Israel HaYom (Nov 27) — The Hanukkah holiday is an ancient expression of Judaism’s victory over Hellenism. The ascendancy of hope over tragedy, light over darkness and faith over doubt. For millennia, humanity has swung like a pendulum between an idolatrous Greek culture whose highest ideals are wisdom, beauty, power and the material world, and the culture of Israel, which sanctifies God, spirituality, faith and a transcendence beyond human understanding.
The Greeks gave the world a sense of the tragic, of man’s insignificance, the pointlessness of our suffering, and the idea that there is nothing new under the sun. What has been is what will be. All rivers lead to a sea of suffering and the sea is never filled. Therefore we need to live in the moment and seize the day. There is no point to hard work or exertion.
The Jews, on the other hand, endowed the world with hope: the belief that time is not cyclical, but a long straight line leading to progress. Humans live in the present, but their spirit is directed toward the future. Every moment of life has significance and is an expression of man’s supreme duty towards God, his family, friends, nation and humanity. Human beings are not opaque self-contained bubbles. Rather, we are wellsprings of abundance and the desire to do good. Jews gave the world the divine desire to give as opposed to man’s bottomless hunger to receive.
…The Jews, descendants of the Maccabees, are still here, living and breathing. Against all odds, they renewed their independence in their ancient homeland. Israel’s Torah is still relevant and connected to reality. Many Jews know its contents and have been in continuous dialogue with it for thousands of years.
We’ve remained small in number. It has always been so — because carrying the torch of values, morality, and concern for others is a mission that is not for everyone. That torch unites the light of thousands of small Hanukkah candles. Together these candles ignite a huge flame that dispels the fear and darkness trying to wrest control of our complex human reality.
My mother told me that during the most difficult days of the Holocaust, in the concentration camp, she and her friends commemorated Hanukkah. There were no candles and certainly no Hanukkah menorahs, but there was a fire burning in their hearts — allowing them to hope that some Jews would remain in the world after the Holocaust, because no power in the world could snuff out the flame of Hanukkah.
The children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren of these survivors plucked from the fire now live in an independent state, who symbol is a menorah. That same ancient menorah that embodied our nation’s faith, determination and strength of soul to stand up against the strongest cultures and empires in history. Our role has not ended. The victory over Greek culture is not complete. The Western world, including many of us, have been captivated by this culture. The Hanukkah holiday reminds us that there are good days in store when values will defeat nihilism and light will banish the darkness.