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04/06/2015 07:05:00 AM


Shabbat Hannuka
by Rabbi Edward Feinstein

We all know the story and we all know its heroes. We know of the steadfast Mattathias and his tenacious refusal to accept Greek idolatry. We know of Judah and the brothers Macabee and of the battle fought to protect the purity of Torah and the worship of one God. And we know the enchanting story of the Hannuka miracle: When the Macabees defeated Antiochus and re-took Jerusalem, they found the Holy Temple desecrated. They cleansed the Temple of idolatry and abomination, and re-dedicated it to the worship of the God of Abraham. Re-dedication, the literal meaning of "Hannuka", meant kindling the menorah -- the Temple's sacred light with sanctified, purified olive oil. Only a tiny jar -- buried, hidden in the Temple -- could be found. It took eight full days to procure a new batch of oil. Miraculously, the tiny jar of oil burned for the entire eight days. And so we celebrate each year the miracle of lights.

We know all the heroes of this story, except one: Who buried that tiny jar of pure, sanctified oil? And why?

As the Greeks entered Jerusalem bringing the worship of Zeus to the Temple, they brought a sophisticated and seductive culture. It was a universal culture -- embraced by the entire Mediterranean world. Greek philosophy, arts, theater, sport, and religion soon filled Jerusalem and eclipsed Judaism. Greek culture was welcomed, celebrated and promulgated by Jerusalem's leaders. Even the High Priest, Menaleus, advocated that Jews give up their provincial old ways and take the new, modern and universal Greek culture to heart.

But not everyone succumbed. There was one anonymous hero -- perhaps a priest, a Levite, or an attendant of the Temple who saw things more clearly. This one saw into the dark side of the Greek world -- a culture of grandeur and power but no holiness. This one beheld a society built upon slavery where human worth was measured by class and social position, a callous culture that treated its statues with more reverence than its people, the shallowness that worshipped the body's beauty before the qualities of the soul, the brutality and cruelty beneath the veneer of sophistication. There was one who knew that Jews would one day return to affirm the image of God within all human beings. Jews would one day return to seek the God of justice and compassion, to search for the light of Torah and its wisdom. And so he or she hid a tiny relic of purity and sanctity, a tiny jar of oil to rekindle the light of Jewish faith. Who knew how long it would be? Perhaps a few years, perhaps decades, perhaps generations -- before Jews would return. But this one knew with certainty that they would return because there is something, uncanny but real, that draws Jews back. A tiny jar of pure oil spirited off and hidden -- undetected by the desecraters, but available to those who would one day come searching for holiness.

The one who hid the oil is my Hannuka hero. This one is my spiritual ancestor. Because of that vision and faith, there are tiny bits of light, sparks of holiness, hidden all over the world -- buried behind the walls of callousness and the altars of superficiality. There are traces of purity and wisdom waiting for us when we finally tire of the emptiness and futility of the predominant culture.

To believe in the return of light, when all the world is plunged into darkness, is the lesson of Hannuka. To make possible the rekindling of hope, of wisdom, of holiness, of God's light, when all around there is darkness, is the true battle of Hannuka. Happy Hannuka.

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Sat, August 15 2020 25 Av 5780