Musings of an Orthodox Jew

Thoughts on Torah and the Jewish world today.

Channukah- an ancient story but a modern battle

In just over a week (On Friday night the 11 December corresponding with the 25 Kislev) we start lighting the Channukah candles.  For those unaware of the story it goes as follows:

The Greeks are ruling Israel.  As part of trying to assimilate the Jews into the Greek Empire (well, the Mecedonian Seleucid Empire to be 100% accurate, but for simplicity we will just use the common terminology of the Greeks) the Greek Emperor orders a statue of Zeus placed in the Temple and for a pig to be slaughtered on the Temple alter in his honour.  Matisyahu, the Kohen Gadol, refuses and his children, led by Yehuda haMaccabi (literaly Yehudah the Hammer) lead a revolt against the Greeks- succeeding in expelling them from Israel and retaking the Temple.  The Temple is rededicated and they come to relight the Temple menorah, but there is a problem.  The menorah can only be lit with the specially consecrated oil, stored in flasks bearing the Kohen Gadol’s (High Priests) seal.  The vials have been broken open, smashed or just had their seals broken rendering it unfit for the holy use of lighting the menorah.  Eventually one small jug is found, containing enough oil for one day.  There is a lack of surety over what to do, but after discussion the decision is made in accordance to halachah (Jewish law): you perform a mitzvah that comes to hand and do not postphone it.  Thus the menorah is lit with this one days worth of oil- and miraculously it stays lit for the eight days it takes for new oil to be made.   Why do we celebrate Channukah?  Our sages quote a dictum that we must commemorate a poublic miracle from Hashem for Bnei Yisrael (Talmud masechta Shabbos daf 21) and thus we publicise the miracle of Channukah.

On the surface it appears to be a simple story, the attempted integration of a conquered people into the conqueror’s way of life- a common and oft repeated tactic in the ancient era.  On a deeper level we see another battle- that of the hellenised Jews, the ones that admired Greek culture and attempted to combine it with Judaism, and those like the Maccabees who fought to keep Judaism pure and free of foreign influences.  This has always been the battle in judaism- the prophets and judges continuously had to call the Jews back from idol worship and foreign practices; the lure of being just like everyone else, of being accepted is amazingly strong.  It is not  a single sided battle though, while people within Judaism may be attracted to the foreign and different, there are those in those foreign religions that call out to the Jews, that seek to entice them into idoltary and foreign religions and ways.

Today, the most stark examples of this are those Christian missionary sects that pretend to be Jewish in order to convert the uneducated.  “mesisanic judaism”, “jews for jesus”, “completed jews” etc- all Christian missionary sects, all with but a minute number of Jews in them, all propounding a religion with no resemblance to Judaism- yet all promoting themselves as Judaism.  Like the Hellenised Jews in the time of the Greeks, the “messianic jews” and others seek to incorporate foreign practices into Judaism.  They wish to insert Pagan beliefs and ideas into Judaism, making it no longer Judaism but yet another Christian sect.  Like the Greeks, the aim is the eventual destruction of the Jews- destroy their spirituality and convert them ito something they are not.

This year, as we light the Menorah, let us remember the miracle of Channukah the miracle of Jews keeping the light of the Torah through 2000 years of oppression.  As we watch the lights of  the candles, let us think of the light of the Torah, how it illuminates life and elevates us from the mundane to the holy- and how we need to continuously work against those who would seek to dim and hide that light behind a Pagan message while pretending it is Judaism!

November 30, 2009 Posted by | Chagim, Messianic, Torah | , , , , , , | 1 Comment