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Chanukah 2008 Guide for the Perplexed

December 23, 2008
by Yoram Ettinger, Assembled from various Jewish Sages
1.  THE HASMONEAN DYNASTY:
*Mattityahu son of Yochanan, the priest-led rebellion - 166/7BC
*Yehuda son of Mattityahu - 166-161BC
*Yonatan son of Mattityahu - 161-143BC
*Shimon son of Mattityahu - 143-135BC
*Yochanan Hyrcanus son of Shimon - 135-104BC

*...
*Mattityahu Antigonus - 40-37BC

2.  HISTORICAL CONTEXT. 

Alexander The Great - who held Judaism in high esteem and whose Egyptian heir Ptolemy II translated the Torah to Greek - died in 323BC following 12 glorious years at the throne.  Consequently, the Greek Empire disintegrated into five, and thirty years later into three, kingdoms: Macedonia, Syria and Egypt.  The Land of Israel was always militarily contested by Syria and Egypt.  In 198BC, Israel was conquered by the Syrian kingdom.  In 175BC, a new king assumed power in Syria, Antiochus (IV) Epiphanies, who viewed the Jews as pro-Egyptians and held Judaism with contempt. In 169BC, upon his return to Syria from a military victory over Egypt, he devastated Jerusalem, massacred the Jews, forbade the practice of Judaism (including the Sabbath, circumcision, etc.) and desecrated Jerusalem and the Temple.  The 167BC-launched rebellion against the Syrian (Seleucid) kingdom featured the Hasmonean (Maccabee) family: Mattityahu, a priest from the town of Modi'in, and his five sons, Yochanan, Yehuda, Shimon, Yonatan and Elazar.  The heroic (and tactically creative) battles conducted by the Maccabees, were consistent with the reputation of Jews as superb warriors, who were hired frequently as mercenaries by Egypt, Syria, Rome and other global and regional powers.  

3.  INSPIRATION TO BENJAMIN FRANKLIN'S "REBELLION AGAINST TYRANTS IS OBEDIENCE TO GOD". The Maccabees were a tiny minority of "rebels" - condemned by the "loyalists/pragmatists" - rising against an oppressive super-power.  They were condemned as "the enemies of peace" and "extremists."  They prevailed due to their principle-driven, determined and can-do state-of-mind. They demonstrated the victory of the few over the many, right over wrong, moral over immoral and truth over lies. The Maccabees became a role-model for the US' Founding Fathers, including Paul Revere and the organizers of the Boston Tea Party.

4.  INSPIRATION TO PATRICK HENRY'S "GIVE ME LIBERTY OR GIVE ME DEATH" and NEW HAMPSHIRE'S "Live Free Or Die". The Maccabees' sacrifice and political-incorrectness has preserved and inspired today's Jewish religion, language, culture and sovereignty. They followed in the footsteps of Abraham, Phineas the High Priest, Joshua & Calev, King David and Elijah. 

 

5.  AN EARLY VERSION OF "IN G-D WE TRUST" was the Maccabees' battle cry, which adopted Moses' battle cry against the builders of the Golden Calf. A literal translation of the battle cry is "Whoever trusts G-D; join me!"

6.  CHANUKA'S UNIQUENESS.  Chanukah is the only Jewish holiday which commemorates a Land-of-Israel national liberation struggle, unlike Passover (Exodus from Egypt), Sukkot/Tabernacles & Shavouot/Pentacost (on the way to the Land of Israel), Purim (deliverance of Jews in Persia), etc. Chanukah is the longest Jewish holiday (8 days) with the most intense level of Light (8 consecutive nights of candle lighting).

7.  ORIGIN OF THE NAME, CHANUKAH: THE HOLIDAY OF EDUCATION. According to the first book of Maccabees, Yehuda (who succeeded Mattityahu, the priest) ordered the Jewish People to observe an eight day holiday on the 25th day of the month of Kislev, 165BC, in order to commemorate the INAUGURATION (CHANUKAH in Hebrew) of the holy altar and the Temple, following Syrian desecration.  A key feature of Chanukah is EDUCATION of the family (The Hebrew word for education is CHINUKH, spelled with the first four of the five letters of Chanukah). The Hebrew word, Chanukah, consists of two words, CHANU (they rested/stationed) and KAH (25), which refers to the fact that the Maccabees re-consecrated the Temple on the 25th day of the month of Kislev (purging it from the idolatries installed by the Seleucids).  Some have suggested that the celebration of Christmas on December 25th and the celebration of the New Year 8 days later (January 1) have their origin in the 25th day of Kislev (which always "accompanies" December) and the 8 days of Chanukah as well as the 8 days of circumcision.

8.  HOLIDAY OF LIGHT AND REMEMBRANCE.  The first day of Chanukah - the holiday of light - is on the 25th day of Kislev, the month of miracles (e.g. Noah's Rainbow appeared in Kislev).  The first and last Hebrew letters of Kislev equal (in Jewish numerology) 26, which the total sum of the Hebrew spelling of Jehovah. Moses completed the construction of the Holy Arc on the 25th day of Kislev, as was the date of the laying the foundation of the second Temple by Nehemaya. The 25th (Hebrew) word in Genesis is LIGHT ("OR" in Hebrew).  A Jewish metaphor for the Torah is light. The 25th stop of the People of Israel - on their way from Egypt to the Promised Land - was Hashmona (same root as Hasmoneans in Hebrew).  Chanukah commemorates the victory of Light (Maccabees) over Darkness.  While light stands for remembrance, darkness (Chashecha in Hebrew) stands for FORGETFULNESS (Schichecha in Hebrew, spelled with the same Hebrew letters as Chashecah/darkness).

9.  ORIGIN OF THE NAME, MACCABEE.  Yehuda's middle name was Maccabee, derived possibly from the Hebrew word MAKEVET (The Power Hammer), which described Yehuda's tenacious fighting capabilities.  It may have derived from the Hebrew verb CABEH (to extinguish), which described the fate of Yehuda's adversaries.  Another possible interpretation of the name is that MACCABEE is the Hebrew acronym of "Who could resemble you among Gods, Jehovah" ("Mi Camokha Ba'elim Adonye" in Hebrew).

10.  LEGACY OF THE MACCABEES: Faith, moral clarity, long-term vision, defiance of odds (the few against the many), willingness to sacrifice short-term convenience on the altar of long term national security, and awareness that nations who do not adhere to their roots, and are not willing to make a sacrifice for Liberty, forsake their future and do not deserve Liberty.  NO FREE LUNCH FOR SOVEREIGN PEOPLES, especially in violent and unpredictable neighborhoods. 

11.  CHANUKAH DEMONSTRATES THAT WISDOM IS SUPERIOR TO KNOWLEDGE AND UNDERSTANDING.  According to Jewish definition of intellect, "Khokhma" (faith in divinely inspired wisdom, morality and capabilities) is superior to "Beena" (human understanding and interpretations) and "Da'att" (human intelligence/knowledge). The Greek/Syrian culture was based on the superiority of human knowledge and (tenuous) moral standards. The Greeks/Syrians felt constrained, and therefore threatened, by Jewish faith in divine (permanent) morality. Chanukah demonstrates the victory of divine morality over convenience-driven human definition of morality.

12.  EIGHT DAYS OF CHANUKAH REPRESENT DIVINE CAPABILITIES AND OPTIMISM.  The ancient Temple Menorah consisted of seven branches, which commemorated the seven days of creation. The Chanukah Menorah has eight branches, reflecting the additional level of divine capabilities over and beyond human expectations: The victory of the few over the many and the lasting of one day supply of oil for eight days.  Some have suggested that the eight day celebration was designed to make up for the holiday of Tabernacles, which could not be celebrated by the Maccabees due to the war. The shape of the digit 8 represents infinity: No end to divine capabilities to enhance human fortunes, as evidenced by the survival of the Jewish People against all odds. The root of the Hebrew word for the digit 8 ("Shmoneh") is "oil" (Shemen), which is also the root of "Hasmonean" (Hashmonayim in Hebrew).

13.  A LESSON TO ISRAEL's LEADERSHIP: Shimon the Maccabee - who succeeded Judah and Yonatan the Maccabees - responded to an ultimatum by the Syrian/Greek Emperor Antiochus (Book of Maccabees A, Chapter 15, verse 33): "We have not occupied a foreign land; We have not ruled a foreign land; We have liberated the land of our forefathers from foreign occupation."  Thus responded Simon the Maccabee to Emperor Antiochus' ultimatum to end "occupation" of Jaffa, Jerusalem, Gezer, Ekron and Gaza.

It's much easier to follow "practical" policies and retreat from long-term (eternal) vision and historical and traditional values - for the sake of short term diplomatic convenience - than to adhere to them.  However, history has documented that roots constitute the prerequisite for long term blossoming. From Abraham to the Maccabees - until Theodore Herzl and other Founding Fathers of the Jewish State - the politically-incorrect leaders have been vindicated.

14.  KEY GEOGRAPHIC SITES OF THE MACCABEE LEGACY, the cradle of today's Jewish State: Modi'in, Mitzpah (Nebi Samuel), Beit Horon, Ma'aleh Beit Horon, Hadashah, Beit Zur, Ame'os, Michmash, Judean Desert, Jericho. Other than Modi'in, the rest are beyond the "Green Line." Are they currently "occupied" by the descendants of the Maccabees???

15.  CHANUKAH-PASSOVER-PURIM.  The heroes of Passover and Purim had no choice but to defy their enemies.  The Maccabees turned down physical peace in return for spiritual assimilation.  They refused to sellout the cradle of Jewish history.  They were willing to pay any price for the protection of their values and heritage.  Chanukah symbolizes the victory of conviction and roots over short-term convenience and over opportunism/cynicism (sometime presented as "realism" or "pragmatism").

16.  SEVEN CHANUKAH ("Inauguration" in Hebrew)-LIKE EVENTS: Chanukah of the Creation (Genesis 2:1-3), Chanukah of the Sanctuary (Numbers 7:1-11), Chanukah of the First Temple (Kings 1, 7:51, 8:1-11 & 62-66), Chanukah of the Second Temple and the Ingathering (Ezra 6:13-18), Chanukah of Jerusalem's Wall (Nehemiah 6:15-16), Chanukah of the Temple Priests in 165BC (Maccabees 1, 4), Chanukah of the After World. Some attach the significance of each Chanukah to a corresponding day of the Creation.

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