by Rabbi Moshe Levy
Executive Director, Chazak UK
I have asked hundreds of people: when I say Chanukah, what is the first thing you think of? The most common answers are doughnuts, latkes, presents, dreidel, oil, and, of course, menorah. I always find it quite perplexing that almost no one says the war of the Maccabees. If thirteen rabbis went to war against the American army or the British army and before they left the lit a nice scented candle. A week later they come back victorious and a miracle happened and the candle that should have lasted a few hours is still lit. What would be the front page of every newspaper and website in the world? Rabbis defeat army or candle stays lit? Surely the victory of the war against the world’s most powerful army should be the focus of Chanukah, or, at least, just as important as the menorah, and yet it is almost an afterthought when thinking about Chanukah. Another question we need to ask ourselves is why? Why does Hashem make the miracle in the first place? When we go through the Torah and think of times where the rules of nature were changed, it is because without that change we would cease to exist. If there is no splitting of the sea or ten plagues or manna coming down from Heaven then there would be no more Jewish people. If the Maccabees find one small jug of oil and it only lasts one night, the Jewish people would still exist. They had already won the war.
If we take ourselves back 2,200 years ago the ideology of the Greek Assyrians was Hellenism. Loosely translated, that is worship of the physical. However, with worship of the physical comes denial of the spiritual. They came to the average Jew and said why is Shabbat any different than a Tuesday. Can you prove that it is holy? Can you prove you have a soul or that your G-d exists? If you can’t prove it mathematically or though science, then it must be that it does not exist. Most Jews, some even say over 95% of Jews, became Hellenists. A handful of Jews decided to live in caves and keep Shabbat, brit mila and Rosh Chodesh, and then decided to go to war against the Greek army. When asked why they responded, we expect to die but we want to show people being a Jew is worth dying for, and then hopefully they will realise it is worth living for.
The reason Hashem makes the miracle of the oil lasting for eight days and nights is to show the people not everything is mathematical and scientific. Is it possible for a bunch of rabbis to win a war against the world power? The odds are astronomical but it is possible. The fact is that a small jug of oil can’t last for eight days and nights. The main focus of Chanukah is to show them then, and us now in 2019, that just because I don’t understand certain things doesn’t mean they don’t exist. I might not be able to prove that Shabbat is a holy day, or that I have a soul, or even the existence of Hashem, but I know that they are there. Without making this miracle the rest of the Jews would have also thrown away their beliefs and the Jewish people would cease to exist. Chanukah is my reminder that Hashem made the rules of nature and he can change them if He so choses.
When looking at the Chanukah lights this year we should be comforted that no matter what challenges we are going through in our personal lives or as a community Hashem can change everything in the blink of an eye. I might not understand why I have this challenge or how it can be fixed based on natural happenings but Hashem is above nature and turns the darkness into light.