What a wonderful day! Shabbos, Rosh Chodesh & Chanukah!
It’s so easy to focus on darkness, and so amazing to remember that light is always on the palette. I have plans for each day. Just saying Hallel- the psalms of praise, makes a day special. Going to the Kotel and seeing the Menorah it inspiring. Each day makes it easier for me to identify with the people in the Bais HaMikdash who saw light when they had every reason to expect darkness. The finale, on the eight day, is the best of all.
Shimon HaTzadik, although he lived over a hundred years before the Chanukah story began, is very much one of its heroes. When Alexander the Great, the founder of the Grecian Empire, which in its time included the entire known world, reached Israel he encountered the Kuttim, Later known as the Samaritans, they were a people who were brought to Israel by the Assyrians in order to repopulate it after the Jews were exiled They converted sort of, out of fear, and later created their own version of Judaism. They came to hate the Jews whose very existence created an aura of illegitimacy of their claim to be Jewish (somewhat reminiscent of the extreme theology of some groups of the Black Hebrews). They became our bitter enemies and came to Alexander to feed him the fake news that the Jews are rebelling against him. Initially he believed them and headed out to Yerushalaim. When the Kohen Gadol of the time, who as known as Shimon HaTzadik heard what was about to happen, he headed out to Alexander to plead for Yerushalaim. When Alexander saw him, he immediately went down from his chariot and bowed before Shimon HaTzadik. His entourage were dumb struck. What is the Emperor of Greece doing bowing before a Jewish dignitary? He told them the secret. “When I go into battle, I see his image, and I know that this is what brings me victory”. The story is very puzzling. What connection is there between a Kohein devoted to Hashem serving in the Bias HaMikdash and the brilliant general? The answer is that Hashem is the One who gave the Greeks victory in order that people like Shimon Hatzadik lay the foundation for the Jewish people to face the challenge that Greece will present later under Antiochus, and emerge greater and stronger, clearer about who we are and who we are not than we ever could have been if we had not been challenged. From the roof of the tomb of Shmuel HaNavi, you can trace the Maccabean battle.
What was the challenge that the Macabees faced like?
It was unique. We had faced all sorts of things. There were those who tried to steal our land, those who tried to steal our hearts, but the Greeks tried to steal our minds, which is the most painful and dangerous game of all. The human centered world is a Greek creation, made to replace the G-d centered world we had “lived in” since our emergence as a people. It was (and is) very appealing to let your subjective view of life define morality. It lets you play as you go, defy conventions, and climb intellectual plateaus all at the same time.
The rebellion began with one family. Five brothers. They were principled, and they were courageous. They were descendants of Yehuda. Some of you may recall his raw courage in facing down Pharaoh who the worlds most powerful man. He had taken responsibility for his brother Benyamin, and would face whatever he had to face in order to live up to his commitment to his father, Yaakov, to bring Benyamin back from Egypt alive.
Every generation has its heroes. The people who don’t hold back and don’t compromise. The range is enormous. They run form the physical courage of the Maccabees, to the moral courage of those who left everything behind them in Spain and headed to North Africa during the inquisition, to Sara Schenirer doing battle against ignorance. What they shared in common was not the kind of battles that they fought, but their absolute clarity that victory would not be reached by humans’ strength or valor, but by Hashem’s spirit, just as He told the prophet Zechariah.
Today’s battles are often private. Do you really have the strength to say, “Wherever I live, I ‘ll make my house a sanctuary”? The first ones to do this were Avraham and Sara who turned their home into the only place where belief in Hashem was taught in a world full of darkness. Would you have the inner fortitude of Moshe? He could have easily turned his back on everything and settled on being the golden boy in Pharaoh’s palace. You know your battles.
When you light the candles, feel some of the joy that the Maccabees felt when they saw that the light kept on going. Have the courage to see that the light within you stays lit