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Gunco Irregular
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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Several folks like AClay47 have posted good Christmas topics. I was turned on to Rabbi Mermelstein's writing by a post on this board. I knew very little about Chanukah except the story of the oil for the menorah. I'm showing this to my Jewish friends as I bet they don't know this either.

Copyright by Rabbi R. Mermelstein

Chanukah, or The Dedication, signifies different things to each of
us. To the child it means gifts, candy, latkes (potato pancakes) and
spinning the dreidle toy. To some Holocaust survivors, it brings back
bittersweet memories of secretly performing the mitzvah of lighting
the menorah, the eight branched candelabrum symbolizing the one in
the First and Second Temples in Ancient Jerusalem, in dread of being
caught by Nazi concentration camp guards. Their love of Judaism endured
even during some of the darkest hours in the history of our people.
Some people have told me that though they lack a fuller understanding
of Chanukah's significance, the slender burning candles rekindled in
them hope for a better future; that even in a world plunged into
immorality and ethical oblivion there remains room for optimism that
one day soon a new era of morality, tolerance and human goodness will
dawn with the coming of the Messiah which the Jewish people have
longed for throughout our history of exiles and persecutions.

To kindle a menorah is the most powerful statement a Jew can make.
It shouts to our persecutors, You may stage your pogroms, loot us
of our wealth, exile and attempt to murder us by the train car load,
but you'll be gone from the earth long before we cease to live as a
vibrant nation - a shining testimony to G-d and His Torah. The Torah,
or the first five books of the Bible (Genesis through Deuteronomy),
was given by G-d to Moses at Mount Sinai after the Jews exodus from
their bondage in Egypt. It is the foundation of Judaism containing
the 613 commandments which sets the Jews apart from all other creeds
and religions of the world. The Torah, alone, has given unity to a
relatively small nation and insured its survival these last 3,500
years. Down through the centuries untold numbers of faithful Jews
have chosen martyrdom rather than transgress the Torah's precepts
of monotheism and G-d's commandments which are held as dear as life

As Jews, we are not permitted to sit back and rely on miracles to
insure our survival. There are times when relentless oppression must
be answered with force. This is not trusting to our martial cunning
in lieu of trust in G-d. But, just as we must plant if we expect to
harvest, we are obligated to make the efforts necessary to prevent
our annihilation either as individuals or as a people. If a situation
warrants force of arms, we have a mandate from our Torah to do just
that. When we fight, we are under the same mandate to fight to win.
And what constitutes a reason to rise and take up arms against
oppression within the parameters of the Torah? The reply to this
question is the story of Chanukah.

The year was approximately 170 BCE. Alexander of Macedonia had lifted
Greece and Grecian culture to a pinnacle of power throughout the
Western world and the Middle East. Greek society worshipped aesthetic
beauty and wisdom. King Ptolemy who ruled over the Egyptian sector of
Alexander's empire yearned to make his domain a center of learning and
wisdom. He commanded the Sages of Israel, they being in his jurisdiction,
to translate the Torah from its original Hebrew to the Greek tongue so
that they, too, should have access to a work which even they accepted
as Divinely inspired and a well-spring of wisdom.

As long as Alexander lived, he revered the Sages of Israel and showed
uncommon friendship to the Jews. After Alexander's death, his dominion
was divided three ways with seats in Egypt, Syria and Greece. Israel
fell to the Syrian domain. Alexander's love for the Jews and their
Torah was soon forgotten and the new government began to oppress the
Jews with unusual harshness. This hatred and persecution was fueled
by the Jews refusal to assimilate into the Hellenic culture.

In terms of physical strength there was no contest. The Greeks were
the conquerors with a huge standing army. If it were to be a battle
of minds, the stubborn Jews cleaving to their Torah prevailed to the
consternation of the conquering forces. The once benevolent government
now launched an all out campaign to completely subjugate the Jewish
Nation both in body and mind.

At first, the Greeks thought the Jews would be attracted to Hellenism
and its trappings through peaceful techniques. The shallow minded among
the Jews were won over to the Grecian values in exchange for governmental
appointments and even for elevated positions in the Temple itself. The
Priesthood, given by G-d to Aaron, the older brother of Moses, and his
descendants had now become a political football to be used as an incentive
to swallow up our people's minds. The Jewish apostates to Greek culture,
called Hellenists, tried to sway other Jews to their new, distorted views.
The great majority of Jews were not seduced away from their Torah heritage.
In time, the Jewish Hellenists were shunned and treated as outcasts by the
Torah-true majority.

When the rabidly Jew-hating Antiochus came to power in 168 BCE, his
annoyance at the failure of the Hellenists to achieve Greece's aims was
intense. He took the obvious tack and sent in his military to force the
Jews to assimilate or be slaughtered. Antiochus conducted this new
campaign in the most vicious manner. Tens of thousands of Jews died
sanctifying G-d's Name rather than convert. The Hellenist traitors
helped to hunt down Jews who had gone into hiding. Jews that couldn't
flee were tortured. Jewish women were taken by the enemy to be defiled.

The barbarians then began their desecration of the Temple and dedicated
it to the worship of the mythical Zeus. A high altar was built to Zeus
and a pig, the quintessential symbol of non-kosher animals which the
Torah prohibits the Jews to eat, was sacrificed on the new altar. The
pig's blood was brought into the Holy of Holies where even the High Priest
could only enter on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the holiest day of
the year. This abomination was without precedent.

Individuals and whole nations drew their lines in the sand. The Greeks
had now crossed that line. Open, armed rebellion against the Greeks and
the traitorous Hellenists was now agreed on by the sages of that generation
as incumbent upon G-d's people if they hoped to survive. It had been many
centuries since the Jews had waged war against the inhabitant nations of
the land of Canaan. Who would lead this peaceful people into battle against
Antiochus and claim a decisive victory?

Matisyahu, a lineal descendent of Aaron the High Priest, and his five sons
rose to the occasion. The third son, Judah, took for himself the title
"Maccabee", meaning the Hammerer in the Aramaic language that was the
vernacular of the Jews during that period, and assumed the generality for
the planned rebellion. Judah Maccabee gathered an unorganized militia from
the faithful and brave. They fought with a mission: slay or be slain. The
Greek standing army was better armed and better trained. Conviction,
however, must come from within, and this the Greek rank and file lacked.
The Al-mighty, for whose sanctity the Jews fought, saw that their efforts
to sustain the Torah Nation would not be in vain. In the year 165 BCE, the
conquerors became the vanquished. They were driven at sword point from the
borders of Israel by a ragtag group of underdogs who fought with courage
and cunning, but most importantly with conviction and inviolate principles.
Judah Maccabee and his principled followers taught an object lesson for
all time.

Jewish pacifists may wonder at this historic event and ask, How is it that
the Nation of G-d should resort to brute violence? Weren't there in that
generation any righteous, saintly Jews who could supplicate G-d through
their prayers? Why weren't public fast days instituted, with the Torah
leaders exhorting the nation to repentance? It's axiomatic in Judaism that
no Divine punishment is meted out without wanton sin preceding it! What is
the meaning of this display of force which is so UN-JEWISH?

The pacifist's complaints (ranting and raving?) would have been dismissed
at that ancient time as well as today with logic similar to this: Your
light-our Torah-is in our hands. Our light-our souls-is in Your hand. You
have entrusted Your Torah in our hands and we have entrusted our lives in
Your hand. If we will guard Your light, You will guard ours. If we save
Your light, You will save ours.

All that we have thus far explained is the true significance of Chanukah.
Why, then, is it that every child in a Jewish school comes home only to
tell about the miracle of a one day supply of spiritually pure oil for
the Temple menorah lasting for eight days when the Temple was reconsecrated?
How has the important lesson of fighting for a just cause been diluted or
lost in Jewish tradition? There was no perfidy at work here. For a time
after the banishment of the Greeks that event was celebrated as a military
victory aided by Providence. However, within the following 200 years the
Second Temple was destroyed, the city of Jerusalem was sacked and the
surviving Jews were taken prisoners by Titus and the Roman legions. The
remnants of the Torah Nation were for the second time exiled from their
homeland (the destruction of the First Temple at the hands of Nebuchednezzer
and the Babylonian army was the first exile). It's hard for a shattered,
homeless people to rejoice over a battlefield victory two centuries past.
The menorah, though, went with the Jews throughout their wanderings and
tribulations in the Diaspora. It alone remains as a symbol of one of the
greatest events in our history; the weak few versus the powerful many.

No advocate of strict interpretation of the U.S. Constitution believes
that great document to be Divinely inspired. English is so rich in
synonyms that it could have been worded differently without the meaning
or intent being lost. What is referred to as inalienable rights , however,
is clearly rights of all persons that are Divinely ordained. Plainly,
they are independent of the whims of legislators and political action
or special interest groups. They are indelible and inviolate. They
require no defense, apologies or justification. Their continued existence
need not be won through legalistic argument before any court or congress.
Debating those who would argue that a Divinely ordained right is obsolete
or not applicable to a modern, civilized society through logic is not
necessarily productive or even called for. Such rights are above question
or scrutiny by the cognoscenti. That's the meaning of inalienable rights.
Off limits. Untouchable.

Without the ability to exercise rights that are at the very heart of human
existence, anyone of sound mind would agree that death would be preferable
to the life of cattle. If you look edible, you'll probably be eaten;
subjugated and ruled by elitist, power hungry autocrats.

As hard as it is to fathom, these rights of which we speak are under
attack. When our elected representatives become self appointed shepherds
so much wiser than those who put them in office and then commence to rule
rather than represent, there exists the tinder for a conflict that won't
be resolved in the Opinion and Editorial section of the newspaper.

We Americans consider ourselves a free and civilized people. We pay our
taxes and park within 18 inches of the curb. We pride ourselves on being
good, law abiding citizens even while our inalienable rights are slowly
being eroded under the guise of Public Safety. This same Public Safety
lie was used when the United States government placed thousands of
Japanese-Americans on the Pacific Coast in Mojave Desert internment
camps at the outset of World War II. Incredible atrocities have been
committed by governments in the name of Public Safety.

Reactionary pro-gun slogans aside, Americans who truly cherish their
freedom as the Jews of Ancient Israel cherished theirs must ask themselves,
Where do we draw the line in the sand? And when it is crossed, what are we
really prepared to do about it? Chanukah is a deeply spiritual holiday.
It's a model of right defeating evil. If it is a truism that people get
the government which they deserve, then there isn't a soul alive on whom
to lay the blame the day we begin to look like food.


Rabbi R. Mermelstein
[email protected]

*Historical facts were adapted from Sefer HaTod ah (The Book of Our Heritage),
by R. Eliahu Kitov The Book of Maccabees is found in the Apocrypha. The
Apocrypha contains the 14 books of the Septuagint. These books are of
questionable authorship and are not part of the Hebrew Scriptures (Genesis
through the Chronicles). They are, however, incorporated into the Roman
Catholic bible.
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