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Chanukah 2009 Guide For The Perplexed

Written by Yoram Ettinger

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"Chanukah has a special significance in Montana these days. In Billings in 1993, vandals broke windows in homes that were displaying menorahs. In a response organized by local church leaders, more than 10,000 of the city's residents and shopkeepers put make-shift menorahs in their own windows, to protect the city's three dozen or so Jewish families. The vandalism stopped" (New York Times, Dec. 4, 2009, Eric Stern, senior counselor to Gov. Brian Schweitzer).

1.  Historical context  

Alexander The Great - who held Judaism in high esteem and whose Egyptian heir, Ptolemy II, translated the Torah to Greek - died in 323BCE following 12 glorious years.  Consequently, the Greek Empire disintegrated into five, and thirty years later into three, kingdoms: Macedonia, Syria and Egypt. 

The Land of Israel was militarily contested by Syria and Egypt.  In 198BCE, Israel was conquered by the Syrian kingdom.  In 175BCE, 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 war against Egypt, he devastated Jerusalem, massacred the Jews, forbade the practice of Judaism (including the Sabbath, circumcision, etc.) and desecrated Jerusalem and the Temple. 

The 167BCE-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.  

2.  The Hasmonean dynasty

*Mattityahu son of Yochanan, the priest-led rebellion - 166/7BCE

*Yehuda the Maccabee, son of Mattityahu - 166-161BCE

*Yonatan the Maccabee, son of Mattityahu - 161-143BCE

*Shimon the Maccabee, son of Mattityahu - 143-135BCE

*Yochanan Hyrcanus son of Shimon - 135-104BCE

*...

*Mattityahu Antigonus - 40-37BCE

 

3.  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 the Prophet, who walked against the grain, in defiance of the establishment and conventional "wisdom." 

4.  An early version of "In God 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!"

5.  Key geographic Maccabee sites, the cradle of Judaism and today's Jewish State: Modi'in, Mitzpah (Nebi Samuel), Beit Horon, Ma'aleh Beit Horon, Hadashah, Beit Zur, Adora'yim, Elazar, Ma'aleh Levona, Ame'os, Michmash, Judean Desert, Jericho. Other than Modi'in, the rest are beyond the "Pre-1967 Lines." Are they currently "occupied" by the descendants of the Maccabees or are they the epitome of Jewish moral high-ground and Statehood?

6.  Chanukah'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 from Egypt 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.  The origin of the name - Chanukah - is also education-oriented. According to the first book of Maccabees, Yehuda (who succeeded Mattityahu) ordered the Jewish People to observe an eight day holiday on the 25th day of the month of Kislev, 165BCE, in order to commemorate the inauguration (Chanukah, חנוכה, in Hebrew) of the holy altar and the Temple, following Syrian desecration.  A key feature of Chanukah is education of the family (Chinuch, חינוך, in Hebrew).

The Hebrew word, Chanukah, consists of two words, Chanu, חנו,(they rested/stationed) and Kah, ×›×”, (25 in Hebrew), 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 Syrians/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 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 - וכ - equal (in Jewish numerology) 26, which the total sum of the Hebrew spelling of Jehovah. Moses completed the construction of the Holy Ark 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, אור, 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 and  Remembrance over Forgetfulness (the Hebrew spelling of darkness - חשכה - employs the same letters as forgetulness - שכחה).

9.  The origin of the name, Maccabee (מכבי  or מקבי).  Yehuda's middle name was Maccabee, derived possibly from the Hebrew word Makevet (מקבת), Power Hammer), which described Yehuda's tenacious and decisive fighting capabilities.  It may have derived from the Hebrew verb Cabeh (כבה, to extinguish), which described the fate of Yehuda's adversaries.  Another source of the name suggests that Maccabee, מכבי, is the Hebrew acronym of "Who could resemble you among Gods, Jehovah" ("Mi Camokha Ba'elim Adonai" מי כמוך באלים ×™').

10.  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 their war of liberation. 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 8 (Shmoneh, שמונה) is "oil" (Shemen, שמנ), which is also the root of "Hasmonean" (Hashmonayim, חשמונאים).

11.  The legacy of Shimon the Maccabee.  He succeeded Yehuda and Yonatan the Maccabees, while responding to an ultimatum by the Syrian 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 he responded to a super-power's ultimatum to end "occupation" of Jaffa, Jerusalem, Gezer, Ekron and Gaza.

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

13.  Seven Chanukah (inauguration)-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 such Chanukah to a corresponding day of the Creation.

14.  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, by the Jewish establishment, as "enemies of peace" and "extremists."  They prevailed due to their principle-driven, determined and can-do state-of-mind and adherence to roots and long-term vision against any odds. They demonstrated the victory of the few over the many, right over wrong, moral over immoral, truth over lies, faith over cynicism and opportunism.

The Maccabees became a role-model for the US' Founding Fathers, including Paul Revere (who was referred to as a "modern day Maccabee") and the organizers of the Boston Tea Party. They realized that no free lunches were available for freedom-seeking nations, especially in the conflict-ridden Middle East. 

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