For my inaugural post, I’d like to honor the holiday that is already in progress. Today is the second day of Chanukah, and at sundown tonight we will begin the third night of Chanukah. I’m not going to be telling you what Chanukah is, nor even linking to an explanatory webpage, since I respect your intelligence enough to assume that if you’ve found my blog you are also clever enough to conduct your own Google search and learn about it on your own. Instead, I’m just going to offer my thoughts. If there’s anything here that you don’t understand, take your courage in hand and dive into the exciting world of Wikipedia. I believe in you.
It’s odd, I’ve always thought of Chanukah as not just a Jewish holiday, but as an exclusively Jewish holiday. Recently I’ve realized that it’s really much more universal. True, the Festival of Lights celebrates a Jewish victory over a particular Greek oppressor and the retaking of the Holy Temple, and that of course is Jew-specific. Hence the name Chanukah, which in Hebrew means “dedication,” indicating that we had to rededicate our Temple after it had been desecrated. Too, Chanukah is about the miracle of one day’s worth of oil lasting for eight days, until more kosher oil could be prepared — hence its other name, Feast of Lights — and that’s also particular to that particular event in Jewish history. But it also celebrates the power of Hashem (“The Name,” that is, what we call G*D when speaking informally rather than praying) and through him, of his chosen people.
I understand why the rabbinic sages downplayed this teaching for centuries. After all, it doesn’t do for a currently oppressed people to be heard by one’s current oppressors, teaching one’s own military prowess against former oppressors. Dangerous, to be seen as fomenting rebellion.
But indeed, the greatest miracle of Chanukah is not mere fuel-extending power, which is as nothing to Hashem, who can surely accomplish far more than this! No, the greatest miracle is the military victory of the few over the many, the weak over the strong, the pious over the arrogant, the subject over the tyrant. The miracle is that when that line had been drawn and the oppressors had the nerve to step over it — taking our House of Sanctification and polluting it with idolatrous practices and rites — we actually had enough Jewish sparks left in our souls to say, “That’s it. We’re not thrilled with the way you’ve treated us personally, but the desecration of our Temple and the insults to our G*D are the last straw. This we won’t tolerate for another instant.” The miracle is that we were able to rise out of our stagnant resignation and get fired up enough to stand up to Antiochus, the viceroy/leader of the occupying force. The miracle is that we gathered together, made a plan, carried it out, and succeeded, with G*D’s help, yet by our own hand. After many national experiences of being downtrodden, we still had it within us to have faith in ourselves and in our G*D, and we took our national and religious identity into our own hands. We had to have the… the… the stones to just go ahead and do it, and trust in Hashem to support us by granting us the victory once we showed him we were willing to go out and claim that blessing from him.
And that is not specific to Jews. That is a universal, very human thing that every people deserves to share: the knowledge that they may be able to bear almost anything that an oppressor can dish out to themselves, but that their faith, their beliefs, the Creator — however they perceive him/her/it — their culture, their language, their peoplehood… are not something that can ever be stamped out of their souls. This is something that not only Jews, but also Hindus, Zoroastrians, Christians, Muslims, Baha’i, Pagans, Buddhists, agnostics, atheists, and everyone else can take part in, can experience for themselves. That means that Chanukah may have its basis in a specific event in Jewish history, but its meaning is valid and useful for everyone in the world to share. Everyone deserves to know that not only are they themselves, and their faiths, worth defending, but that they themselves are not permitted to become the oppressors that others must fight against!
So happy Chanukah, everyone. May you never know oppression, but may you recognize the oppression of others and have the hugeness of heart to reach out to help them overcome it. May your days and nights be a Feast of Lights your whole life long.