The real message of Chanukah

Friday, 7 December, 2012 - 1:04 pm

As we get set to celebrate Chanukah, there is a question that needs to be addressed. Why do the observances of Chanukah focus primarily on the miracle of the oil while the miracle of the battle is relegated to a reference in the prayers that we add?


One of the explanations is that the primary struggle of the Chanukah story was not with the physical persecution but rather with the spiritual and intellectual challenges of Greek culture. Long before the Syrian-Greek army marched in to Jerusalem the struggle for the heart, mind and soul of the Jewish people. For the first time in their history there was an intelligent challenge to Jewish thinking and Jewish life. It was the struggle between the rational and super-rational, between body and soul. The Greeks could not accept a relationship with a G-d that transcended reason. We say in the V’al Hanisim passage that they attempted “to make us forget Your Torah, and to turn us away from the Chukim (statutes) of Your will.” They were content to let the Jews retain their culture but they did not appreciate the blind faith and dedication to a G-d and Torah that could not be entirely understood. Many Jews became Hellenized and joined forces with the Greeks.

The pure oil in the Menorah represents this ideal and that is why they destroyed the oil. For this reason the miracle of the oil – representing the ultimate pushback against the Greek attempts – is so significant. The battle was only a secondary means by which they attempted to impose their way. Therefore it is celebrated as secondary to the miracle of the oil.

Chanukah is a celebration of our super-rational dedication to Hashem and the Maccabees resistance to assimilation – forced or otherwise.

It will be a very busy week of Menorah lightings, concerts, Latke cook-offs, parades, parties and scavenger hunts. We hope you can join us for some or all of the events listed below.

My family joins me in mourning the loss of our grandmother, Mrs. Miriam Gordon, this week. I hope to share some thoughts about her after Chanukah, G-d willing. May Hashem comfort her children among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom and a very happy and meaningful Chanukah.
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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