccabee warrior. No matter what challenge we are facing. No matter how insurmountable the odds might seem, the greatest gift God has given us as human beings is a resilient, unconquerable, warrior spirit.
The problem is that we all too easily forget this, we all too often underestimate it. And so often we fail to see ourselves for the powerful beings each and every one of us really are.
After being pounded by the Greeks, after having been stripped of their religious freedoms and dignity so many of the Jewish people simply succumbed to the sheer terror of it all. Although the majority were paralyzed in insecurity, doubt and fear, nonetheless, there was a group of warriors known as the Maccabees who made a stand, rose up and fought back. And as they did they gave others the inspiration and courage to do the same. Thus, a rebellion was begun and thousands of years later Am Yisrael Chai – the Jewish people are alive and well.
This spirit is best described by Leo Tolstoy who wrote “What is A Jew,” in 1891:
What is a Jew?
This question is not as strange as it may seem at first glance. Let’s examine this free creature that was insulated and oppressed, trampled on and pursued, burned and drowned by all the rulers and the nations, but is nevertheless living and thriving in spite of the whole world.
What is a Jew that did not succumb to any worldly temptations offered by his oppressors and persecutors so that he would renounce his religion and abandon the faith of his fathers
A Jew is a sacred being who procured an eternal fire from the heavens and with it illuminated the earth and those who live on it. He is the spring and the source from which the rest of the nations drew their religions and beliefs….
A Jew is eternal; he is an embodiment of eternity.
To be a Jew is to be a warrior of spirit.
To be a Jew is to live with that spirit and lead with that spirit.
To be a Jew is to symbolize our commitment to that spirit through lighting the menorah and placing it in the window as we unabashedly illuminate a darkened world so that anyone and everyone might better be able to see.
Rabbi Baruch HaLevi
Rabbi B is co-author of the new book: Revolution of the Jewish Spirit: How to Revive Ruakh in Your Spiritual Life, Transform Your Synagogue & Inspire Your Jewish Community [Paperback & Kindle] Rabbi Baruch HaLevi and Ellen Frankel, Jewish Lights Publishing (September 30, 2012)
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