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What a 2,000-Year-Old Story Can Teach America
Every month I’ve been leading a group on Zoom to discuss some aspect of Judaism that we all may not know much about. Although some of my research describes familiar practices and beliefs, almost everyone learns something new. This month we discussed Chanukah, which begins very early on the secular calendar on November 28. We reviewed not only the familiar stories, but I realized that everyone, American Jews and non-Jews alike, have opportunities to reframe the way we see our lives during a season that is holy for many. These are the insights that emerged for me.
The Lighting of the Chanukah candles—
Most people probably know that Jews light eight candles, plus the shamash, which is the lead candle. The candles are lit to commemorate the miracle of Chanukah: when the Maccabees liberated the Temple from the Seleucids and restored and cleaned it, they found only one pure cruse of oil remaining. It was enough to burn for one day, but it burned for eight days, until additional oil arrived. To Jews, the miracle was a reminder that G-d was once again with us. The shamash, which is used to light the other candles, serves as the leader in this process. It “lights the way” to remind us of the miracle of the holiday.
What can we learn from this story? If you believe in G-d, it is a reminder that when life is difficult and challenging, we are never alone. If you don’t believe in G-d, there are miracles, great and small, every single day. We only need to pay attention and appreciate how they show up, often surprising and delighting us.
We also are reminded in these dark times that we can all take responsibility for lighting the way for others, particularly when they are struggling. We can take the role of the shamash, taking the initiative to offer hope and encouragement for those whose lives we touch.
History of the holiday
For years, the Greeks tried to force the Jews to accept their culture, language, and beliefs. Many Jews found the Greek culture attractive, abandoning their Jewish traditions and trying to force other Jews to join them. The Maccabees, five sons and their father, Mattathias who was a priest, fought against the odds to take back their faith and the Temple. And they were victorious.
What can we learn from this story? Many of us feel that the odds are against us to take back this country from the Progressive-Marxist agenda. The Progressives have worked for years to conquer our country, and they are persistent in trying to force us to accept them. We now realize that in effect, we are at war with them. It may be a long and protracted war. It may be demanding. But we simply can’t give up, until we have restored the Constitution and the rule of law.
In modern history, Jews began the practice of gift-giving at Chanukah, probably imitating their Christian and secular brothers and sisters. Our giving began with giving Chanukah gelt, giving the children money that they would offer to charity. Today that giving is symbolized with the chocolate, foil-covered Chanukah gelt; many families also choose to give a gift each day of the holiday.
What can we learn from this story?
On a personal level, we can give people love, generosity, and caring. So many people are feeling lost, with everything that is going on politically and culturally. We can offer comfort to them when they are weary or sad.
But as citizens, we can work to give people even more. We can give them hope for the future of this country. We can work with others to ensure our freedom, our traditions, and our Constitution. We are, after all, a Judaic-Christian country.
But perhaps most of all, we can give people the courage, by our becoming role models, to take on the oppression and ugliness spreading throughout our country. We may feel like the underdogs at this moment: the country is governed by men and women who will do almost anything to achieve their goals. And maybe it’s time for us to realize that the Progressives will always despise us and try to undermine us, just because they hate our beliefs. But like the Maccabees, we must rally and refuse to give up.
The nation depends on us.Published in History
My buddy David explaining Chanukah to me when we were in grade school: “First night is socks.”
Why do you write G-d instead of God? Just curious. Several do that.
There’s no rule about doing it. G-d’s name is not allowed to be written or pronounced in Hebrew. Jews refer to Him in speech as Hashem (literally “the name”) or Master of the Universe. So I write “G-d” to remind me of G-d’s holiness, and how I treasure my relationship with Him. It’s just a simple gesture. I am permitted to write God. Some people write Gd.
If you don’t recognize the Chanukiah in the photo, it’s one that my husband and I made (well, he did most of the work) a couple of years ago. While everyone else on the street is putting up their Christmas decorations, and our street is famous for having an amazing production, we put up our menorah, lighting the candles each night (battery operated). About a half dozen of the husbands work over several days to put up the lights and decorations. We will be starting our holiday on November 28, but our “light off” for the street will be Dec. 1, while we wine and dine together. It’s a great time for all.
Thanks. We’ll done and a story to be remembered.
Chanukah recipe ideas?
Thank you. I just learned something. I see the respect in it.
Edda Servi Machlin’s Fritelle di Hanukkah
Instructions: Combine 2 1/2 cups flour with the yeast, salt, anise seeds and raisins. Gradually add warm water and olive oil until a pliable dough is formed. Turn out on a floured surface and knead 5 minutes until dough is smooth and elastic. Shape dough into a ball on a floured board, cover with a kitchen towel and let rise in a warm, draft-free place for about 1 hour, until more than doubled in bulk.
With the palms of your hands, deflate dough and pat to a thickness of about 1/2 inch. Oil the blade of a long, sharp knife and cut dough into 36 diamond shapes. Let rest, uncovered, 15-20 minutes.
In a wide, shallow pan, add 1 1/2″ of oil. Heat until the temperature reaches 365° on a deep-fry thermometer. Fry in batches so as not to crowd pan, turning once, until golden on both sides. Drain on paper towels.
Meanwhile, heat the honey and lemon juice in a small saucepan and allow to boil for 3 minutes. Place drained fritters on a serving platter and pour the hot syrup over them.
Serve as soon as possible, with plenty of paper napkins.
“Trying to force other Jews to join them” led to a civil war against the deplorables, who then coalesced around Mattitiyahu and later his son Yehuda. They were a priestly family living in the hills, bitterly clinging to their swords, spears, and religion.
Anyway, when the Hellenizers feared that they might lose, they called for help from the Seleucid emperor, who was Antiochus IV Epiphanes. The Maccabees led the resistance which threw off the invading army and won autonomy for a while.
Unfortunately, since the kingship and priesthood were supposed to be separate, the Maccabees went downhill rapidly after they took the throne.
Just the other day the reading on First Maccabees came up in the daily Mass readings, the one establishing Chanukah, chapter 4. I don’t know if you know Susan but Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians include First and Second Maccabees as part of our Biblical cannon. It has always struck me as strange that in Judaism it’s outside the Biblical cannon.
And Happy Chanukah. I’ll be going to my mother-in-law Sunday night to celebrate.
The Hebrew text of any of the Books of Maccabees did not survive to become part of the Jewish canon. (It is not merely the content of a text, but its transmission from (usually) a prophet that is critical, since very close reading of texts is part of the Jewish tradition, and when you are not sure of it down to the letters, that’s not possible.) Parts of Daniel and other books are in Aramaic, but I don’t think anything translated from a non-Hebrew text (even if, as in the case of I Maccabees, that text was the translation of a Hebrew original) would have made it.
The Jewish canon was set sometime in he first century CE. (Josephus is probably the earliest text using the terms Torah, Nevi’im (Prophets) and Ketuvim (Writings)—TaNaKh—and he attests to almost all of the books of the Jewish canon and categorizes the non-Mosaic ones he lists as being Prophets or Writings.)
The first two of the following list of Maccabees texts are canonical for Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox Church; the rest are apocryphal.
I always appreciate the deep knowledge you can add to the discussion, OTLC! Thanks. Love that recipe, too!
Happy Chanukah to you, Manny!
Interesting. So the criteria was that Maccabees was not written in Hebrew. I did not know that. Thanks. It is astonishing that a big Jewish holiday (Chanukah) is not in the cannon.