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Hanukkah is a time for lighting the menorah, for playing games, giving gifts and celebrating G-d’s historical blessings and miracles. But it is also a time for sober remembrance, a holiday that calls upon all of us to rededicate ourselves to Him, and to muster and redeploy our prayers, efforts, and assets in the fight against government tyranny, cultural assimilation and secularization.
At Hanukkah we celebrate the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem.
It was desecrated by the forces of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who was obsessed with de-Judaizing the Land of Israel (then part of his Greco-Syrian empire).
Antiochus banned the Jewish religion, forbade circumcision, Shabbat observance and possession of the Torah, disarmed and slaughtered Jews (and their
children) as a warning to others, and converted their ancient temple for pagan worship. But in a bloody revolt at around 160 B.C. led by Judah Maccabee (“The
Hammer”) and his brothers and father, a few remaining unassimilated Jews successfully – some say miraculously – drove Antiochus’ forces from Jerusalem and rescued the temple.
Once the city had been secured, imagine what it would have been like as a Jew, as a warrior, to finally stand, caked in blood, in the threshold of the ancient temple. Before you, where the Ark of the Covenant once lay, is now an altar to Zeus, stained with the smoke and fat from burning pigs. None of the ancient, once familiar sounds, the soft hum of prayer and study, the tender singing of passages from the Five Books of Moses. Most of the high priests had been massacred years ago, many cut down by Antiochus’ assassins as they sang and prayed in that very spot. Now, only silence, exhaustion, and perhaps, bewilderment.
According to the Bible, the remaining Jews immediately set about cleaning the place up, re-sanctifying and rededicating every inch of the holy temple. It was surely a matter of urgency to rekindle the “eternal flame” of the seven-branched menorah, symbolizing both the eternality of G-d as well as Moses’ encounter with the burning bush, that pivotal moment in Jewish history that catalyzed our exodus from slavery.
But there was a problem: Most of the sanctified olive oil used to fuel the menorah had been destroyed or tainted. According to legend, only one cask of oil, sealed by a priest, could be found. It only contained enough oil for one days’ flame. It would take eight days to manufacture, purify and bless any additional supply of oil.
Trusting in G-d, and with a sense of worshipful urgency, they lit the menorah anyway, and a miracle ensued: The one days’ supply of oil kept the menorah lit for the full eight days needed to replenish the supply and ensure the uninterrupted eternal flame. This is how the festival commemorating the rededication of the Second Temple came to be known as the “Festival of Lights.” A special nine-branched menorah is used on Hanukkah, eight branches to commemorate the eight miraculous days. A ninth branch, the “Shamash” or servant-branch, has a flame that is used to light the other branches and symbolically guard against utilitarian, secular use of the lights.
The Hanukkah menorah is also symbolic of a lesser known event. Both the Talmud and the Book of Maccabees depict the story of the seven sons of Hannah who were tortured and executed in that time because of their refusal to renounce their faith, eat pork and bow to pagan statues. Hannah committed suicide after the death of her sons. The eight lights of the Hanukkah menorah bear witness to the fate of Hannah and her family, their steadfast faith in G-d and their refusal to assimilate.
Hanukkah’s observance is linked, inextricably, with a profound reverence for the memory of all those who have fought against impossible odds for the freedom to worship G-d and to preserve the religious traditions which enable us to follow His commandments. It is a time to re-tell the story of the siege of Masada, to remember the Bar Kochba and Great Revolts against Rome, to revere the memory of generations upon generations of martyrs and warriors since who have fought and died in the name of Abraham’s legacy – individual liberty (indeed the notion of “individualism” under G-d), self-determination and freedom of worship.
If you love your G-d but fear your government, tell others about the destruction of the Second Temple by the Hitlerian Antiochus Epiphanes, and help your children internalize these lessons of Hanukkah.
If you would be reminded of the importance of preserving second-amendment freedoms, recall this chapter in the long story of the disarmament of the Jews. Honor the memory of Hannah and her sons by kindling the lights of Hanukkah with firm resolve.
If you should ever doubt that righteousness will always prevail so long as we love G-d and fight for his spiritual and physical territory, let your heart be filled with the spirit of Judah and his Maccabees. Put on their armor, symbolically and celebrate the victory that Hanukkah commemorates.
If you believe in individual and religious freedom, if you believe in self-determination, and if you believe in miracles, if you truly have faith in G-d, light the Hanukkah menorah this year, and thank G-d for His enduring faith in us.
Hanukkah is a time in which all of G-d’s warriors – ideological, cultural and otherwise – are spiritually united. This, in itself, is cause for contemplation, fraternization and celebration.
Franklin Raff is senior executive producer for Radio America and creative director of Raff Radio Marketing Group.